It’s been 30 years since Thrawn first appeared in the Star Wars novel Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn — a book now part of the Legends collection. But despite Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy being retconned, the character’s legacy lives on in the Rebels animated series and in two canon trilogies — Star Wars: Thrawn and Thrawn: Ascendancy.
The latter trilogy is set years before Thrawn joined the Empire and became a grand admiral. It also concludes on Nov. 16 with the third novel, Lesser Evil. The trilogy’s chief objective is to follow Thrawn and other major players in the Chiss Ascendancy as they navigate their roles in the Chaos of wild space, defend their homeworlds, try to better understand the many alien species largely unknown to the Chiss and to strengthen the Ascendency’s oligarchic autocracy.
The Chiss have a fascinating system of government and culture that’s heavy on military formality and family loyalty, and it’s clear from Zahn’s writing how passionate he is about fleshing out this part of the galaxy. In a recent interview with Polygon, Zahn explained the point of the Ascendancy trilogy and Thrawn’s role in all of it:
"Part and parcel of that was the chance to build the Chiss culture… the building of how the politics work, how the families work, and then putting Thrawn in the middle of all of that. And as you world build, you always find things you weren’t expecting, as you do the consequence testing. “If the culture does this, what are some of the consequences down the line?” And that’s always fun and rewarding, too."
Fans of Thrawn and Zahn’s work know the character has unimaginable skills at interpreting and understanding other cultures along with a passion for doing so. When he joins the Empire — a story chronicled in the Star Wars: Thrawn comic series — he shows off his cunning and quick thinking to become a powerful and ruthless tactician tasked with snuffing out the Rebellion’s cells on Lothal.
Throughout Thrawn’s history in Star Wars, he rarely loses — a trait that irritates some of his allies and enrages many of his enemies.
But while the Ascendancy trilogy is named after Thrawn, Zahn said the books, especially Lesser Evil, are ensemble pieces. Much of the core stories in the books feature Thrawn as the main player, but many others are Thrawn-adjacent or take more space to flesh out Chiss culture or politics.
In the first excerpt shared for Lesser Evil, a “memories” chapter illustrates the fateful meeting of Thrawn and Thrass, who was killed in an unauthorized campaign orchestrated by Thrawn. In another excerpt, Thrawn’s desperation for answers leads him to confront his enemies in the hopes they’ll provide.
In the interview with Zahn, Polygon also shared another excerpt for Lesser Evil — this time, exploring the thoughts and strategies of Captain Roscu of the Clarr family, who is definitely not a Thrawn fan.
"“She is not Thrawn. She does not like Thrawn. She has gone up against him a couple of times. And in her mind, she has lost every time. Now the reader gets the chance to see what actually happened — did she lose or did she decide to choose defeat?” Zahn said."
Read the full excerpt from Chapter 5 of Lesser Evil here.
As of now, Zahn told Polygon that he doesn’t have plans to write more Star Wars books. But, he still has some ideas and is open to the possibility of returning to Thrawn’s story in the future.
Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil arrives Nov. 16 through Del Rey.
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