Star Trek Guide

Star Wars' Thrawn Copies A Classic Captain Kirk Move

Star Wars' Grand Admiral Thrawn has just copied a famous move from Captain James T. Kirk. The character of Thrawn was introduced as part of the old Expanded Universe back in 1991, and he's successfully made his way into the Disney canon. Finally, after all these years, author Timothy Zahn has been granted the opportunity to tell the Grand Admiral's backstory, and to reveal the secrets of the Unknown RegionsThrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising is the first in a trilogy of books set almost entirely in the Unknown Regions, charting Thrawn's rise through the ranks of the Chiss Ascendancy, and presumably leading up to his expulsion from Chiss space. Zahn has written the book in such a way it could actually fit with both the EU and the old Disney canon, a gift to One Canon fans who attempt to reconcile the two.

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Amusingly, there are striking parallels between the Chiss and the Federation from Star Trek. The philosophy and ethos is very different; where the Federation value diversity, the Chiss believe themselves superior to all other races. But the Chiss policy of non-intervention feels like a twisted version of the Prime Directive, and it drives the narrative of Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising. There are even portions of the book set at the Chiss Taharim Academy, which helps train cadets to join the Expansionary Defense Fleet, and these flashbacks feel distinctly reminiscent of the Starfleet Academy. In fact, the Chiss even have their own version of the Kobayashi Maru. In Star Trek lore, this is a simulated exercise that tests how a cadet responds to failure, to a no-win scenario. Only one man has ever passed the Kobayashi Maru - James T. Kirk - and he accomplished this feat by hacking the program.

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Like Kirk, Thrawn faced his Kobayashi Maru equivalent with confidence, and emerged victorious - achieving a record score that left his superiors convinced he had cheated. It's easy to understand why they thought this, because Thrawn's tactics actually caused the simulator to glitch. Unlike Kirk, however, Thrawn did not rig anything; he successfully thought his way out of the crisis. This contrast is a smart one, with Zahn using it to emphasize both Thrawn's military brilliance and his political ignorance, because he is unable to explain how he intuited solutions to an impossible crisis, and struggles to grasp quite how close he comes to being expelled.

Fortunately, Senior Cadet Irizi'ar'alani - destined to become Admiral Arilani, of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet - is rather more politically adept than Thrawn. She correctly deduces he has powerful backers, and manipulates them into using live ships to recreate the exercise. This, she reasons, is the only way to test Thrawn's strategic brilliance, and to prove the simulator malfunction was just that - a malfunction, caused by Thrawn doing something so unexpected it fell outside the software's parameters.

Grand Admiral Thrawn has always been one of Timothy Zahn's favorite characters, but he's frequently accused of being something of a Gary Stu, the male equivalent of a Mary Sue. While this scene certainly serves to emphasize Thrawn's strengths, demonstrating a tactical skill beyond even Captain Kirk, it also helps to flesh him out as a character by emphasizing his weakness. It's smart work on Zahn's part, and a welcome development for this iconic Star Wars character.

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