Despite being one of the longest canon Star Wars books out there, Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil is both an epic and intimate page-turner. Concluding Timothy Zahn’s latest (and likely last) Thrawn trilogy, Lesser Evil packs a political and emotional punch, seamlessly tying up the many threads cut loose in Chaos Rising and Greater Good while also effortlessly connecting to the next phase of Thrawn’s story.
And in between all the machinations of the autocratic Chiss Ascendancy and its blue-skinned, red-eyed elite warriors chronicled in the pages of this latest trilogy is a deep exploration of a fascinating region of the galaxy known as the Chaos. There is no Republic or Empire in this chaotic, sometimes lawless space, but there are unique alien species, mind-boggling and terrifying weapons of war and a swath of cultures each with their own views on military might and their spiritual place in the galaxy.
The events of the Ascendancy trilogy occur around the same time as the Clone Wars in the core part of the Star Wars galaxy — known as Lesser Space among the Chiss. Lesser Evil picks up right where Greater Good left off and continues this trilogy’s tradition of “memories” chapters exploring more of Thrawn’s backstory. In Lesser Evil, these flashbacks pack the biggest emotional punch as they detail the relationship between the future Imperial grand admiral and Thrass — a respected Mitth Syndic and “brother” to Thrawn, who was blamed for his death.
While the overarching angle of this trilogy is to show the ways in which a mysterious villain plots and schemes to try to take down the Chiss Ascendancy. Lesser Evil finally spells out why these shadowy baddies known as the Grysk seek to destroy the Chiss and refreshes our memories on how they and their leader Jixtus have been trying to instigate a civil war. While Lesser Evil presents a fascinating look back at the many alien species Jixtus and Thrawn have “worked with” throughout the trilogy, it falters in its portrayal of the Grysk. We never actually read what Jixtus and the Grysk physically look like nor do we get more details about their home systems or planets, their government or their culture.
Including the Grysk, Lesser Evil throws out so many different names of alien species that it can be hard to keep up and remember who’s who and who’s on which side. There’s the return of the Magys, of course, along with the Paccosh and mentions of the Garwian, Nikardun and newcomers called the Kilji. Do you need to remember the motivations and physical attributes of all of them? Not necessarily. In the end, the Chiss are the real stars of the show.
While the previous two novels sowed the seeds of discord and hinted at a possible civil war among the Chiss, Lesser Evil shows the Ascendancy as a powder keg about to explode — with Jixtus (or maybe even Thrawn) holding a lit match. This is where Zahn’s Thrawn stories shine the brightest. The Ascendancy trilogy may at times be a slow burn political thriller, but Lesser Evil’s attention to the familial and intimate details about its characters’ pasts make it stick the landing.
We finally learn more about the sky-walker program the Chiss have used in order to safely navigate hyperspace in the Unknown Regions and the Chaos of wild space. At long last, we read more about how Thrawn’s relationship with Thrass defined his life and career and also shook the Mitth family to its core. While these memories with Thrass don’t necessarily impact the novel’s present-day story, they add key context and emotional complexity to Thrawn, a character we love and fear because of his cunning, ruthlessness and relative lack of attachments.
Is Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil a good book?
Clocking in at more than 500 pages, Lesser Evil is one of the largest Star Wars books in both the canon continuity and the Legends material. Still, it has excellent pacing without a dull chapter or inexplicable side quest in sight. I struggled at times to get through parts of Greater Good — mostly because I’m not as big of a fan of military strategy-heavy political thrillers. Even some of the battles in the previous two novels fell a bit flat as I struggled to picture the maneuvers in my head.
Almost every battle in Lesser Evil, however, is beautifully written and understandable. Especially the final battle, which played out with an intensity that had me flying through the book’s last pages. Thrawn’s signature tactics are on full display here, showing the stylish and at times a bit arrogant might of his power in Chiss Ascendancy.
Lesser Evil and the Ascendancy trilogy overall present Thrawn as a relatable anti-hero with a complicated history full of his own people loving him, fearing him, hating him and respecting him. It adds even more depth to a character we’ve read about and loved for the last 30 years and will likely continue to see in future Star Wars projects like the live-action Ahsoka series.
Reflecting on three decades of writing Thrawn, Zahn said he does not have any plans to write more Star Wars stories — but he’s open to it. We can only hope we’ll read more stories of the enigmatic Chiss in the near future.
Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil is available now through Del Rey and at bookstores.