Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Children of the Jedi Part III

            I was out of town this past weekend, so I haven’t gotten so far in this book since then, but I’ll get back into it.  Until I do, though, I’m going to put this up, but it’s pretty short.  I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with what Luke and company have been doing so far in this book but there’s a whole other half to this.  Leia and Han, and the story seems to be largely from the perspective of Leia, are off trying to find where the titular young’uns were, and maybe still are.

            So, Leia and Han have been poking around, trying to find information about the planet that they were warned about, but they’re also trying to figure out when and how the old friend that warned them vanished.  So, what’s the logical place to do this?  Well, if you’re Han Solo, then you are going to do what you’ve always done and slip into a dive bar near the space port and start slipping people credits and asking questions.  If you’re Leia, you have an entire intelligence organization that you can set on doing this.

            Because delegating makes for poor storytelling, we follow Han’s logic.  He and Leia find the rough and tumble bar and pay people and ask questions.  Now, in some cases, I’m okay with that, especially if the author opts not to point out the obvious.  But Ms Hambley did.

            Early in the book, it is firmly established that Leia is the Chancellor of the New Republic.  She is the chief of state, there’s a whole senate that is there to make decisions, but at the end of the day, she’s the masthead, Leia is the face of the Republic.  Again, if you didn’t bring this up, then it’s fine for her to wander into a bar.  But the author does, she comments that, despite the fact that she ought to be one of the most recognizable faces in the galaxy, nobody will recognize her because shut up they won’t.

            Oh, really?  Come on!  There were so many ways that you could fix this, maybe just Han walks into the bar.  Han may also be a very easily recognized face, but one person that resembles somebody that walks into a bar does not make that person the celebrity.  Maybe Han walks into the bar dressed differently than he normally does and just comes in under the radar.  “Hey,” one bar patron says to another, “isn’t that Han Solo, former general of the Rebellion and husband of the chancellor of the republic?”  The other patron looks at the first and says, “Yeah, he does look like that well known hero and public figure, but why would he be in here?  I bet that’s just a lookalike.  I bet that’s just Dash Rendar hopping around disguised again*.”
*Shadows of the Empire, your day is coming

            You might tell me, “Hey, you.  Yeah, you.  The smart ass on the internet, you’re wrong!  Leia is disguised!”  You know what, you’re right, internet reader, she is dressed differently from how she normally does.  Han apparently buys Leia clothes from time to time.  Leia comments that she doesn’t wear these a lot because it’s unprofessional, unless she’s doing something like this.  Bar hopping with Han.

            Here’s where my problems come in, one guy wanders into a bar and looks like someone else, it’s a lookalike.  Two people walk in and they look like celebrities that are associated with each other but at different times are suspicious but maybe it’s just one heck of a coincidence.  Two people that look like a high profile couple walk into a bar together?  Your cover is blown.  No, don’t argue with me, cover = blown.  Beyond that, and I want to say that I’m not slut shaming here, but she’s apparently wandering about in bars in fairly slutty clothes.  Isn’t this a bit weird?

            And furthermore, how do you not recognize Leia anywhere?  How does she not have a security force on her heels at all times?  Think about this: You, the normal reader, may not know the name of your US representative or senator and for that matter you probably don’t know what their face looks like.  You may not know who the Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader is, but, dammit, you know what the president looks like!  There’s a good chance you know what the leadership of other high profile countries look like and who they are.  You might be able to pick out Vladimir Putin or David Cameron, but you know what Barack Obama looks like.

            These are three people on one world.  They’re high profile people in a sea of other people.  You know who they are, even if you aren’t part of their country.  Now, imagine that you have a government that is made up of literally tens of millions of worlds.  Do you know who the individual senators are?  Almost assuredly not.  Do you know who the rebel hero and leader who became the face of the galactic government is?  Damn skippy you do.  When taxes go up, do you curse Senator Frogface of Amphibianface 4or do you go “Freakin’ princess and her freakin’ taxes.”

            And let’s be honest about this, the First Lady doesn’t get to go shopping unless her Secret Service detail clears out the entirety of that Macy’s before she walks within a block of it.  And Leia walks into a bar with just Han?  There’s nobody out there that wants her blood for reasons or complete lack of reasons?  A man shot President Reagan because he thought it would impress Jodie Foster.  That’s one country, what does this kind of insanity look like in a universe full of aliens and trillions of people?

            That wasn’t even one chapter.  That was one scene.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Round Up the Usual Suspects

So, I was checking my facebook feed this morning and saw a post from the Ohio Garrison of the Imperial 501st (OG!) and it was beautiful.  Now, it threw me for a little bit of a loop that the place getting the reveal on this was Entertainment Weekly, but it does make me kind of glad to see nerd culture invading popular culture so strongly.

Timothy Zahn's new novel, due out December 26 (!).  Why on Earth would you put a book that I promise will be this badly wanted the day after Christmas?  And if you're not excited about it yet, the official description from Del Rey describes the plot as being an Ocean's 11 type deal with Han, Chewie and Lando putting together a team for a heist right after the events of ANH.

People have been waiting for this kind of book for years, and now we get it from one of the remarkably few authors I'm sure can pull it off.

Celebrate, confound you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Children of the Jedi, Part II

Alright, since I said before that I had never read this book before, I can safely say that there are going to be some things that I misread.  So, there were a couple of things that I said that have turned out not to be quite true.  Don’t worry about it though, there’s more than enough to make up for it.

So, top of the Old Business list, setting the record straight.  The Eye of Palpatine did not land on the planet.  There was apparently an automated landing craft.  So, that’s one thing cleared up.  Two, the stormtrooper I thought was dead pages after we met him actually survived.

Now, new business.

One of the first things that we learn once we were aboard the ship is immediately troubling.  Luke is shaking off some kind of mind control.  He figures out, looking around at the people around him, his friends from before, Cray and the trooper whose name I’m not going to bother remembering, a bunch of Talz, a weird, unidentified tripod like race and… Gamoreans.

Not a problem so far, but I promise, we’re getting there.  Everyone else is still under the effects of mind control, brainwashing, whatever you want to call it.  And they’re showing all the symptoms you’d expect, acting like stormtroopers, talking in basic, the inability to tell races apart.  Wait… I don’t think that mind control works that way.  I mean, not even the most outrageous of war films try that kind of angle.  So, the people and things that have been picked up by this ship have been thrown into resocialization  pods and now they’re stormtroopers.  Except that Gamoreans can’t speak basic.  I mean, not so much that they don’t, but that they can’t.  Yeah, I know that was established later in the X-Wing books, so I’ll pick a different angle.

They managed to teach pigmean to speak English in a couple of days?  With brainwashing?  Alright, that’s dumb, but I can suspend my disbelief a bit.  So-Hold on a second.  They can’t tell different species apart from each other?  A pigman is indistinguishable from a human.  Not only that, but that pigman thinks he’s a human?  What the heck kind of mind control is this?

Why did this process work on Luke, by the way?  I mean, he’s strong in the force, right?  He’s been trained to deal with mind affecting things.  Why should this be any different?  I know he eventually shakes it off, but why did it work in the first place?  Was it the concussion?  By the way, that’s still an issue.  I maintain that a concussion this bad should have already killed him.

New problem.  All right, this is an Imperial ship, gathering up troops for an enormous attack against their enemies.  It’s programmed to gather up Stormtroopers from across the galaxy and take them to the attack!  Why does it need this resocialization tech?  I mean, aren’t stormtroopers already fiercely loyal? 

Building on the same issue, the ship is run by a single, apparently completely deficient, AI.  At some point it went rogue for whatever reason and screwed stuff up and was lost for a generation.  Children have been born, grown up and had children of their own by the time this thing was found, thirty years.  I want everyone to hold on to that for a minute.  It got lost because it was automated and something went wrong and everything got lost.  Wasn’t that the plot to Dark Force Rising?

Recycling better written plots.  Whatever.  Anyway, this supercomputer AI is unable to tell the difference between human stormtroopers, elite human forces of the Empire, and obese pigmen.   Or bizarre tripod things.  Come on, author, those things aren’t even the right silhouette.  How could the AI be this monumentally stupid?

It picks up jawas at one point, which lead to a whole new can of worms being opened that I never thought I’d see out of one of the heroes of the rebellion.  Deep seated racism.  At every opportunity, the author seems to convey that Luke’s feelings about an entire race of sentient life are little more than dirty, hairy, smelly gutter snipes that delight in nothing more than tearing things apart.  And when I say that she does this at every opportunity, it’s mentioned somewhere around four times in twenty or thirty pages.  Grubby, stinky, shadowy, damned jawas, always disassembling my land speeder and selling the part for space cocaine!

In the single instance that we have with Leia in all of this, she’s exploring a planet, a planet that was attacked about thirty years ago by the Empire, but apparently not as hard as they wanted.  Leia pokes around and has a force vision of kids and, apparently, a jedi master who comes out of a door that doesn’t seem apparent now.  She concludes that a jedi should have been able to hide a doorway, even from  sensors.  So, let me get this straight.  Jedi force powers can hide something from a sensor sweep, literally decades after the fact?

So, racism, a full on idiot AI, a recycled plot involving a super weapon that went astray, and jedi that are dumb even in context.  Yup, it’s bad Star Wars.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Children of the Jedi, Part 1

I swear, I didn't think I had a rant on this yet.

Okay, Children of the Jedi, by Barbara Hambly.  I would like to say this up front, I have never read this book before now.  I don't have anything against the author, she's not Kevin J. Anderson (that I know of) but I will freely admit that I started into this book to find something to pick nits about.  But so far, aside from a thing or two, I really hadn't thought I'd had a rant.

The most galling things about this book were really how bleeding boring it is but more importantly how technically badly it's written.  That second point has done more to bug me than anything else up to a point and it's really an issue with several prongs.  One of the is just that the writing is ambiguous at best, the reader is thrown into situations without being given any backstory.  When you pick up this book, it is not only assumed that you've seen the Star Wars films, but it also assumes that you've read the other books in the EU up to this point.  Which aren't just a few books, by the way.  Off the top of my head, there are at least six books prior to this one that give you some kind of establishing narrative that you kind of HAVE to have in order to get this.

We get references to things that happened in previous books, but we don't get any context or explanation.  One of the lines in the book is talking about Luke, and how important it is that everyone take Luke super seriously, I mean after all, this is the guy that destroyed the Sun Crusher!  I know, right?  Except he didn't, Kyp did.  Beyond that, I am not kidding when I tell you that the reference to the Sun Crusher is just like that.  Nobody screws around with the guy that took that thing out, let me tell you.

You're reading this blog, you know what the Sun Crusher is, I know what the Sun Crusher is.  Your average reader, no bleeding clue.  "Hmmm," that reader may be saying to himself in the book store, "I particularly fancy those fancy Star Wars moving picture shows and have been made aware of these new fangled page turners of a series they've written.  Well, I'll dive in with this one!  It's about young jedi, jedi children!  I should know everything I need to about that, let me tell you!"  Reader, turn back now!  It's your only chance!  You don't know what the Sun Crusher is, you don't know who Nichos is (a character I think was mentioned briefly in the Jedi Academy books and made remarkably little impact on me) and you don't know that Han and Leia are hitched with three kids!  And no, they aren't the Jedi young'uns the title refers to.  In fact, Nichos is, apparently, but he's a zombie, or a cyborg or a zombie-cyborg.  Screw it, he's Data.  That's what Star Wars needed, right?  A sympathetic character without emotions.
But that's my schtick...

The only parallel I can draw between this and some other story doing the same kind of crap is the later Highlander movies.  Endgame and the Source.  Don't you dare go watch those.  No, bad reader!  We're thrown into the Source with no explanation for an apocalypse that also apparently happened.  I mean, there are flaming barrels and an eastern European country and everything!  And there's this thing that everybody knows about, right?  The Source, it's a legend among immortals!  A legend that's never been mentioned in the four previous films, two cartoons and two live action television series at all, but everybody knows it!  See, we don't need to explain it.

Besides that, nothing feels like it's been written for Star Wars, heck, a lot of it doesn't even seem like it was written for science fiction.  I mean it does have all the proper elements, space, aliens, travel in space, empty space, space that seems empty but isn't, what I'm going to call half of a space battle and an alien world complete with hostile aliens.  But it's written like it's a high fantasy novel.  I literally am surprised every time I turn a page and don't read a 'thee' or 'thou' written down somewhere.  Nobody talks like they did in the films or for that matter even in the other books.  Hell, Keven J. Anderson may have written bad, derivative novels but at least the characters seemed mostly right.  Also, by the way, screw smashball.

The writing is confusing, too.  At one point, Luke is on a ship in an asteroid field.  Suddenly, the ship is under attack!  We don't know where the fire's coming from!  They'd better get out of there!  Shields up, Sulu, sublight engines to really bleeding fast!  Chapter ends.  Chapter begins, Luke has a concussion.  What?  When did that happen?  I turned a page and Luke went from making a quick escape to knocked the hell out and apparently so badly injured that he has to use the force in order to breath.  Jesus, shouldn't he be dead?  But, no kidding, that happens with no explanation, turn the page, mortal injury and struggling for consciousness.

Now, up to this point, I didn't have any problems with the story elements.  It was boring and things were either poorly explained or not explained at all and some things were just thrown at us without any pretext, but the story was there, it was going to be okay once I got past what was being substituted for an introduction.  But the book got there, it found a way to make no sense.

We'll start at the obvious beginning point, the start of the book.  A guy, we don't know who, but a guy, is nuts.  He's nuts, and he has to find Han, and judging from the context, he has to kill Han, at this place, at this time!  Cut to this place at this time.  Han and Leia are doing a thing with aliens.  No it doesn't matter what, it's just a convenient set piece.  And that guy apparently attacks at the place and time stated!  Only it turns out he's not attacking!  He's an old friend of Han's hopped up on space cocaine.
I'm an adult theme!
And it turns out he wasn't there to kill Han, he was there to warn Han!  So... way to keep that suspense up.  For, like, ten pages.  Maybe less.

He's muttering about the Children of the Jedi!  "Well, what does that mean?" you might be asking.  The short answer is that we don't know yet.  The long answer is that apparently Nichos, you remember, Mr Data, was apparently one of them.  He was a guy at the Luke's academy who apparently got so royally screwed up that the only way to 'save' him was to imprint him onto a droid.  So he's essentially what you might call dead inside.  But he apparently grew up where the Children of the Jedi were being raised.  I guess.

So Han, Luke and Leia do the obvious thing and split up.  Every DnD player out there is shouting about how you never split the party.  Sigh.  So, Luke goes to this asteroid field, that he doesn't know exists, on a hunch.  Oh, wait, sorry, this is Star Wars.  He uses the force.  No, I don't have to explain it, he used the Force.  (Seriously, laziest plot device ever.)

Bad things ensue.  They're forced to land on a planet that they know to be inhabited by Gamoreans.  Just so we're clear on this, the author goes through great pains to tell us about how savage and uncivilized these merciless pig men are.  Why, they've never stopped fighting each other long enough to develop much past the iron age!  By the way, this isn't their home world.  And it looks like they've been here for a really long time.  And it doesn't seem like they were brought here as slaves or anything.  How the hell did they get here?  I'm not kidding, they never developed anything more than hit thing with sharp thing but they have a colony on a distant world?

Anyway, they land on the known to be dangerous world and start rumaging through their supplies on the ship.  Luke is rather confusingly trying to use the Force to heal his concussion in the dumbest way possible, increased blood flow!  We all know what a concussion is, right?  A person hits their head so hard that they actually manage to cause their brain to hit the inside of their skull cavity and that causes the brain to swell.  So, if you increase blood flow to the area, you are going to make the swelling increase.  He learned the technique from a Jedi student... who may have been trying to get Luke killed, I guess.

Alright, looking for repair equipment, then BOOM!  A stormtrooper gets the drop on them!  Shiny armor and blaster and everything!  But just one, so be sure to be really careful.  Right, so on this known to be dangerous world, they go to the cargo bay, that I guess you have to get out of the ship to have access to, and they leave the door open?  Crap, that concussion was bad enough that it made Luke forget how to breath and close the door behind him.  He might be bound for the short transport for the rest of his life.

The trooper takes them the full mile back to his hut where he explains that he's been hanging around something like thirty years and is the only surviving Imperial on the planet.  He had been captured by the Gamoreans but they let him go after the blasters they stole ran out of charge.  By the way, this guy's blaster, it still works.  His armor is still shiny and white.  He still has a fully stocked and functional medkit that he treats Luke's head with.

The trooper, who's given a name but that doesn't matter, asks casually if they know anything about this whole Eye of Palpatine thing.  When they say they don't know what he's talking about, he explains that it's a giant dreadnaught, a 'battle moon', and that he and the rest of his garrison were waiting on it to show up.  Damn, that is one patient trooper, I mean I've heard of hurry up and wait in the military but this is ridiculous.

So, they go back to the ship, everybody's pals now.  They get aboard and the restless natives attack!  So they close the doors!  And more natives attack the first natives!  Everyone's going to ride this out until a voice tells everyone to get off the ship before they blow it up, and it's the Eye of Palpatine, right above them!  Oh no!

Wait, so something big enough to be called a battle moon can land on a planet?  And not be crushed under its own weight?  Or be dealt massive damage from reentry?  Or anything?  That's ****ing stupid!  And then, when they disembark, they take cover, except for the trooper, who makes a serpentine path for the woods and gets shot down by a drone.  Well, I'm glad we brought him in to tell us all of this stuff we could have literally waited a few pages to learn on board the ship.  Gee, I'm glad we gave him a name so we could make a real impact when we casually murdered him, aren't you, the author?

The real kicker?  I'm only sixty pages in.

Expect updates.  And possibly clarification if I'm feeling charitable.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why I’m a fan of the Empire

Star Wars is a series of books and movies that is supposed to tell us a story about good and evil in very black and white terms.  A small force of good guys are taking on the evil and powerful establishment and the plucky underdogs somehow win.  The prequels aren’t that at all, as a matter of fact, I don’t really think about the prequels at all, because Episode 1 and 3 both offend me so badly, and Episode 2 only survives on its merit of having a great battle scene at the end.

But if you look at the prequels, you can start to see exactly why I’m such a supporter of the Empire.  Throughout the original trilogy the Empire is presented as having been a force of subjugation and evil and racism across the whole universe.  They don’t do anything good and they only exist for the power of the Emperor and his entire support structure, staff and confidants are all humans.

You’d think that the Empire is entirely evil based on the racism and complete executive control by the moffs over their sectors.  I’d argue that, while the racism thing is bad, although it can’t be too bad, aliens just don’t seem to serve in the military, the executive control thing is a point in their favor.  Now, I think I might be repeating something other people have said here, but when you have 70 million worlds, parliamentary procedure really doesn’t work.  So, okay, yes, complete, tyrannical control in the hands of a small number of individuals is probably a bad idea.  It is, however, a damn sight better than legislative gridlock on a whole new scale of asinine.

On the note about regulation and the apparent racism, yeah, like I said, outside of Thrawn and maybe just a handful of other aliens, only humans seem to have positions in the government and military.  Yeah, that blows.  On the other hand, we are also presented with aliens that are large scale merchants, business men and crime lords.

Aside from that particular issue, what else have we seen about the Empire?  Okay, they hunt and kill Jedi, but Jedi don’t recognize their authority and are actively undermining the sovereignty of the legitimate government.  A government, which because of the prequels, we know that it is also a popularly elected government!  Sigh, whatever.  Jedi are essentially outlaws and terrorists.

So, you would also expect that, in the case of their low level authorities, police actions, soldiers, et cetera, would be really bad about working with the general population, right?  Roughing people up, shaking people down, barging into residences or businesses without cause or warrant, executing captives?

Here are examples from just Episode 4.  We see stormtroopers attacking the Tantive IV, a ship which is being pursued for the espionage that it was carrying.  They burst through the airlock, march through the ship in a running gun battle in which many of both sides are killed in the initial conflict.  So, you’d expect them to execute everyone, right?  Nope, instead they are seen marching captives out.

Beyond that, we know that they’re hunting someone in particular, right?  They’re given instructions to take them alive, so they set their weapons to stun and take Princess Leia without hurting her at all.  Oh yeah, and her reaction to, “There’s one, set for stun,” was to shoot the stormtrooper and kill him straight up.  Just so we’re clear on this, the Princess and her peace loving streak even makes an appearance in a novel set between ANH and ESB called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.  She massacres these stormtroopers, aiming for heads and faces, blasting out eyes.  So, yeah, peaceful.

That’s a good mark, here’s a bad one (I’m trying to be honest here), they do kill Owen and Beru and the jawas.  Yeah, that was dickly.  We can assume that the pair was not… cooperating.  Yeah, again, evil.

We didn’t see that happen, I’m just trying to stick to what was on screen but I’m going to give this one up.  The next time we see the Imperial troops, they’re in Mos Eisley, a hive of scum and villainy, the kind of place you’d expect them to be at their worst, right?  In the process of searching for the droids in town, R2 and 3PO hide behind a door and lock it.  When the troops come by, they check the door, maybe knock and say, out loud, “If it’s locked, move on to the next one.”

Now, I want everyone here to remember that I’m not arguing that entire Empire isn’t evil, but their leadership is.  They blow up Alderaan, a relatively innocent, if politically difficult, planet.  That’s downright evil, but it’s done by one of the highest ranking officers in the Empire, Grand Moff Tarkin.  When Leia is interrogated and drugged, that’s done by Vader.

            Now, if you want to argue about how they’re dealing with the Rebellion, I’m game for that.  The Rebels, freedom fighters that they are, are terrorists.  I don’t even mean in the technical sense or in the strictest sense, they are in every meaning of the phrasing, terrorists!  They’re trying to assassinate the leadership of the Empire, they’re making attacks against Imperial facilities, whether they be civilian or military.  

            Seriously, how many people do you think were killed on the Death Star?  It’s a space station the size of a small moon with a full crew and garrison.  So, if I had to guess at a number for that it would probably be in the hundreds of thousands or millions.  Reason to celebrate right?

Easing back into it

Okay, I know that I've been trying to stick to some semblance of a schedule on this blog, but I was out of town for a full week, so hopefully that explains the gap.  Now, since my last post, I've decided that I'm going to do one of those things that I never wanted to, but for you, internet readers, just for you, I'm going to reread some of the old Bantam/Spectra Star Wars novels and read some I was too smart to read , or pay money for, in the first place.  Luckily, my dear wife has access to a university library, so she will be able to provide many of these abominations so that I won't have to put money down on them.

But as of yet, I have not gotten to that.  You'll just have to wait to feel my anguish, and I think there will be plenty of anguish.

In the mean time, you, the wonderful reader, will be getting a fairly short post.  This post will be a bit of an explanation for one of my favorite expanded universe characters, but I will also be making some admissions about why he simply doesn't work.

So, the first book in the Star Wars EU that I ever read was... The Courtship of Princess Leia, a book that I've heard described, perhaps more accurately than anything else ever, as not so much a Star Wars book but as a runaway Bollywood film.  The second book that I read was easily one of the best books in the EU, one of the few I read when I was ten that I like as much as then as I do now, Heir to the Empire.

So, it comes as no surprise to anyone at all that my favorite EU character is Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Somehow, despite being an inhuman color with glowing red eyes, he's not evil.

That's right, the brilliant Chiss tactician that very nearly overthrew the New Republic with a fleet that was made up of less than 50 capital ships, which seems like a lot, sure, but consider he's competing with a galactic government with access to potentially hundreds of thousands of capital ships.  I'm going to assume that if you're reading this then you already know more or less everything about Thrawn, so I'm not going to give you a history of the character.  Instead, I'm going to try to explain my appreciation for the character beyond just his presentation.

Star Wars, at its heart, should always be about the struggle between two groups, a smaller, underdog fighting against a practically unbeatable opponent.  Heir to the Empire does exactly that, but instead of doing it the way that Lucas and later authors did, the Empire is the smaller underdog.  It gives us a rather incredible foil to the films, switching the roles of the factions.  Additionally, we are also presented with something that we never would have expected from the original trilogy, the result of the Rebellion, the New Republic, has severe internal issues.  The leadership of the benevolent government is fighting itself.  The roles have been reversed to the point that even Luke has become the Darth Vader of the Republic, the symbol and sole well known force adept in the galaxy.

In comes our character, Thrawn.  Now, many people would be willing to accuse the admiral of being evil by sheer virtue of being affiliated with the Imperial Remnant.  I would argue the opposite.  Thrawn has returned from the outer rim territories to take control of what's left of the fleet and lead the fight against what he continues to refer to as the Rebellion.  He's not here to oppress his enemies or aliens, he is a non-human, he treats his soldiers well and uses means other than fear to motivate his subordinates.

Realistically, though, his greatest appeal to me is that he represents the abilities of a non-force using individual.  While later books and the prequel films would have us believe that the best officers and commanders of the galaxy are Jedi or Sith, Thrawn manages to eclipse them all.  He's fair, he's evenhanded and he shows us that just because the leadership of an organization may be immoral, the individuals who make up the whole are not.  Thrawn isn't evil, he isn't killing people just for the sake of doing it like a Sith would, he's not interested in conquest just for the sake of control, he's trying to reclaim the territory seized by the Republic.  But when you ask why he's doing this, you have to realize it's because he believes that the Empire represented the greatest force of order in the galaxy.

Thrawn is doing what he's doing because he knows that it's right thing to do.  He's using incredible abilities, which are completely natural and do not require the force, to try to do the right thing.  He's not a villain, he’s a charismatic leader.

Of course, there's a bit of a silly side.  His tactical brilliance seems to be based on an uncanny ability to observe an opponent and formulate a strategy or, and this is the silly part, study the art of a species to the same end.

I’m willing to grant a few things here.  Art can tell you a lot about a culture, it can tell you about the strength of religion in the society or how advanced it might have been and in some cases it can even tell you about how strong the mathematical skills of a civilization might have been.  But once you get up to a certain level of sophistication, it might be able to tell you something about the history of the world it was created in, for instance you probably wouldn’t see much in the way of Georgia O’Keefe flower paintings in World War II era Britain.  If you’re really good, you might be able to tell more about the state of mind and maybe the relative sanity of a particular artist.

The idea that you should be able to learn the military and tactical capabilities of a fleet is simply outlandish.  The Republic is huge and, unlike the Empire at large, it’s also made up of a command structure that is as diverse as its population.  So, even if Thrawn could unravel the thought processes of an entire race based on its art, he’d still have to contend with the fact that he’s dealing with a myriad of different races.

Later depictions of Thrawn have given us a bit more believable picture of his abilities.  In the novel Outbound Flight, we are introduced to a younger Thrawn during the Clone Wars.  He’s not interested in taking part in the war, he’s only defending Chiss borders.  His tactical abilities depicted in the book are still incredible, just not based on this mysterious art critic strategy.

For instance, at one point in the novel, he is fighting a group of Trade Federation battleships and their fighters and he manages to observe and evaluate them  and how they work quickly enough to take advantage of the fact that the Vulture fighters don’t have onboard processors needed for independent decision making, so he outranges them and turns them back against his enemies.  He also arranges a conflict to take place so that it overlaps with another enemy that he uses to eliminate his Republic enemies and these aliens all at once.

Another example is his use of a piece of pre-existing technology for whole new purposes.  Thrawn manages to liberate interdiction field technology in Outbound flight, which becomes important  in the later books.  An interdiction field prevents craft from entering hyperspace and pulls passing ships moving at hyperspace into real space.  It’s good for keeping your enemies from running.  Instead of using it normally, he uses it bring his own reinforcements into combat exactly where he wanted them.  So, it’s brilliant tactically without being silly  or force based.

Thrawn is my favorite EU character, if any of you readers have your own thoughts or favorite characters, please leave a comment explaining your own choice.