There’s some NSFW language in this article too.
Grand Admiral Thrawn celebrated a milestone on May 1, 2021 as Heir to the Empire hit its 30th anniversary. I’m excited to celebrate this as a fan of my Blue Huasbando. My first real introduction to Thrawn was Star Wars Rebels which piqued my interest for the Chiss character. I had heard so much about him in the fandom, but I’d never experienced him before that.
I immediately started diving into the books to hold me over between Rebels seasons. It was the 2017 novel Thrawn that solidified my love for the character, adoring the Sherlockian take in a Star Wars setting. Since then, more novels have been released in the current canon. I’ve also been making my way through the Legends novels with Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising. I still need to tackle The Last Command, and I’m dying to get to Outbound Flight so I can finally sob my eyes out over Thrass.
But over the last three years, there is one book that continues to hold the top spot as my favorite Thrawn novel. It’s the accidental comedy and canonized fanfiction, Thrawn: Alliances.
Before Alliances was released…
When I say that Thrawn: Alliances is canonized fanfiction, I mean that with the greatest love and respect as I am a writer and reader of fanfics. Before the novel was published, Del Rey released a summary of it. One part of the summary stuck out to me in particular:
But it is troubling enough to the Imperial leader to warrant investigation by his most powerful agents: ruthless enforcer Lord Darth Vader and brilliant strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn. Fierce rivals for the emperor’s favor, and outspoken adversaries on Imperial affairs—including the Death Star project—the formidable pair seem unlikely partners for such a crucial mission. But the Emperor knows it’s not the first time Vader and Thrawn have joined forces. And there’s more behind his royal command than either man suspects.
My instant response to this was thinking that I’d seen similar fanfics on Ao3. These fics would have descriptions like, “Thrawn and Vader have to team up, but Thrawn knows a secret about the Darth. Hijinx ensue!” Pretty much Del Rey released a more professional version of this. The idea got into my head wondering if this book was going to be like a crackfic.
A crackfic is “fanfiction on crack” which are oftentimes humorous, they take scenarios to the extreme, and “frequently include bizarre settings and explorations of improbable relationships between characters.” A well written crackfic also tends to “interweave an outlandish premise with solid characterization, internally consistent logic, and a clear understanding of the rules and feel of the source material.”
When I purchased Thrawn: Alliances and began reading, I realized quickly that was exactly the story being told.
Two dumbasses, one story
Thrawn: Alliances is one narrative in two different timelines. The past era set during the Clone Wars is about Thrawn and Anakin Skywalker meeting. The present day story in the Imperial era is about Thrawn teaming up with Vader to seek out a disturbance in the Force.
Thrawn and AnaVader (how I will refer to Anakin and Vader together) are both extremely alpha male types. Both always have to be in charge and have to be right. There is little to no concession or compromise. We see this in their first meeting where they immediately start to fight over the silliest, smallest thing which is how to pronounce Thrawn’s name correctly. This goes on for a quarter of the page.
From there, hijinx ensue!
The situations that Anakin and Thrawn find themselves in during the Clone Wars timeline are dumb. And I mean dumb in a nice way. It’s hilarious. Because both have to be right, the men get in each other’s way. For example during a fight, Thrawn shoves Anakin into knock-out gas. With the Jedi passes out, Thrawn gets shot. Then they fight about that later about whose fault it was.
Many absurd situations happen too. Like they need to get the enemy to believe one of their dead companions is alive. So Anakin uses the Force to walk a dead man like a marionette around town. There are so many out-there situations like these that I couldn’t help but laugh at it.
Then in the present-day story, the chaos continues. Thrawn is pretty sure that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker. For about 300 pages, Thrawn chooses to troll the hell out of Vader to the point where it’s like that scene from Friends when everyone finds out Chandler and Monica are dating. Thrawn spends most of the book saying to Vader, “They don’t know that we know they know we know!” just like Phoebe to Joey.
And Vader just takes the trolling because he has to for reasons?? He can’t kill Thrawn, because canonically Thrawn is in Star Wars Rebels season four. This makes Thrawn: Alliances fall into the crackfic trope of “unlikely scenarios.” It is unlikely that Vader would put up with that behavior from the Chiss for so long. In fact, I was betting that Karyn Faro, Thrawn’s second-in-command, was probably going to die. To my relief because I adore Karyn, Vader didn’t kill or Force choke anyone on Thrawn’s crew. But it built-in tension which made for some great writing. Vader couldn’t touch Thrawn, but every other person in the story could suffer Vader’s wrath at the drop of a hat. While I laughed at Thrawn’s trolling, I was equally worried about everyone else.
It wasn’t just the trolling either. Thrawn and Vader got up to some just as stupid and silly situations as well. For example at one point, they’re fighting an enemy. A bunch of bugs come flying at our protagonists. When the bugs die, they explode and release space cement. Vader is pelted with these insects and gets completely encased and stuck to the floor. His entire annoyance at the situation is laughable, because this is now the life of the Dark Lord of the Sith. He’s become a living lawn ornament and hates it. I adored every moment.
This is just the surface of the dumb things that AnaVader and Thrawn get up to as they bitch at each other the entire time. And through all this, Padmé Amidala and Karyn Faro get shit done, because none of the women in this book has time for that nonsense. It’s fantastic.
Kimmund, Faro, and Rukh effing with each other for 300 pages
Thrawn and AnaVader aren’t the only trolls in Thrawn: Alliances. The supporting cast gets in on the act as well. I love the subplot of Commander Kimmund and the First Legion versus Commodore Karyn Faro, Rukh, and the Chimaera crew. In the opening chapters, Kimmund and Karyn butt heads immediately over a few issues. First, Vader has the audacity to park his ship in the equivalence of Thrawn’s parking space. Because he can. Karyn is immediately annoyed by the lack of respect on her Star Destroyer.
Second, the two fight over Rukh. The Noghri sneaks onto Vader’s ship to check it out for his job. Kimmund wants Karyn to put a stop to it. And my girl Karyn Faro tells Kimmund she’ll talk to Rukh. But because she doesn’t trust Kimmund, Karyn gives Rukh the okay to keep fucking with the First Legion. Boy, does Rukh ever. At one point, he stands just outside of the First Legion’s ship and stares at them as an “I’m not touching you” move for the heck of it. Rukh also uses his cloaking device to sneak up on Kimmund and his crew to scare the hell out of them.
This results in one of my favorite exchanges in Thrawn: Alliances where Kimmund says, “We’re hardly unknowns. We’re the First Legion, Lord Vader’s personal stormtroopers. The entire Empire knows us.”
In which Rukh responds, “The entire Empire may. I don’t.”
This is almost exactly the Constitutional Peasants Scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Kimmund going, “We’re the First Legion!” and Rukh responding, “I didn’t vote for you.” All it’s missing is Kimmund roughing up Rukh as the Noghri yells, “Thrawn! Come and see the violence inherent in the system!”
But I think my favorite thing about this subplot is Kimmund’s confusion at how well functioning the Chimaera crew is. There are a few times where he pretty much looks at Karyn and goes, “Wait! You guys actually LIKE your jobs and you’re… HAPPY!? What is this Kumbaya Chimaera bullshit? No one is happy to work in the Empire! We’re all villains, and we know it! We’re supposed to hate everything! What the hell!?”
And Karyn is confused like, “Yes? I’m sorry your job sucks, and Lord Vader will probably kill you tomorrow? Anyway, I’m going to go enjoy my benefits and paid time off that Thrawn makes sure we all have, ’cause he’s a fantastic boss.”
This entire situation is hilarious. They pretty much debate over who has the best boss for most of the book and are constantly yelling “Well, actually!” at each other.
As a side note, I just want to add that Commander Kimmund has such a great arc too. I fell in love with that character immediately. It was fun to have a sarcastic, deadpan second-in-command to Vader’s silence. The two men are very similar character types. Kimmund has Anakin’s snark and dry humor. He is a good leader, adaptable, and clearly felt for the Chiss girls they rescue. He’s an amazing balance to Vader, and I hope we see this character again. Commander Kimmund quickly became one of my favorite side characters in Star Wars, and I think about him a lot.
It’s sexy without meaning to be
One of the most endearing things about Timothy Zahn is I don’t think he quite gets fandom sometimes. The few times I’ve heard him speak at Dragon Con, he was surprised by the Eli Vanto and Thrawn ship. When Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising was released, in a Q&A he was surprised that people thought Ar’alani and Thrawn went on a date to a museum. I think he doesn’t really delve into the romance side of his work too much.
This is why I don’t think he realized how much he wrote Thrawn as a sexy, sexy man in Thrawn: Alliances. Two instances stand out in particular. Both times I happened to be driving to work and listening to the audiobook.
The first is in the Clone Wars era storyline. Thrawn and Anakin, being idiots, were captured and thrown into jail cells. Thrawn tore his shirt apart to make a rope out of it in case they needed it. At no point does Zahn ever give details about how shirtless Thrawn was. I remember the exact red light I was at, all hot and heavy in my car, screaming, “Come on, Zahn! Is he in a crop top for the last 100 pages!? Are his blue tiddies out? Are there nips!? I need to know these details!” And then for my entire work shift, I thought about Thrawn in a crop top. It’s absolutely how I imagined him in the last quarter of the novel.
The other instant was at the very end of the book. In Vader’s point of view, there is an off-screen scene where Thrawn apparently sat with the Chiss girls they rescued. I screamed. I screamed in my car. I was ironically at the same red light and scared the man in the car next to me. It was a very loud shout of, “COME ON, ZAHN!” I felt my ovaries spring to life. I don’t even want children as I’m striving for that DINK lifestyle. But the image of Thrawn with little girls turned on every nerve ending in my brain.
Did he kneel down to their level? Did he speak softly to them? Did he get them little blankets and juice boxes? Did he go into Chiss Dad Mode!? I needed to know these things! It was the first time I’ve ever audibly screamed out, “This was clearly written by a man!” when it came to anything in Star Wars. I definitely complained to my female co-workers when I got to work that afternoon. They absolutely agreed there should be more descriptions of blue man tiddies and Thrawn Dad Modes in Thrawn: Alliances.
Timothy Zahn accidentally gave us two of the hottest scenes in the entire canon, and he probably didn’t mean to. But I love how sexually frustrated it made me in all the best ways possible.
The humor made the ending hit harder
After rolling around laughing, sometimes being brought to tears by this accidental comedy, I was slapped in the face by the last fifty or so pages. The tone completely shifts away from the hijinx as AnaVader finally comes out swinging in the narrative.
I was not expecting such an abrupt shift, especially in the Clone Wars era side of the story. Anakin decimates a planet and has no remorse about it. All the characters know he messed up and accept it. Padmé can’t even defend her husband at this point. It’s a huge shove at the end of the war that pushes Anakin towards the Dark Side.
Then in the present-day story, Vader finally fully confronts Thrawn about his loyalties to the Empire and the Chiss Ascendancy. It’s an incredibly tense scene as Thrawn all but confirms Vader’s identity as Anakin to the Dark Lord’s face. It was then that I had the most fear for the Chimaera crew. I thought for sure that someone, probably Karyn, was going to be killed as an example for Thrawn.
The tonal shift was the best part of the story for me. After all the insane situations of cement bugs exploding on Vader, Thrawn ripping open his shirt, Kimmund and Rukh being dicks to each other, and Karyn just trying to get through her Monday, the last fifty pages slammed into me so hard. I was completely taken off guard for most of the book, enjoying the crazed adventure, and fell into the dark trap of the ending.
Maybe that was Zahn’s plan all along. I’m not in his head, so I can’t say for sure. Thrawn: Alliances is so drastically different from the other canon Thrawn novels. It’s an insane, planet-hopping romp that has very little boring battle math. The characters got stuck in stupid situations which are hilarious for the reader to experience. And perhaps it was all for one of the most impactful finales of a Thrawn book. Other than Thrawn (2017) which I often use for reference, Thrawn: Alliances is the book I return to most for enjoyment.
I know I can pick it up at any time or put on the audiobook with the always fantastic Marc Thompson, kick back, and laugh my ass off. Because somehow, this crackfic got canonized.
And we need to have more fun, stupid adventures in Star Wars to laugh at.
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