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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why I Love the Thrawn Trilogy, pt. 1

I'm going to need several of these posts because there is so much to talk about (did I say "talk"? I meant "RAVE!") about with Zahn. From his development of each character to his intricate weaving of a complex and multi-layered plotline, he creates a tapestry in the best tradition of both Star Wars and storytelling.

With that in mind, I'm going to narrow my focus for my first post about the trilogy to supporting characters. Some authors have trouble even keeping their main characters afloat, never mind their supporting cast. Zahn, however, turns each character into a full-bodied, full-historied reading experience. I've also linked each character to their corresponding Wiki.

It's also worth noting right now that I'm not reading Heir to the Empire but listening to the absolutely brilliant unabridged audiobook, read by the incomparable Marc Thompson. I may or may not make reference to his work on each character.

Warning: The Wikis will have spoilers associated with each character's progression through the EU so read cautiously (Ro-Ro, I'm talking to you and I ^_^).

Winter Celchu
Winter - Winter appears as, evidently, one of Leia Organa Solo's lifelong companions. Zahn is careful to emphasize that, "during the war," Winter played a different role their companion to Leia - she was with "supply and procurement," which explains why we don't see anything of her in the movies (clever, Mr. Zahn). Winter's first scene, when we see her checking in on Leia, is so inoccuous that it would be negligable if Zahn didn't make the most of the introduction. During her first scene, Winter is presented not only as a regal figure to rival Leia (hard to imagine) but she's also given a super-power, of sorts ("with great power comes great responsibility" - anyone?): her perfect memory. Not only is it immediately clear how important she is, both to functioning of Leia's family but also to Rebellion heroine Councilor Leia Organa Solo. Later on, Luke and Winter have a conversation about a Jedi Master named Jorus C'Baoth in which we see the toll Winter's perfect memory (her super power) has on her and how much she has to endure on a daily basis as a result. At the same time, she's poised, elegant, and almost an older sister figure to Leia. Even as a kid, I was immediately interested in her and wanted to know more. Sign of a very well-written supporting character.

"Talon Karrde" ^_^
Talon Karrde - I find Karrde even more fascinating than Winter! To be honest, part of it is that Marc Thompson's voicing of him makes him sound like Antonio Banderas (thank you, Ro-Ro, for pointing this out to me). But I've always liked Karrde and been fascinated with him. I think part of it is how he treats his employees - namely, Mara Jade. Our first introduction to Karrde (outside of the smuggler Dravis mentioning him to Han Solo in one of the opening scenes of Heir) is his meeting with Mara to discuss her becoming his second-in-command. Mara is clearly suspicious of the meeting that it "a smoke-screen to mask some more personal request or demand on [Karrde's] part," but Karrde quickly proves that he is genuinely interested in Mara's "ability and results ... and your ability and results have been quite impressive ... there's your talent for starship piloting, your ability to both give and accept orders ... and your ability to adapt to unusal and unexpected situations" (34, 33). Although these observations say a lot about Mara very early-on, they say a lot more about Karrde. He observes in her some pretty specific behaviors, behaviors which seem fairly hard to categorize. Karrde not only categorizes them but puts them to use throughout the novel as he works on putting together a full picture of who Mara was and who she is. Though his fascination with Mara does have the feel of romantic interest, it (fortunately) never plays out that way. It's clear that Karrde's priorities are his business and the well-being of his associates for the preservation of his business. The business itself is also a mask for Karrde's real love, which is something Grand Admiral Thrawn later puts his finger on: Karrde's real business is information. He likes to know and learn about things, a trait obvious early-on in the Thrawn Trilogy that Zahn later puts to good use in other books Karrde is featured in. Karrde is also established as a morally dependable character early-on, in spite of being a smuggler. His reluctance to turn Han and Lando Calrissian over to stormtroopers is initially played off as bad business but ultimately, he tells Mara, "They're our guests. They've sat at our table and eaten our food ... and like it or not, that means they're under our protection" (271). Earlier on, his associate Fynn Torve admits that he's smuggling food to a group of disadvantaged people in Abregado-rae - there doesn't seem to be a strong monetary element to this work and the way Torve paints it, "[The hill people] aren't rebelling ... they're simple people, and all they want is to be left alone to continue living that way ... hence, we smuggle in food .. crazy business" (248). In spite of working on the wrong side of the law, Karrde walks a very consistantly moral path, though rarely a predictable one. In short, he's awesome and I want to go work for him (perhaps he needs expertise on children's literature within his organization?? I could help him smuggle first editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).

Captain Pellaeon
Captain Pellaeon - Pellaeon largely serves the function of focalizer within the Thrawn Trilogy. Though clearly an experienced and competent officer, he's not written as an especially brilliant or original officer. He wasn't especially important during Palpatine's reign as emperor, though the fact that he was at the Battle of Endor is important to Zahn's plot.

Why, then, bother with him when you've got an absolutely fascinating Grand Admiral (an alien, someone the New Republic was convinced they'd already dealth with, who comes out of nowhere with an almost supernatural ability of knowing everything about his enemies through their artwork) to work with?

Another brilliant Zahnism here - seeing Thrawn through Pellaeon's eyes gives us the chance to get to know Thrawn as Pellaeon. Like our initial introduction to Mara, we only get an observer's look at Thrawn. We're given dramatic physical features, mysterious and impressive behavior during the first scene, and the sense that we'll never fully understand the character. Yet, the same character we don't fully understand or know holds the key to something critical so we strive to know them better. Enter Pellaeon, who, in spite of being Imperial Scum, is actually a very relatable character. He genuinely believes in the good the Empire can do - he's not a power-monger, he's not especially interested in "crushing" anyone (except the "Rebellion," but only because he believes they're outlaws), and while his attitude toward the Noghri proves that he's a total racist (species-ist?), it's less because he's an evil bastard and more because he's close-minded and a bit thoughtless on the subject of non-humans. He's militant, yes, but he also proves he has the capacity to learn, a trait Thrawn obviously recognizes. He takes the time to explain his art and his tactics to Pellaeon, something he's clearly not obligated to do. And Pellaeon, though he doesn't always get it right away, makes an effort to understand and learn. He also puts Thrawn's apparent omniscience into perspective. Like Karrde, Thrawn takes gambles and they aren't always the best gambles (case in point: working with Joruus C'Baoth). Pellaeon recognizes those calculated risks and calls them into question; the fact that he sometimes turns out to be right indicates that he has powers of perception in his own right and that his readings of Thrawn himself are to be trusted.

I'll stop with these three. I'm deliberately leaving Mara out of this round-up because I want to write a post later on exclusively dedicated to her and I need to get further into the trilogy before I'll feel confident doing that. It'll happen, though, count on it! In the meantime, back to my audiobooks as I finish this year's batch of Christmas presents.


  1. I love your character analysis! Or analysi? They are illuminating, and they are making me look at the book differently as I read it! Put up some more!

    1. Heehee, perhaps I will add to this post for "Dark Force Rising" and "The Last Command" too and focus my big posts on other topics. Thanks, buddy ^_^ Any characters you're interested in, specifically? Challenge me!

  2. Well, as I've elaborated already, I'm a huge Winter fan, and you've already covered her pretty spectacularly! And Mon Mothma. And of course Mara Jade and Leia. I'm just generally a fan of Zahn's lady characters. He's one of the few male writers who's portrayal of women doesn't make me want to tear out what few strands of hair I have left.

  3. I hear ya! I agree, Zahn is incredible about writing women. It would be interesting analyze all his female leaders - I mean, most of the best leaders in Zahn's universe are women! Mon Mothma, the Maitrakh of Khabarakh's clan, Leia herself ... even the male leaders are assisted in their leadership roles by women (Mara to Kaarde, Sena and Irinesz to Senator Bel Ibles, Winter to Han Solo's entire family ...). Zahn's civilization is scaffolded in every way by powerful women, and women who are truly impressive and not limited to caregiving.

    It would be a neat thing to examine a bunch of the female leaders and I think you should do it! You love Winter and Mon Mothma and would probably have plenty to say about Leia, Mara, and other ladies of the Thrawn triolgy...

  4. ...perhaps I'll do that now, since I just finished Heir and started Dark Force Rising (what good one word term can we use for that title? "Dark?" "Force?" "Rising?" I'm not sure what to use! "Heir" is so easy!)

  5. Well, first of all, congrats on finishing "Heir"! In terms of shortening.....I don't know, buddy :) The best I can come up with is "Dark Force"..... and that barely qualifies as an abbreviation, I admit.

    I can't wait to read your next post, though. I hesitate to mention it, but I'm actually on part 2 of "Last Command" (another one it's challenging to shorten) so I'm working on figuring out another couple posts for the series. At least one will be Mara-centric. I'm actually considering a post about smugglers and what role they play in our beloved galaxy far far away.....