Star Wars: Into The Unknown
A Review of Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
Timothy Zahn has made his return to Star Wars in 2020’s Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book 1: Chaos Rising). This marks Zahn’s second return to Star Wars under Disney canon and the start of a new trilogy of Thrawn books. Over the character’s new arc, he has quickly become one of my favorites and I really believe that the future of Star Wars storytelling exists in Chiss space, so there is no better thing to do then review this amazing book.
Chaos Rising is the backstory for Thrawn I have wanted. It really gives us a picture of what the Chiss life is like. It dives into politics and the space we don’t see much in Star Wars, the space the Chiss refer to as the Chaos. We get to learn that this area of space is not like the galactic republic in that the Chaos is not united, it’s a bunch of independent space nations, with the Chiss being a big player in it all. The book does expand on how this area of the galaxy got to be this way, and even references that the Chiss at one time fought in the Republic/Sith war a long time ago.
I am now going to discuss some major characters and parts of the book:
The Politics of the Ascendancy are very intriguing and quite different than that of the Republic or Empire. The Ascendancy is made up of ruling families, there are 9 major ones and many minor ones. The families keep growing by adopting in Chiss from other families. We find out Thrawn was adopted into the Mitth, one of the major 9, early in his military career and actually other families have tried to steal him away. The military acts as an outside body to family politics and the highest ranking military members actually denounce their families all together to give themselves over to the Ascendancy itself. A Syndic is the formal title provided to the politicians of families who rule the government of the Chiss via the governing body of the Syndicure. The family politics makes the aristocracy that rule Chiss space. The final very important piece of Chiss politics as they are non confrontational, in that they will not attack until they are attacked. As much as people attempt to say Star Wars is not political it may be one of the most political sci fi/fantasy series out there and I very much enjoyed the new political structures that were explored within this book.
Ar’alani is a high ranking military leader and one of Thrawn’s greatest allies. She was first introduced to us in the previous Thrawn Trilogy but her character is expanded upon so much more in this book. We find out she was a true born of one of the 9 families, the Irizi. This made it mean a bit more when she had to give up ties to her family, as it was her real family, not her adopted family she had to give up. Also we find out throughout the book she saw potential in Thrawn but needed to have his potential proved multiple times. This is expanded upon in the book, from Thrawn developing never before seen tactics which he has to prove outside of simulations, to him fighting Ar’alani in a dojo after studying her art to figure out her tactics. Another interesting thing about Ar’alani is that she sees aliens as other people, something Thrawn does not. There is definitely a strong bit of Chiss racism in the book, with at least Thrawn and most likely other Chiss believing they are some sort of superior race in this area of space. This revievelation we get about Thrawn comes through his interactions with Ar’alani and makes me wonder what he truly thought about those he interacted with during his time in the empire, were they just tools for Thrawn to use? Ar’alani is a very strong character, which I hope we see explored more in the remaining two books of this series.
Ch’eri is Thrawn’s Skywalker (Force sensitive Chiss which helps Chiss ships through the universe by guiding them through the Chaos) and provides some insight into who Thrawn is. There is a mission in this book which causes Thrawn and Ch’eri to go adventuring alone and even ties right into another Star Wars book. Though Ch’eri is just a Skywalker, Thrawn sees her for so much more, he sees she may want to be a pilot, and Thrawn teaches her. This makes Ch’eri have a bigger purpose in the Ascendancy than just being a Skywalker, a role which you lose when you lose your connection to the force in your early teens. In this too we see that Thrawn can see Chiss for more than they are, he sees them for the potential of what they can be, where most Chiss in Ascendency sees the Skywalkers as important tools to be used until they lose their connection to the force. Ch’eri is used to show this strength of Thrawn and Ch’eri is also an insight into a key part of Chiss life.
Thalias is another former Skywalker in this book. (Seems like a lot of the Thrawn books have a focus on the Skywalkers, and their very important role in the Chiss Ascendancy.) We get to meet Thalias via Thrawn, an event that puts Thalias on a path to joining the Mitth family once her time is done being a Skywalker. Thalias joins Thrawn on his adventures by becoming Ch’eri’s care caretaker and thus joins Thrawn on his ship as she wanted. She sought out Thrawn after he put her life on the course it is on. Multiple times others in the Mitth family try to use her to take down Thrawn but she finally takes on the trials to join the family, meeting the family patriarch and becoming one of Thrawn’s many protectors in the Chiss Ascendancy. Thalias in such plays an important role as Thrawn needs many protectors in the Ascendancy, since even though he has a brilliant military mind he is not all politically minded which means many try to take him down, and many others step up to be his defenders, just as Thrawn himself defends and lifts them up.
Now to the big guy himself, Thrawn. This is without a doubt his origin story, we learn so much about who he is and how he became who we know. We see his amazing skills at work in analyzing situations but this book proves he can make mistakes. It shows that without the political know how others have he can be manipulated and can be used as a tool, that can be an issue if he does not fully understand what he is doing. The most interesting thing to me is though Thrawn can be used as a tool he also seems to be using others as tools himself to his end. He plays games, dangerous ones and will put others in danger even if he does not see it as danger since he believes he is going to win so there is no danger. As I mentioned when discussing Ar’alani Thrawn did not see aliens as other people but pawns in the Chiss’s game. I believe this changes based on his reaction to the gift he receives from an alien in one chapter after offering to help them. This also makes me think back on every interaction in the Empire Thrawn has, it almost seems as his reaction to aliens by the time he is in the Empire is different, he still does not see politics but he sees strategy. I really believe if Thrawn has ended up back in Chiss space at the end of Rebels he has the potential to take over the Ascendancy with the right people at his side. Thrawn is an absolutely amazing character with deep character development at the hands of Timothy Zahn.
The key conflict in this book is between Thrawn and an opponent in the Chaos. This opponent is Yiv the Benevolent of the Nikardun. The Nikardun spend most of the book gaining allies, through enslavement many times, killing those who resist. They provide a challenge to Thrawn which he is able to outsmart and overcome. The most intriguing thing though is we learn that Yiv and the Nikardun are but pawns of a bigger menace out in the Chaos. This new other believes if they were in control of the Nikardun Thrawn would have lost. This new big bad is one Thrawn will most likely have to deal with as these books continue, and one I am left wondering if they are the thing that worries Thrawn so much he travels into the Empire looking for allies? WIll this trilogy continue after the events of Star Wars Rebels? What awaits us in the Unknown Regions?
I loved this book. I would go as far to say that Thrawn may be the best character in Star Wars right now, and possibly the best character ever. Thrawn may be where the future of Star Wars lay. As things start to get boring in the galaxy proper and the core worlds it seems the Outer Rim (The Mandalorian) and The Chaos is really where the future of Star Wars story telling is, that’s if we don’t go back to the past (Which we will be in the High Republic). I almost wonder if what is lurking in the unknown regions is what will also cause us to see the return of Rey, Finn, Poe and others in future adventures. Now that the Empire and Sith are dead, what stands in horizon just biding its time?