Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising is a fun novel with some compelling mysteries thrown in for Star Wars fans.
Timothy Zahn has returned to the backstory of Grand Admiral Thrawn in a new trilogy of novels beginning with Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising. The character, who was previously a fan favorite villain the Star Wars Legends line of non-canon stories, was reintroduced into canon in Star Wars: Rebels and an earlier trilogy of novels by Zahn that explore his rise through the Imperial ranks. Chaos Rising, however, goes further back to Thrawn’s homeworld and the experiences that shaped him before he made his way to the Galactic Empire.
If you haven’t read Chaos Rising yet, there will be some spoilers up ahead for three of the most satisfying revelations of the novel.
1. Exploring the Chaos of the Unknown Regions
The Chiss live in a part of the galaxy that is beyond the known galaxy we’re familiar with in most Star Wars stories. This area has been called the Unknown Regions, and it’s separated from the known galaxy by a dangerous barrier of various space anomalies. There’s a reason why it’s an unexplored area of space. But beyond the barrier, there are other people and aliens in the galaxy, and Chaos Rising gives us the first glimpse into this area. For the Chiss and the other planets that make up the Unknown Regions, this area is called the Chaos, a reference to the dangerous space anomalies that restrict space travel in the area.
Interestingly, the people within the Chaos are aware of the galaxy beyond the Chaos and refer to it as Lesser Space, a title implying that the Chaos makes up a significant part of the universe. We’re introduced to other alien species besides the Chiss, and it’s implied that there are many more. While Exegol, the planet where Palpatine survived in clone form after Return of the Jedi, isn’t mentioned in the book, we know that it’s somewhere in the Unknown Regions, so it will be interesting to see if Zahn ever explores this mysterious planet through Thrawn’s story in the future.
2. The Force awakens in the Chaos
One of the more interesting developments Zahn has explored in the Thrawn novels is the concept of Chiss Force-users as ship navigators. Interestingly, the only Chiss Force-users are young females, and they seem to grow out of their Force sensitivity as they grow older. The most interesting aspect about them, however, is what they’re called “sky-walkers.” A Chiss Force user in the chaos is called a sky-walker. It’s a very practical name because they’re power is literally used to help ships navigate through Chaos space, essentially walking through the sky, so to speak. But the name, as we all know, means much more than that.
Che’ri is the young sky-walker in Chaos Rising, and she’s a fun character, especially when she goes on a mission with Thrawn by herself and encounters a familiar face in the Star Wars universe. Sadly, as a sky-walker, she’s highly valuable to the Chiss, but as sky-walkers grow older and lose their Force sensitivity, their value to the Ascendancy lessens. Che’ri’s caretaker, Thalias, was a former sky-walker, and we see her struggle to find her place in the world when her power is on longer available to her. We also see a certain level of compassion she has for Che’ri, who is still powerful but struggles with the challenges of being a little girl with so much weight on her shoulders.
Because these Force users are known as sky-walkers and not Jedi, perhaps there could be a connection to the idea in the title of The Rise of Skywalker. If sky-walkers are their own class of Force users in the galaxy, maybe they’re the ones who best represent a balance between the light and the dark.
Speaking of Skywalkers, Anakin makes a brief appearance in the book. We’ve seen this encounter before in Thrawn: Alliances, but this time, we see it from Che-ri’s unique point-of-view.
3. The clever misdirection of Chiss names
Zahn has created a unique naming system of the people in Chiss society, and it’s based upon the nine family names. For example, Thrawn’s full name is Mitth’raw’naruodo, which is confusing to look at, but basically, the Chiss family name that you belong to is the first part of your name. Thrawn is a part of the Mitth family, but the name he’s most known by is made up of the middle part of his name. Zahn uses this unique naming system to misdirect the reader throughout much of the novel with the Memories interludes.
One of Thrawn’s primary allies in the interludes is a woman named Ziara, and for the longest time while I was reading the main part of the novel, I kept wondering what happened to Ziara. That is, until Zahn revealed that Ziara’s full name is Irizi’ar’alani. Thrawn and Ziara are clearly close, and I even sensed there must be some sort of romantic tension between them, but in the main story, there’s no character named Ziara. Ziara was born to the Irizi family, but if you take away her family name, you’re left with the name Ar’alani, which is Thrawn’s primary ally in the main storyline of the novel. It all made sense when I realized they were the same character, which was a clever misdirection by Zahn.
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