Fellow nerds, I’d like to tell you a story about a guy named Thrawn.
A long time ago, in a home far, far away from my current one… I got my mother to buy me a Star Wars audio-book box set. I was a fan of the movies, but don’t think I ever owned an audio-book in my entire life. Why I was dead set on this set is a mystery.
No, no, that is a complete lie, and the answer is obvious….
THE BOX WAS THE FRIGGING MILLENIUM FALCON, AND HELL IF I CARED WHAT THE CONTENTS WERE.
But in reality, as true then as it is now 20-something years later, the contents would end up mattering a whole lot more than the box to me. This box set ended up being the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Starting back in 1991, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command were some of the first books to expand the Star Wars universe past Return of the Jedi. These books, along with many others, are what have now become the Legacy line of stories ever since Disney bought its way into George Lucas’ soul. Zahn’s books balanced the use of our older favorites of Luke, Leia, Han, and Lando, and seamlessly added new characters that would fill out the old ‘expanded universe’ for many years to come. We were given the likes of Mara Jade, Captain Pallaeon, and our anti-hero today, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
An Enemy for the Ages
Thrawn was a bit of a mysterious character holding an even more mysterious rank. Grand Admiral was a rank with higher standing than all other military and political position in the Empire, short of Emperor. Because the idea that the Empire (and its various spin offs) isn’t tied close enough to Nazi Germany, Zahn took the rank from William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Only twelve Grand Admirals were ever allowed at one time in the Empire, and Thrawn was the only non-human to ever reach that rank.
The guy wasn’t force sensitive, and he wasn’t a politician. He wouldn’t force choke you to death for screwing up, and he wouldn’t co-opt your ideas to make himself look better. No, Thrawn was better than all of that – he became a Grand Admiral because he was a strong leader.
Instead of leading by fear and manipulation, Thrawn grew a strong loyalty amongst his crews because he looked after his subordinates, recognized their achievements and ideas, allowed room for failures (like I said, a lack of never ending force chokes), and most importantly – he was a strategic BAMF. His trademark in the Legacy books, and even now in shows like Rebels, was his interest in the art and culture of his enemies. While it is unlikely he was pulling strategic and tactical intelligence from Van Goghs of another galaxy, it does show the much-repeated advice from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Thrawn learned about the history, motivations, and military education of his enemies so well, that he could tell the race of a New Republic commander (the government formed out of the Rebellion in Episodes IV, V, and VI) simply by how they responded to low level tactics. If Thrawn had been around the key battles of the Rebellion, he probably would have crushed them into submission. Honestly, I would have loved to work with a guy like Thrawn in the military. Except, you know, without the space Nazi stuff.
What’s Past is Prologue
And so, his successes made him into a hero of the Empire, capable of giving a diminished Imperial fleet a shot in any battle. You win the loyalties of many-a-troops with those successes. It wasn’t something you saw out of the Empire; earning loyalty, and not just literally shocking it into them with fancy (dark) force hands. All of that made him an admired ‘bad guy’ in the Legacy universe. Thankfully, the new Expanded Universe has made him cannon, again in Rebels, but also in a new book by Zahn (cleverly titled Thrawn) detailing his rise to power.
But the origins of Thrawn will always be in Heir to the Empire and the rest of the Thrawn Trilogy. Sure, they might not be canon anymore, but they’ll certainly give you an idea of how leadership – even if it is fighting against the Skywalkers – is best shown by taking care of your crew and knowing yourself and your enemy, not by summary executions.
Did you ever read the Thrawn Trilogy? Let us know your thoughts below in our comment section.