ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Star Wars Thrawn Ascendancy Greater Good

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is the middle book in the second Star Wars canon trilogy starring the titular Senior Captain Thrawn of the Chill Expansionary Defense Fleet. The novel is written by Timothy Zahn and published by Del Rey. Fresh off a victory against General Yiv of the Nikardun, Thrawn and his fellows are working to snuff out any lingering threat. Meanwhile, a greater threat seems to loom and the incessant politics of the Chiss Ascendancy and its familial feuds threatens to inadvertently aid this unknown enemy.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is the epitome of a middle book in a trilogy. With the great enemy defeated in the first book, the second is all about uncovering the greater threat that lurked behind the original enemy and makes them seem tame by comparison. This way by book three, everything will be set into place and a grand and final confrontation can occur. This is a tried and true formula within Star Wars, but unfortunately, in this trilogy, it just did not work for me. For nearly 60 percent of the book or so, I knew there was a greater threat coming into focus, both through the plot, context, and general trilogy formula. But I never really understood what kind of fear I should have or the type of danger the Chiss were in. For all of that time, the strong and interesting plot moments or engaging action sequences were just constantly interspersed by either seemingly trivial side plots that eventually let to the apex of the action but not for a few hundred pages, or mundane flashbacks and tired politics.

I didn’t dislike the book. As somebody already deeply invested in the Star Wars universe as a whole and in Thrawn’s story as a character, I am confident that the slog through a large portion of this book will feel worth it when the mostly strong finish here leads us into the conclusion of the trilogy. But it was absolutely a slog. There were too many new characters introduced who had little personality other than as plot devices and took up two entire side-plots and points of view in the book. The various adventures of Thrawn, Ar’alani, and even Lakinda as their three ships went about their investigations of Nirkadun and other alien activity were totally engaging though.

I love most of the battle sequences, always have in the Thrawn books. The way they each are essentially their own little puzzles you watch Thrawn and his subordinate (or superiors) put together in creative ways each time is always interesting. Even with a limited array of weapon types at the Chiss’s disposal, every battle still manages to be unique. The problem is that none of the smaller puzzles ever felt particularly connected to a greater purpose. There’s the looming dramatic irony where the reader knows some greater threat is out there, and you know Thrawn is smart enough to understand it too, but ultimately, most of the book goes by without every for a second giving the reader an explicit enemy or end-goal to keep in mind. Without this, the book just feels like it meanders too aimlessly to keep me captivated.

It’s been interesting having Thrawn go from sure villain to sympathetic protagonist to hero over the past few years of Star Wars media. It’s especially interesting seeing the way an alien civilization works and perceives the rest of the galaxy. The Force is still a major presence in the Unkown Regions, even if people call it by different names and touch it in different ways. So some of the most basic tenets of Star Wars storytelling are still there. But a lot of the rules are different in the Chaos as well. Travel is slower, there are different types of weapons and customs and cultures and governments. And the rules of engagement especially for the Chiss Ascendancy are dramatically different than that of the Republic, the Empire, or the New Republic. In theory, observing the universe of Star Wars through a different culture’s lens in a different part of space is really cool.

It’s just that all of the massive worldbuilding done in Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is done at the expense of a strong plot. I am fully here for the final book in the series and absolutely would love to see more stories told in the Unknown Regions. But I would like to see it perhaps in a different medium or type of story next to help retroactively make some of what happens in this series make more sense and feel more clear.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is a mystery that doesn’t have enough mystery, an action book with not enough action, and a political thriller that isn’t particularly thrilling. It’s definitely an interesting read as a case study in how to present unique stories within the Star Wars universe, and fans of Zahn’s Thrawn books will continue to enjoy its latest entry. But in the grand scheme of Star Wars novels and science fiction in general, it will not be topping any lists of my favorites.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is available wherever books are sold April 27th.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good
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TL;DR

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is a mystery that doesn’t have enough mystery, an action book with not enough action, and a political thriller that isn’t particularly thrilling. It’s definitely an interesting read as a case study in how to present unique stories within the Star Wars universe, and fans of Zahn’s Thrawn books will continue to enjoy its latest entry. But in the grand scheme of Star Wars novels and science fiction in general, it will not be topping any lists of my favorites.