The Thrawn Trilogy

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The covers for this trilogy were designed by the same man who did the covers for the Original Trilogy. Gotta love that.

Thrawn: "It's the second piece of the puzzle, Captain. The piece I've been searching for now for over a year."
Pellaeon: "I congratulate you. May I ask just what exactly this puzzle is?"

Thrawn: "Why, the only puzzle worth solving, of course. The complete, total, and utter destruction of the Rebellion."
—From the very first chapter of Heir to the Empire

A trilogy of novels written by Timothy Zahn that form part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

  • Heir to the Empire (1991, hardcover)
  • Dark Force Rising (1992, hardcover)
  • The Last Command (1993, hardcover)

This trilogy is one of the cornerstones of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, being the first major work set after Return of the Jedi (five years after to be exact), the first popular member of the franchise since Return of the Jedi, and introducing some of the most beloved figures in Star Wars EU canon, like Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Gilad Pellaeon and Talon Karrde. Many fans consider them to be the honorary Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

Ironically given the Big Bad is an alien, this trilogy introduced a slightly more human Galactic Empire - still certainly villainous but no longer a 0% Approval Rating organization. In movie terms it is somewhat closer to Admiral Piett and Captain Needa than Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. Thrawn himself (the aforementioned alien Big Bad) was certainly a Magnificent Bastard of the highest caliber, one whom the reader did not hesitate in respecting. The trilogy also reflected the Real Life movement into the Information Age, with Thrawn (and Karrde opposite him) being able to connect esoteric and obscure bits of data together into a much larger picture. Thrawn in particular was able to practice an almost obscene version of psychoanalysis on people and cultures by studying their artwork, using it to identify weaknesses in their thinking or perception patterns, and then exploiting said weaknesses in devastating ways. The trilogy, as implied by its name, concerns the adventures of the New Republic, particularly Power Trio Luke, Han and Leia, to deal with Thrawn's plans, leadership and genius.

A comic book adaptation of the trilogy was also produced, with six issues allotted per book. The art for Heir to the Empire is kind of questionable. The art for Dark Force Rising is much prettier, but it has problems of its own. The art for the last book is pretty decent; less realistic, but more expressive. The comics are a very Compressed Adaptation, with some pages having a Wall of Text and somehow still leaving out some important elements, but they do fairly well at sticking to the narrative.

For an idea of just how much of the Star Wars Expanded Universe canon got its start in these books, go here, here and here and note how many times the phrase "first appearance" comes up. These novels basically invented the New Republic that the Rebellion became. A few years later, Zahn wrote the Hand of Thrawn duology.

On June 21, 2011, the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire was released, including a new novella featuring Thrawn, Crisis of Faith and some interesting notes by Zahn himself on the process of the writing of the novel.


Tropes used in The Thrawn Trilogy include:
  • Action Girl: Mara Jade.
  • Alliteration: You know Zahn cracked a nice little smile when he realized this.
    • As an in-universe example, Zahn did it deliberately when naming Jacen and Jaina.
  • Adult Fear: "Thrawn would smile, and speak politely, and take her children away." Of course, Leia is not having any of that shit.
  • Aerith and Bob: More than any other Expanded Universe writer, Zahn likes to use a lot of normal Earth-sounding names for humans; Executive Meddling altered the spelling of some in reaction.
  • Affably Evil: Thrawn and Pellaeon.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted by some of the planet names. Zahn isn't scared of having some very consonant-heavy and undervoweled planet names, like Bpfassh, presumably named so by their alien populations who, you know, don't speak English. Or Basic, as it's called.
    • Plenty of aliens speak in their own languages, and at one point Leia has to learn the Wookiee language for a trip to Kashyyyk.
  • Arc Welding: In later books it's intimated that Thrawn intended to prepare the galaxy for the Vong invasion, but there's no hint of it in the trilogy.
  • Arc Words: YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER!
  • Artifact Title: Originally, it was just called "The Star Wars Trilogy", as it was the first Expanded Universe novel that actually tried to continue from where the movies left off. Later, it had to be retitled "The Thrawn Trilogy" to differentiate it from the hundreds of other books set after Return of the Jedi.
  • Assimilation Plot: C'Baoth in Last Command
  • Author Catchphrase: Using "the other" as an alternative to a character name when describing dialogue (as in, "...Han said to the other"), as well as "Luke reached out with the Force".
  • Awesomeness By Analysis: Thrawn, and to a lesser extent Karrde.
  • Axe Crazy:
    • Joruus C'baoth. An Axe Crazy dark Jedi Master clone is a scary, scary thing.
    • Also, Luuke Skywalker, the clone of Luke Skywalker.
  • Batman Gambit: Thrawn is master of these, usually working out from an enemy's artwork how they will respond to a given tactic. He also realizes our heroes' penchant for choosing strategies on the basis of "our enemies can't possibly believe we'd be that crazy" and uses it deduce that they'll hit the heavily defended shipyards at Bilbringi rather than the less-defended Tangrene.
  • Berserk Button: For Mara Jade, any mention of The Empire or her former master Palpatine.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Thrawn and C'baoth have largely exclusive plans for the galaxy, but work together for mutual convenience. Each has plans for disposing of the other when the time comes (though Thrawn is usually able to talk C'baoth down when he's in one of his mad rages), and each seems to consider himself the Big Bad and the other The Dragon.
  • Bilingual Bonus / Genius Bonus: Talon Karrde's pet vornskr are named Sturm and Drang. Those are not words of some made up alien language but German words that, when showing up together, refer to a certain movement in German literature.
  • Blessed with Suck: Winter's Photographic Memory. She's Alderaanian and remembers the destruction of her homeworld with as much clarity as if it happened yesterday.
  • Blofeld Ploy: The incident with the two tractor beam operators in book one.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Rukh to Thrawn.
  • Canon Immigrant: The trilogy introduced a vast number of characters, starships and planets to the Star Wars universe, more so than any subsequent part of the Expanded Universe. Perhaps the most significant being Mara Jade.
  • Capulet Counterpart: Mara to Luke.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Zahn did all this writing before there really was much canon outside the Original Trilogy, and almost a decade before Episode 1 came out, so there are a few things in the story that ended up invalidated by canon:
    • Zahn asserts that in the Clone Wars, it was discovered that clones would go insane if they were grown too fast (due to resonance in the Force between the clone minds). Nobody else has ever acknowledged this as being true or, for that matter, happening. Zahn also has Mara claim that the Death Star I debacle is why Vader lost his right hand: in punishment for his failure.
      • Zahn and a couple others actually did Retcon a form of this back into canon. A comic had a battle between Republic forces (including Pellaeon) and besieged Separatist aliens who were quick-growing clones of their warriors in tubes, and as they compressed the growth cycle further and further the clones started getting disjointed. The Empire started moving away from Kamino cloning to experiment with Spaarti cylinders, and growing clones too quickly in those tends to make them insane. It helps that he was vague about all of that the first time around.
      • As for the hand, it's been implied (or possibly outright stated) that Vader has had that hand replaced more than once. It could have easily been damaged once more during his flight from the Death Star.
    • Considering how many Original Trilogy HandWaves, Loose Ends, and Plot Holes that he had to tie together into a coherent, credible story without RetConning any of the prior canon... these two details are small change, even if you assume that the "not mentioned by canon = contradicted by fanon and/or canon" line of reasoning is valid.
    • The biggest Clone Wars related issue is that Zahn sets them over a decade before the eventual timeline established by the prequels. This was actually Lucas's fault rather than Zahn's -- as Zahn revealed in his annotations in the 20th anniversary edition, Lucas hadn't yet settled on a concrete timeline for the series pre-A New Hope and eventually compressed it from the more expansive one he'd given Zahn at the time.
    • Zahn also writes from the not-unreasonable assumption that the Clone Wars involved an evil clone army attacking the galaxy. Everyone automatically assumes Thrawn's use of clones will lead to Clone Wars II even though the origins of the wars wound up being completely different - the Empire's a hostile enemy state while the original conflict was a civil war. Not to mention that the clones turned out to be the "good" guys in the Clone Wars. At least until Order 66...
    • Zahn describes Coruscant as having hills, isolated towers, greenery, and mountain ranges - the movies established it as a planet-wide city.
  • Can't Kill You - Still Need You: Mara's constantly in this situation with Luke, and she's none too happy about it.
  • Career Killers: Amongst other duties Mara Jade acted as the Emperor's personal assassin, while the Noghri are an entire species of hitmen/bodyguards.
  • Characterisation Marches On: When Thrawn is asking C'baoth to join him, these lines seem rather out of character for the later Thrawn (though one can argue that Thrawn was simply trying to appeal to C'baoth)--

(Thrawn has explained what he wants C'baoth to do for him, coordinating his armies)
C'baoth: To what end?
For the first time since landing, Thrawn seemed taken aback.
Thrawn: The conquering of worlds, of course. The final defeat of the Rebellion. The reestablishment of the glory that was once the Emperor's New Order.

  • Charm Person: Joruus C'baoth uses a simple Jedi Mind Trick on Pellaeon to get him to deliver an order C'baoth doesn't want Thrawn to know about, and then has Pellaeon forget ever giving such an order. Later we find out C'baoth is capable of far, far worse, using a highly destructive form of mind control to destroy an Imperial general's mind and turn him into a near mindless puppet. When the poor man passes into a Force null area, he operates on implanted instructions, then lies down to take a nap he never wakes up from - C'baoth had demolished so much of his brain he couldn't survive when not directly being controlled. Really, Pellaeon got off very lucky.
    • The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook mentions that this Mind Trick was several degrees nastier than what Obi-Wan and Luke were willing to do. Pellaeon's willpower was permanently reduced by what C'baoth did - though considering the things he was willing to work for in later books, it must have been formidable from the start.
    • C'boath can also take physical control of people while leaving their minds alone, controlling them like puppets; in one display of power, he does this for the entire Chimera crew (mindraping 37,000 people, all at once). The physical symptoms post-possession, moreover, are a blend of mental trauma and something resembling the flu.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Katana Fleet, Delta Source, ch'hala trees, Spaarti Cylinders.
    • However, the fact that among the 1/10 of the Katana Fleet that the heroes managed to recover was the Katana itself, which the other heavily-automated ships in the fleet are programmed to obey, has only minor importance. Presumably Thrawn took the time to remove that feature before putting the 9/10 of the fleet he acquired into service, but it's a little odd that it never even gets brought up.
  • The Chessmaster: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Fey'lya. This is apparently the Bothans' hat, at least when it comes to politics. Han even tells him straight up that the rules of politics are different with people like Leia and Mon Mothma and that Bothan strategies will not work, but he's ignored.
  • Cloning Blues: Poor Luuke.
  • Contest Winner Cameo: Of all the tropes in this trilogy, this one's what you'd least expect, but the two tractor beam officers in the first book, as it turns out...
    • Garm Bel Iblis's lieutenants as well, although that was more Zahn naming them after people he admired rather than them winning a competition.
    • The 20th Anniversary edition's annotations reveals that there are dozens of these contest winners and friend names tucked in.
  • Commander Contrarian: Pellaeon is a positive example.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Luke and Mara's rescue of Karrde from the Star Destroyer; not to mention more "had a bad feeling about this"es than you can throw an Ewok at.
    • A subtle one: the Original Trilogy films all started with establishing shots of a Star Destroyer on Imperial business. Likewise, each novel in this trilogy begins aboard the Chimaera, implying we've just panned down from that iconic diagonal scrolling text...
  • Corrupt Politician: Fey'lya. Backstabbing politicking seems to be a Bothan trait.
  • Covers Always Lie: Well, mislead. The Last Command shows Mara and Luke in a lightsaber duel. Mara is actually fighting Luuke, the clone of Luke. The key hint is that Luuke is depicted with a blue lightsaber (the one Luke lost when he fought Vader at Cloud City), not Luke's later green lightsaber.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Zahn is fond of using these. Many of them proved to be Canon Fodder for later authors, especially Michael Stackpole. A few were never followed up on, such as "that incident off Xyquine" where Pash Cracken invented the Cracken Twist (which by the time period Wedge gives should have been during the X Wing Series, but never came up).
  • Cyanide Pill: In Heir to the Empire, Khabarakh is captured as he stops fighting, after he realizes that Leia is the Mal'ary'ush (the descendant of Lord Vader, who they revere as the Messiah). It's never overtly said that he has some kind of suicide mechanism, but when Leia talks to him he says that his duty is to obey all of his orders - and Leia knows that for a captured commando facing interrogation, there could be only one order left to follow. She manages to talk him down by telling him that he now knows something none of his people are aware of - that Leia is the Mal'ary'ush - and he needed to live to bring the information to them.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Thrawn, the Magnificent Bastard that he is.
  • Default to Good: Karrde, and most of the Smugglers' Alliance.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Half the cast, especially Mara.
  • Devil's Advocate: In The Thrawn Trilogy, Captain Pellaon acted as a Devil's Advocate to Grand Admiral Thrawn, and later commended his subordinate for playing this trope in Hand of Thrawn.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Thrawn's ultimate downfall, several things all at once.
  • Discontinuity Nod: When Luke confronts Joruus C'baoth on Wayland and C'baoth introduces his new killer clone (which turns out to be a clone of Luke himself) Luke initially wonders if it might be a clone of Darth Vader, before realizing it's not tall enough - see What Could Have Been below.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: C'baoth's harsh judgments on the people of Wayland, which provides Luke with the first clue that he's actually an insane clone.
  • Do I Really Sound Like That?: Leia's reaction to hearing C-3P0 programmed with her voice.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Noghri.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Pellaeon is depicted as clean shaven in the comic adaptation and there is no mention of facial hair in the novels. Practically every picture and description since (including Zahn's later books) have described Pellaeon as having a distinctive bushy mustache to the extent that at least one unnamed Imperial officer in a later comic was thought to be him just because he had a bushy mustache.
    • A likely inspiration for Pellaeon's appearance as a heavyset man with a bushy mustache with Thrawn's tall, slender build and chiselled features is the similarity of both characters to Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, who are frequently depicted in a similar way.
    • In a broader sense there are several examples of this trope for the Star Wars Expanded Universe as a whole, as this is the first canon post-Return of the Jedi work. For instance, the idea that Jabba the Hutt was the galaxy's biggest crime lord - later works present him as a more minor figure (though to be fair, most of the bigger fish died before Jabba did, so it's possible that by Return of the Jedi he really was the top crime lord in the galaxy).
    • And perhaps the most glaring of all is that Rogue Squadron is treated as just another fighter squadron and Wedge Antilles is specifically called out as a 'lowly starfighter wing commander' and Luke has to remind the Council who he is. When the Expanded Universe drastically increased the importance and recognition of Wedge and the Rogues (for example, in later stories that take place chronologically earlier, Wedge is almost a right-hand man to Admiral Ackbar), Zahn was careful to correct this in Hand of Thrawn.
    • Hyperdrive speeds are quoted as "Point Three, Point Four, Point Four Five, Point Five" in increasing order of speed—this being based in the line in the first Star Wars film that "The Falcon can push point five past lightspeed". This was based on a logarithmic scale Zahn devised where 0 was a dead stop and 1 was infinite speed. Later Star Wars material changed this to the (arguably less logical) setup that the LOWER the number is, the faster it is, with .5 being faster than 1 or 2 or 3.
    • A plot-significant one is that it is not widely known to the galaxy's people that Darth Vader was Luke's father, and it's even not certain to most people that he's dead. Other EU writers basically assume that "everyone in the galaxy has seen the films" as far as information about the main characters is concerned; if this was true the whole Mara-Luke plot arc could not exist.
  • The Empire: Obviously.
  • Emotionless Girl: Winter. Mara goes back and forth between this and very emotional, depending on the topic at hand.
  • Enemy Mine: Mara's view of constantly being forced to work with Luke. The smugglers ultimately team up with each other and the New Republic after an Imperial raid on a meeting of several major smugglers which was actually masterminded by Niles Ferrier so he could get closer to the major smugglers. Thrawn does not approve, having specifically ordered his troops to leave the meeting alone to avoid exactly this outcome.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Fey'lya's downfall.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: For all of Thrawn's reputation of Awesomeness By Analysis, he does make a major miscalculation with a logical-yet-incorrect conclusion in the second book regarding Khabarakh's whereabouts during the month since the first book. Most of what goes wrong for Thrawn later on is a result of this error snowballing into disaster.
  • Eureka Moment: Leia has a couple in The Last Command - figuring out the secret of Delta Source based on watching a cleaning droid, and working out how Thrawn's impossibly rapid cloning works from a chance remark by Mara.
  • Evil Counterpart: C'baoth is an evil version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, as Luke comes to realize.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Joruus C'baoth. Unusually for this trope Thrawn is very much aware of the dangers of using the insane Dark Jedi and takes precautions. They nearly work too.
  • Evil Twin: Luuke Skywalker to Luke Skywalker, literally, because he's a clone of him.
  • Evil Overlord: While Joruus is otherwise a dead-on example, he does not like the idea of ruling over thousands of people he'll never even meet. Which is what happens when you work with The Empire. He changes his mind once he realizes he can personally put most of his minions under Mind Control, made even easier by the legion of clones who have near-identical minds.
    • Averted with Thrawn, who is certainly ruthless but treats his subordinates well (with the exception of those he finds unsalvageably inept). He's certainly a better man than C'baoth, Vader, or Palpatine. Later-written books, most notably Outbound Flight, still have him as very ambiguous and ruthless, but somewhat less villainous.
  • Eye Tropes: Hmm, let's see. Grand Admiral Thrawn's eyes are Monochromatic Eyes, Glowing Eyes of Doom, and Red Eyes, Take Warning. They stop glowing when he dies. Everyone who sees him mentions them.
  • Famous Last Words: "But... it was so artistically done."
  • Fantastic Racism: If it doesn't introduce the theme into the series, it definitely makes clear that the Empire (and specifically the Emperor himself) is incredibly racist, and Thrawn is the VAST exception instead of the rule. Even then, he's relegated to clearing up the Unknown Regions instead of running things closer to home. Ironically, Thrawn shows quite a bit of racism himself in his dealings with the Noghri.
    • Not sure Thrawn's behavior towards the Noghri qualifies as racism, since he doesn't seem to see them as inferior: quite the contrary, he recognizes the value of their skills. He does treat them as disposable Faceless Goons, but that's kind of standard in warfare.
  • A Father to His Men: Thrawn, while not to the degree of other examples on the trope page, certainly compared to the most of the Imperial commanders show in other works.
    • This is hammered in during the third book, after the tractor beam incident and the operator's promotion for thinking outside the box and the manual. In fact, it's lampshaded by Zahn.
    • The Noghri, on the other hand, might have something to say about this after they find out he's been lying to them for years to manipulate them into being his Elite Mooks.
  • Fiery Redhead: Mara is outwardly pretty cool and collected, but beneath the surface is passionate and stubborn.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Luke and Mara at the end of The Last Command.
  • Flanderisation: Thrawn is a very gifted tactician who is excellent at deduction. Later books by other authors treat him as being omniscient and undefeatable, despite making several clear mistakes in the books, notably underestimating the Noghri. This was mocked by Zahn himself in Hand of Thrawn, with several aliens in the Senate who never encountered Thrawn the first time being terrified of his reputation and the main characters Lampshading that he was never that good.
    • In addition, later books flanderize him into more and more of a Noble Demon and Well-Intentioned Extremist, especially those where its implied that his ultimate goal was to prepare the galaxy for the impending invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong; this time, Timothy Zahn actually endorses this new view, but since the Yuuzhan Vong weren't even conceived when this novel was written it is obviously an example of Canon Welding. The Thrawn of this trilogy is less Noble Demon than pragmatic villain, and seems to be trying to destroy the rebellion from a combination of Lawful Evil and for the sheer intellectual thrill, and further makes offhand and unapologetic references to commiting xenocide in times past, to say nothing of his treatment of the Noghri. So while he was very Affably Evil and disciplined villain, he was still very, very much a villain.
  • Four-Star Badass: Grand Admiral Thrawn has no sensitivity to the Force whatsoever, and he'll still rip your battle fleet to shreds, you Rebel scum.
  • Gentleman Thief: Talon Karrde is definitely a gentleman. He treats his people well, honors his debts, and holds himself to the rules of hospitality ("They've sat at our table and eaten our food. That puts them under our protection.") He's also the commander of the top smuggling group. Zahn tried to create a top smuggler in direct opposition to Jabba the Hutt. He succeeded very well.
  • A God Am I: "I am the Jedi Master C'baoth! The Empire, the universe is mine!"
  • Guile Hero: Han, allowing him to slot into the role of The Smart Guy when alongside his Ambadassador wife and Kung Fu Jesus brother-in-law.

Luke might have The Force, and Irenez might be able to climb stairs without getting winded; but [Han] would bet heavily that he could outdo both of them in sheer chicanery.

  • Hannibal Lecture: Evil-on-evil version. In The Last Command C'baoth seizes control of the minds of all thirty-seven thousand of the Chimaera`s crew, except Thrawn, Pellaeon and a few others protected by ysalamiri, and intends to take the ship to Coruscant to capture Leia's children. Thrawn might seem helpless, but he simply lectures C'baoth on how he will have to maintain that control for the days it will take to reach Coruscant and that even then, one Star Destroyer would never get through the defenses, forcing C'baoth down.

"It's a minimum of five days to Coruscant from here," Thrawn said coldly. "Five days during which you'll have to maintain your control of the Chimaera's thirty-seven thousand crewers. Longer, of course, if you intend for them to actually fight at the end of that voyage. And if you intend for us to arrive with any support craft, that figure of thirty-seven thousand will increase rather steeply.... I merely present the problems you and the Force will have to solve if you continue with this course of action. For instance, do you know where the Coruscant sector fleet is based, or the number and types of ships making it up? Have you thought about how you will neutralize Coruscant's orbital battle stations and ground-based systems? Do you know who is in command of the planet's defenses at present, and how he or she is likely to deploy the available forces? Have you considered Coruscant's energy field? Do you know how best to use the strategic and tactical capabilities of an Imperial Star Destroyer?"

  • Happily Married: Han and Leia.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Mara Jade, obviously, as the first hints of her Belligerent Sexual Tension with Luke begin to show.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Internet memes were still a few years away from developing, but upon running into an ambush set by Thrawn, Admiral Ackbar observes that "it appears to be a trap". And again, in the first book, Han says his smuggler contacts are unwilling to work for the New Republic because they suspect a trap. Admiral Ackbar, on the New Republic's ruling council, wryly says "Because of me, no doubt." It makes sense in-universe, since he's got a reputation about being hard on smugglers.
    • Early in the second book, Luke's looking through Imperial records and annoyed at how they, and the Old Republic before them, set a new Year Zero, hoping the New Republic wouldn't do anything like that. They ultimately did, with the Battle of Yavin (that is, the original movie) being classified in-universe and out as the new Year Zero.
    • Also this bit in book 3, in light of the rocket boosters Artoo used in Attack of the Clones:

Threepio: Excuse me, sir, does [having to go on foot] also apply to Artoo and me?
Han: Unless you've learned how to fly.

  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: Zahn introduces several sayings, which on the whole tend to be fairly quiet. The oldest trick on the list. Killing two lizards with one throw.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Leia's slow progress in The Force. To a certain extent, Mara as well, as her abilities come and go.
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Grand Admiral Thrawn used Money for mercenary types, Authority on some Imperials and the Noghri, Indoctrination on clones, Fear on the Noghri and sometimes his Imperials, Sadism (sort of) with C'baoth, and for the others... Respect. He knew that it's best to be feared and loved, and put a high value on people who were both loyal and competent.
    • C'baoth uses Fear, Mind Control, and Divine Right
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Niles Ferrier.
  • Idiot Ball: Thrawn letting Mara Jade live after betraying her. It doesn't turn out well.
    • As well as anyone letting the aformentioned Niles Ferrier to live. If not for him, the New Republic may have gotten the Katana Fleet in book two, and the smugglers wouldn't have been working against the Empire in book three.
    • Also, letting C'baoth live after the battle over Coruscant. He never does anything else for them, and Thrawn has no plans for him in the near future, not to mention the fact that he has Force-nullifying animals on-board his ship.
  • Insistent Terminology: Thrawn insists on calling the New Republic "The Rebellion".
  • The Ishmael: Pellaeon is the Imperial viewpoint character. Thrawn, in this trilogy and all subsequent appearances, is always inscrutable.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: How Leia and Karrde reveal Fey'lya's selfishness to the military officers he's duped.
  • It's All About Me: Fey'lya comes across as this most of the time, although it's said that this is in part just part of the backstabbing way Bothan politics works and how it has influenced his cultural background.
  • I Want Them Alive: ...if possible. If not... If not, I'll understand.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: The Republic tries one on Thrawn, by quietly gathering forces to make it look like they're attacking Tangrene, when they're really going after Bilbringi. Clever plan, but it fails spectacularly because, well, it's Thrawn.
    • However, they also manage to shuffle the smugglers, which helps win the day.
  • Keystone Army: Upon seeing C'baoth controlling several Imperial forces at once, Pellaeon muses that this was how the army was quickly defeated in the battle of Endor after Palpatine's death, if Palpatine were controlling them. Zahn says the idea was inspired by how Sauron controlled his forces in The Lord of the Rings. Thrawn had already proposed the theory, which Pellaeon refused to accept until seeing C'baoth in action.
  • Kick the Dog: Thrawn going behind Mara's back and capturing Talon Karrde in the second book and his treatment of the Noghri. Both of which end up biting him in the ass later.
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: Mara blames Luke for Palpatine's death, and as such wants to kill him...of course, we all know where that ended up.
    • For most of the trilogy, Mara is openly frustrated at the fact that she keeps needing Luke's help and thus can't kill him yet.
  • Knowledge Broker: Talon Karrde.
  • Know When to Fold'Em: Pellaeon was the only Imperial commander at the Battle of Endor with the presence of mind to order a retreat. When Thrawn dies, he does the same. More notably employed by Thrawn himself when his attack on Sluis Van fails. When Pellaeon is surprised at Thrawn's order to retreat, Thrawn explains "this is a setback, Captain, nothing more."
    • It also is one of the reasons Pellaeon constantly wonders how things would've gone if Thrawn had been in charge of the Endor fleet.
    • According to Mara, this is something that set Thrawn apart from the standard Imperial commander, including the other Grand Admirals: if you're losing, go out in a blaze of glory. Thrawn, however, is willing to retreat from a losing battle. The problem is getting him to that point, which is near impossible.
  • Lady Land: Sort of; Noghri society is somewhat matriarchal.
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: Compared to the Imperials from the movies, and to the Imperials written by just about every other Expanded Universe author, Zahn's Imperials really aren't that bad. They're... people, who happen to be the enemies of our heroes, and who do things our heroes wouldn't do.
    • Here's a quote from the Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook about how Thrawn was regarded by his troops. The Emperor and Vader had been feared.

Thrawn was respected and trusted. Thrawn used a small measure of fear, certainly: the Grand Admiral realized that fear of failure was a powerful motivating force in a military the size of the Empire. But Thrawn's ability to invoke a sense of pride in his troops was his most powerful asset. Palpatine inspired arrogance and callousness in his officers; Thrawn made his men proud to be Imperial soldiers. Thrawn's officers would have willingly died for the Grand Admiral.

  • Loveable Rogue: Talon Karrde.
  • MacGuffin: The oh-so-important crystal gravfield trap, that actually turns out to be unneeded when Talon Karrde comes by with a critical piece of information.
  • Manipulative Bastard: C'baoth, though his insanity means he can't stay focused on his manipulations for long. When they fail, he generally falls back on Mind Rape.
    • Borsk Fey'lya as well.
      • Thrawn himself is more of The Chessmaster, but he occasionally showed tendencies of this as when he personally manipulated Mara Jade and Mazzic.
  • Maybe Ever After: At the end of the trilogy.
  • Meaningful Name: The Noghri come from the planet Honoghr. The 'g' and 'h' in that name are silent, and that quality becomes well proven.
    • Subverted with Garm Bel Iblis, perhaps because Han and Lando initially aren't sure if he's a good guy or not and there is tension in the narrative. (His name consists of the names of three evil monsters from (Earth) religion and mythology - the hellhound Garm from Norse mythology, Bel another form of Ba'al from The Bible, and Iblis the Islamic name for Satan (And let's not forget Count Iblis...))
    • The Ubiqtorate, the Imperial spy service (in these books at least) has a name meant to inspire Paranoia Fuel—from 'ubiquitous', meaning 'present everywhere'.
  • Mercurial Base: Nomad City, Nkllon; Lando's latest business venture.
  • Military Maverick: Thrawn's tactics tend to be somewhat inventive.
    • An example: traditional thought declared cloaking fields to be militarily useless as they interfere with the cloaked ships sensors as well as any others', preventing them from accomplishing much in battle. Thrawn got the idea to cloak a couple dozen asteroids and tractor them into orbit around Coruscant, essentially cutting the New Republic capital off from the rest of the war by forcing them to hide behind their planetary shield until the asteroids could be found and destroyed.
    • The cloak comes up twice more. First, he uses it to hide a bunch of TIE fighters in a freighter, then have the freighter show up at the Republic Spaceport, making a neat Trojan Horse. Second, he uses C'baoth's Force skills to coordinate cloaked ships that have gotten through planetary shields, in order to make it look like his lasers can pierce said shields.
    • Even the Interdictor Cruiser trick, which few characters (or authors) have tried before or since. Interdictors are supposed to create inverted Hypeerspeed Ambushes—instead of jumping in on the enemy, Interdictors use huge gravity projectors to un-jump the enemy onto you. Thrawn uses this to his advantage by re-inverting the trope: by having his backup wait just outside the battle zone and having his Interdictors aim their gravity wells in certain directions, Thrawn can order the ships in on a heading that directly intercepts said gravity wells and essentially spawn reinforcements exactly where he wants them.
      • In the few instances when it's been used afterward, it's referred to as the "Thrawn Pincer".
  • Mind Rape: C'baoth is a very bad man. See the spoilered part of Charm Person, above.
  • My Greatest Failure: Thrawn has one piece of art, which looks like thrashing liquid, which he keeps to remind him of the one time that said art did not give him any insight into the race that made it - which he then casually adds he completely destroyed. Lately, it's been hinted that this was the homeworld of General Grievous.

Halfway across the room, one of the sculptures had not disappeared with the others. Sitting all alone in its globe of light, it slowly writhed on its pedestal like a wave in some bizarre alien ocean. "Yes," Thrawn said from behind him. "That one is indeed real."

"It's . . . very interesting," Pellaeon managed. The sculpture was strangely hypnotic.

"Isn't it?" Thrawn agreed, his voice sounding almost wistful. "It was my one failure, out on the Fringes. The one time when understanding a race's art gave me no insight at all into its psyche. At least not at the time. Now, I believe I'm finally beginning to understand them."

"I'm sure that will prove useful in the future," Pellaeon offered diplomatically.

"I doubt it," Thrawn said, in that same wistful voice. "I wound up destroying their world."

    • Also The Greatest Story Never Told - later books fill in much of Thrawn's backstory hinted at here, such as his encounter with the original Jorus C'baoth, but we are never enlightened about this.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Harshly averted with the planet Honoghr, which was utterly decimated during a battle in orbit due to destroyed ships crashing into the surface, stray fire, and toxic chemicals being dumped into the atmosphere. And this was just with regular ships; there was no Death Star involved.
    • Despite Honoghr, the trope is played straight with the titular planet of Endor. Leia stops by to meet a contact at one point, yet no mention of any damage to the moon.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Thrawn. Justifed because he's a Four-Star Badass Magnificent Bastard who is much more dangeorus commanding his troops than personally leading them. Some of the later novels which elaborate on Thrawn's backstory, however, reveal that his abilities in personal combat are nothing to sneeze at either.
  • Noodle Implements: The elements of Thrawn's plan (which he describes as a jigsaw puzzle) seem like this to anyone who doesn't know it, including Pellaeon and the Reader. For example, how does 1) raiding New Republic supply lines, 2) stealing fifty mole miners, 3) acquiring a cloaking shield and 4) the (then) mysterious Spaarti cylinders come together help him defeat the New Republic? By forcing the New Republic to convert some of their warships to lightly crewed freighters to take up the needed freight capacity, then using the cloaking shield to deliver the mole miners into the shipyard where the lightly crewed converted warships are, using the mole miners to drill into the ships to insert stormtroopers to take them over, and then (if the plan hadn't been foiled) converting the ships back into full warships and crewing them with Spaarti clones.
  • Out-Gambitted: The Bilbringi attack. See Kansas City Shuffle.
  • Perspective Magic: Thrawn uses several of his cloaked ships, in conjunction with the Chimaera to pull this off as one of his "superweapons." To the Imperials, it's the cloaked vessel being in a direct line between the Chimaera and its target, and just below the planet's shields, firing when the former's lasers hit said shields. To the defenders, it looks as though the Chimaera's lasers went straight through. Thrawn carefully chooses the places where he uses this trick, only targeting planets where he expects the locals to be so astonished by the "impossible" attack that they'll surrender without taking the time to analyze what's happening.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Mara is wounded at the end of "Dark Force Rising" and spends a month recovering, during which time she misses out on what Thrawn is doing. Winter fills her in one his new victories, but fails to mention he's using clones—the source of which Mara would know. Mara only finds out about the clones AFTER Thrawn has discredited her in the Republic's eyes using a Xanatos Gambit, setting up the prison break and our-heroes-stand-alone endgame of "The Last Command".
  • Posthumous Character: The Emperor and Vader are quite dead, but both cast long shadows across the trilogy. A tiny part of the Emperor seems to survive in Mara, frequently telling her that YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Thrawn, very much so.
    • Also C'baoth, at least at first. He doesn't care for ruling a galaxy of strangers; he'll settle for a city where he can take a hands-on approach.
  • Pregnant Badass: Leia.
  • Prophecy Twist: Twice, both centered around Mara.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Noghri and the Wookiees.
    • Khabarakh and Chewbacca eventually get along very well due to the similarities in their cultures.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Sure, the Republic stopped Thrawn's plan to steal several dozen capital warships, but considering that the warships were crippled in the process, I don't think the Empire had too much to complain about...
    • Later, the Republic stopped the Empire from capturing the entire Katana fleet... but the Empire got almost all of the fleet despite the New Republic's efforts. Only about fourteen ships remained of the nearly two hundred that they started with.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Thrawn, especially when compared to the likes of Vader. He believes in cultivating loyalty rather than fear in his underlings and frowns upon Vader's excessive use of You Have Failed Me. However, that does not stop him from invoking the trope himself at times.
  • Retcon: Leia briefly hides out on Kashyyyk in the first book, and acts as if it's her first time ever seeing the planet. Because, as we all know, The Star Wars Holiday Special never happened...
  • Sacred Hospitality: When you are a guest of Talon Karrde, you are a guest of Talon Karrde. The same goes for the Noghri.
  • Sarcasm Mode: "Thank you, Ferrier. Your approval means so very much to me."
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted as much as is possible for Star Wars: realizing that the galaxy has over a million inhabited worlds, Zahn (unlike some other Star Wars Expanded Universe writers) doesn't recycle locations from the films without good reason. And at those times when the heroes know they need to find something on an unfamiliar world, they don't act like knowing what planet it's on will make things easy. Planets are big.
    • He also realize that a light-year is an enormous distance; when Luke's X-Wing is determined to be somewhere within a light-year of Thrawn's Star Destroyer, Thrawn hires mercenaries to find it since it would take too long to search for themselves. Just because hyperdrive allows traveling along such a distance very rapidly doesn't mean that searching every inch of that light-year is an easy prospect.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Dark Force Rising - Harrison Ford is about to shoot you while Mark Hamill is about to lightsaber you.
  • Self-Induced Allergic Reaction: Mara Jade's plan for hiding Luke from the Imperial patrols on Myrkr.
  • Sherlock Scan: Thrawn does this with art.
  • The Siege: Thrawn besieges Coruscant with cloaked asteroids.
  • The Smart Guy: Han absolutely takes on this role in the trilogy. Luke is the Jedi Knight, Leia is following in his footsteps and showing that she's her father's daughter... but Han, instead of being Overshadowed by Awesome, is generally the one giving the orders to Skywalkers because he's the one with all the plans.
    • Although it's mentioned that Leia is better at this than Han in regards to diplomacy. When it mentions that most men would be offended by a wife who could outsmart them, Han reportedly gave up such thoughts long before.
    • In fact, Han thinks to himself that he likes having a woman who can sometimes think faster than him. And for good reason, as it saves their lives once or twice.
  • Smug Snake: Niles Ferrier and Borsk Fey'lya.
  • Stealth in Space: Averted, and pretty well. The "cloaking shield" Thrawn gets his hands on has accurate limitations (the people inside it are just as blind as the ones outside it), so he's forced to use it to 1) hide things inside a ship; 2) find other ways of flying ships; or 3) attach it to things that don't require guidance to fly. Because he's a Grand Admiral, he gets significant mileage from all three.
  • Stealth Pun: The names of Karrde's ships. Also, Fey'lya (phonetically pronounced 'failure').
  • Stun Guns: Zahn introduces the Stokhli Spray Stick, an unconventional weapon which can both stun people and also allow one to play at being Spider-Man. The Noghri use it when trying to capture a pregnant Leia because the normal Star Wars stun blasters can accidentally spark a miscarriage.
    • The conventional stun-setting blasters appear in "The Last Command" when the Imperials can't use the kill setting for fear of hitting the nearby cloning equipment. Lando and Chewie have fewer such compunctions.
  • Taking You with Me: YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Garm Bel Iblis spends years fighting a private war against the Empire because of a personal grudge against Mon Mothma before reluctantly joining the New Republic. Also, Mara asking Luke for help when she tries to rescue Karrde off the Chimaera.
  • Tsundere: Mara Jade. Somewhat troubling when her tsun-tsun side mainly consists of wanting to literally kill Luke.
  • Tyke Bomb: Mara was adopted and secretly raised by Palpatine himself. Not surprisingly, when Palpatine showed her an image of Luke and Vader killing him...
  • The Unpronounceable: Played with, in Heir Han says the Imperials have attacked three star systems--"Bpfassh and two unpronounceable ones".
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Jacen and Jaina.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Galactic Empire has been reduced to a quarter of its former territory at the beginning of the trilogy. Of course this is before Thrawn comes along.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Thrawn has one (at least for him- it probably wouldn't count as one for a less-controlled villain) when he gets hit by a whole bunch of things he didn't see coming at once. He regains his composure within moments- but those few moments were all that Rukh needed...
    • C'baoth has a more traditional one after Mara kills the Luke clone, albeit one where he passes into Tranquil Fury instead of another hissyfit.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: In a callback to the trash compactor scene from A New Hope, Luke heads into one and as the walls close in he hopes that Mara, who is controlling the trash compactor and previously stated her desire to kill him, won't let her hatred overcome her. She stops the walls a meter apart, and he rock-chimneys up and saves her boss.
  • The Watson: Pellaeon. Done positively, in that Thrawn respects his second and would not have an idiot in such a position. And just like the original Watson, Pellaeon sometimes thinks or notices something Thrawn doesn't, or comes up with a new idea, which Thrawn finds very handy.

Thrawn: "I have no qualms about accepting a useful idea merely because it wasn't my own."

  • We Have Reserves: Averted in that Thrawn values his men's lives and does not waste them. He refused orders from the Emperor himself when he felt that carrying out an attack order would be a waste of ships and men. This consideration, however, does not extend to the Noghri, who he'll sacrifice blithely. Though even then, he only sacrifices them when he's certain they have a legitimate chance of success.
  • Wham! Line: A few examples. One is where the Noghri maitrakh reveals to Leia that "thirdson" does not mean "third son" but "great-grandson", revealing that the Noghri have deliberately been kept helpless by the Empire for generations.
  • What Could Have Been: Originally Zahn wanted the character that became Joruus C'baoth to be an insane clone of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the clone he unleashes on Luke at the end of The Last Command to be a clone of Darth Vader. Lucasarts vetoed both of these.
    • Also vetoed was the original name he proposed for the Noghri: the Sith. Which explains the Vader connections—Zahn, like many fans, was speculating just what Vader's title 'Dark Lord of the Sith' actually meant. At the time, evil Force-users were simply called "Dark Jedi" in the Expanded Universe.
    • Some sources claim that, at one point, there were plans to have Shannon McRandle (the model who poses for Mara Jade on trading cards and book covers) to make a brief cameo in Jabba's throne room in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, since it's established in this trilogy that Mara was hiding out there waiting to kill Luke.
    • In-universe, Pellaeon wonders how the Battle of Endor would have turned out if Thrawn had been in command. Considering how close the actual Battle of Endor was and how brilliant Thrawn is, the answer would almost certainly have been "so long, Rebel scum."
  • White Shirt of Death
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Joruus C'baoth.
  • Wicked Cultured: Thrawn, so very much.
    • Hell, he weaponized it.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Despite not being that important of a character in the first book, C'baoth is featured the most prominently on the cover, while Thrawn is given a very small space in the corner. While not quite the standard use of the trope since C'baoth was a new character, the publishers were probably going for "hey, look! a Jedi!". Oddly enough, even though it is in the later two books where the majority of his arc takes place, he gets much less cover space on the final book and isn't even on the cover of the second.
    • Except for the Hungarian cover which prominently featured the Grand Admiral... but not C'baoth!
  • A Worldwide Punomenon: Zahn loves puns, in this case the names of Karrde's ships:[1]
    • Wild Karrde, Lastri's Ort, Uwana Buyer, Starry Ice, Etherway, Amanda Follow, Dawn Beat
  • Xanatos Gambit: Thrawn successfully runs so many of these that he gets the protagonists chasing their own tails trying to avoid stepping into the next one. He pretty much defines the trope in an aside to Pellaeon, patiently explaining why they're considering attacking a world which the New Republic prizes greatly.

"When we're finally ready to draw the Coruscant sector fleet into ambush, Mrisst will be the perfect lure to use. If they come out to meet us, we'll defeat them then and there. And if they somehow sense the trap and refuse to engage, we'll have our forward base. Either way, the Empire will triumph."

    • A despairing Lando, trying to get something out of a paranoid Admiral Drayson, tells him:

"We all agree Thrawn's a brilliant tactician. But we can't assume that everything that happens in the galaxy is part of some grand, all-encompassing scheme that he's dreamed up."

    • A particularly apt example of the trope is when Thrawn sends commandoes to capture Leia's children, but briefs them that if they fail, they should falsely implicate Mara Jade as an ally in order to prevent her giving her knowledge to the Republic. Pellaeon considers this order defeatist, but needless to say it turns out to serve Thrawn's purposes well.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess / Gambit Pileup: Karrde desperately trying to keep Han and Lando from finding Luke and vice versa, and then trying to keep all three hidden from Thrawn while still not letting them become aware of each other.
    • The raid for the CGT at the end of the trilogy had all three sides trying to outwit each other.
  • You Are the Translated Foreign Word: Leia is the Mal'ary'ush. The Noghri who recognizes her as such immediately clarifies, saying that she is the daughter and heir of the Lord Darth Vader. Later it's clarified further to mean that she is heir to his authority and power. Supplemental material reveals that the word actually means "Heir of the Savior".
    • Interestingly, Luke doesn't get this title, even though he's just as qualified for it (and, technically, is the older of the two.) This is probably because Noghri society is a matriarchy, and would thus see Vader's daughter as his true heir.
    • Also because for awhile the Nohgri didn't know that Vader had two children but once they do meet him he is also revered, if not quite as much as Leia, with them simply referring to him as "Son of Vader."
  • You Are Too Late: Not quite as dramatic a reveal as usual for this trope, with no ticking clock or imminent explosion, but the Republic scrambles against time to find the Katana fleet before Thrawn, and engages in a vicious battle when a Star Destroyer arrives to stop them, but once it is over they discover that Thrawn had already discovered the fleet hours, if not days ago, and has already moved more than one hundred and fifty of the two hundred ships.
  • You Have Failed Me: Done straight in the first book, then subverted in the third.
    • The first was a Blofeld Ploy, but it's not capricious - the situation is ambiguous, and Thrawn explains why he considered the Mook to be the one at fault. He was checking if the Mook was badly trained, or just an idiot. When he confirmed it was the latter, he killed the mook, and had the trainer prepare a replacement. Efficiency went up afterward.
    • The second time, the situation was similar, but the mook had shown quick thinking and inventiveness, even if he'd failed. Instead of killing him, Thrawn promoted him and told him to perfect the tactic he'd used. He did.
      • The difference: the first one had a situation whose solution was clearly stated in the training manual. The second explicitly had no such solution, because one didn't exist.
      • Another: the second officer took responsibility for the failure. The first one did not, and tried to pin the blame on his superior officer. One speculates whether he would have kept his head if he had just admitted his mistake; Thrawn doesn't punish failure, just irredeemable stupidity.
    • Discussed by Thrawn. To Thrawn, doing this the way Vader and Palpatine did is stupid because killing failures leads to less innovation, and also people fight more effectively when their leader inspires them.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Well, not shame per se, but Leia is initially thrown for a loop when she finds out that the Noghri revere her as the daughter of Darth Vader. Of course, it lasts about half a second before she starts furiously strategizing how to work this to her advantage because, well, it's Leia.

The whole thing was rapidly becoming unreal... but one fact already stood out. The alien prostrating himself before her was prepared to treat her as royalty.
And she knew how to behave like royalty.

Notes

  1. Not all of these actually appear in the Thrawn Trilogy; some are from other Zahn works. Still, though.