nding a trilogy is a monumentally difficult task, but it is made even harder when it may mean ending a career.In a recent interview with Polygon, legendary author Timothy Zahn revealed that he has no current plans to write additional Star Wars books, so there is a distinct possibility that Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil contains the final lines of Thrawn’s history to ever be written by his creator.
If Zahn’s departure is, in fact, final, the pages of the final book of his Ascendancy trilogy will represent not only the last chapter of Thrawn’s origin story, but also the culmination of everything his original architect envisioned for his life.
No pressure, right?
Zahn’s career with the Grand Admiral has crossed the bifrost separating Legends and Canon to breathe life into a character that is now as emblematic to Star Wars as any Skywalker, and the fact that Lesser Evil writes perhaps the last page of that career is wonderfully fitting.
Because Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil may be the most Zahn novel the famed author has ever written.
Lesser Evil picks up directly following the events of Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good (see our full recap for a quick reminder if you need) and sees Thrawn attempting hold together the fracturing Chiss Ascendancy as the villainous Jixtus tries to wrench it apart from within. This multifaceted struggle between the two men takes place in galactic battlefields, military tribunals, and even Chiss family council chambers as Chiss higher-ups unwittingly progress Jixtus’s malevolent agenda.
Along the way, fan-favorite characters like Thalias, Ar’alani, Ba’kif, and Samakro have their allegiances to Thrawn tested by the likes of potential career suicide and familial shame, and Thrawn is continuously forced to put his life and reputation in the hands of those he has trusted throughout the years.
Throw in Patriarch Thurfian’s disgustingly smooth political machinations, a brand new villainous race beneath the palm of Jixtus, and some of the most emotionally resonant memory chapters we’ve ever seen, and you have a dense yet thrilling offering to end Zahn’s saga of Mitth’raw’nuruodo.
Now if that sounds like a lot...it is. There’s no getting around that. Much like Zahn’s other work within the Chiss Ascendancy, Lesser Evil’s plot can occasionally seem overwhelming or vastly technical -- especially at the beginning of the book. However, once the larger scope of the story begins to come into focus, the pages start to fly by at a frankly alarming rate.
You may not be able to track every vector, plasma sphere, ship name, or captain, but the breadcrumbs that Zahn started to sprinkle back in Chaos Rising and even the first Canon Thrawn trilogy take shape in a way that is undeniably thrilling by the time you reach the halfway mark.
Finally, the aforementioned memory chapters play possibly the most pivotal role we’ve seen in the Ascendancy trilogy. Lesser Evil uses those flashbacks to illustrate the relationship between Thrawn and Thrass, a higher-ranking Mitth who becomes Thrawn’s friend over the years, and the ties between them illuminate a side of Thrawn that becomes tragically heartbreaking given Thrass' fate revealed earlier in the series.
Balancing this emotional weight with some of the most technically ambitious starship battles in Zahn’s illustrious career is a task suited only for the original architect of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and he executes it brilliantly. Lesser Evil ends the epic story of Thrawn’s origin in a way that is satisfying yet surprising, and by the time you close the cover on this final tome, you’ll be hard pressed not to lose your breath as you reflect on the magnificent scope of the entire thing.
For a trilogy that doesn’t always focus on characters as much as some other Canon entries, there sure are a lot of characters to focus on. While some ancillary figures admittedly fall to the wayside from chapter to chapter, the main cast of Lesser Evil shines brilliantly as some like Thalias, Che’ri, and Thurfian get to finish their arcs that began all the way back in Chaos Rising.
Perhaps the greatest accolade that can be bestowed upon the Ascendancy trilogy’s featured cast is that every one of them feels like they’ve evolved significantly by the end of Lesser Evil. In the midst of creating a wonderfully complex and intricate story for the titular hero, Zahn also found time to weave in journeys of personal discovery, institutional corruption, and military advancement through the eyes of Thrawn’s allies and enemies.
Worldbuilding through series-long background character evolution. What’s not to love?
Nonetheless, the most impressive journey of self discovery is undoubtedly completed by Thrawn, himself. Throughout the previous two books, we witness Thrawn’s rise as a military leader and downfalls as a political novice, and through Lesser Evil’s trials and tribulations, the bridge between the prodigy of the Ascendancy and the exile who joins the Empire is completed in quite astonishing fashion.
The final piece of this puzzle is Thrawn’s memories with Thrass which prove to be the most emotionally satisfying parts of the entire trilogy. Through these interludes, we are able to witness the birth of a friendship that reveals the most open and vulnerable Thrawn we’ve seen thus far. The two men create a type of brotherhood throughout their adventures together, and witnessing such a consummate professional with his guard down in such a way is exhilirating.
And of course...there’s Jixtus. Revealed rather infamously as a Grysk in the final pages of Greater Good, Jixtus acts as the ultimate antagonist for the burgeoning Admiral, and he plays the part perfectly. A devilish Moriarity to the Sherlock of the Chiss, Jixtus anticipates every possible move Thrawn makes, and witnessing the depths of his cruelty through the point of view of his subordinates is chilling to say the least.
Despite a character list as expansive as any in Thrawn’s vast number of adventures, Lesser Evil still manages to present formidable foes, memorable allies, and somehow after all these years...a new side of Thrawn.
During our review of Chaos Rising, we praised the initial entry of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy for its unmatched litany of original concepts. The political makeup of the Chiss families alongside the creation of their military ranks flooded our minds with so many new ideas that the category received a nearly perfect score.
Over the subsequent year, the terms and structures of the Chiss and the Chaos have become more familiar purely due to the consumption of more material, but the impressive nature of Zahn’s innovations cannot be understated. Within the bonds of a single trilogy, he created a hierarchical structure for an entire sector of the galaxy never before explored, and in the midst of doing so, he even began to redefine the nature of the Force.
Earlier this fall, we praised Emma Mieko Candon’s Ronin for the redefinition of the Force as currents and flares, and Lesser Evil follows a similar structure by further exploring the Force not in terms of Jedi, but through the eyes of navigators, sky-walkers, and the mysterious Magys.
Ever the familiar case in a book full of Jedi, Lesser Evil involves a number of conversations about the Force from who can access it, the true power it holds, and even its name. Whether it’s the majesty of Third Sight or the mysticism of The Beyond, Zahn uses a decades old concept to examine the cultural differences surrounding the same source of magic -- not an idea you may expect in a book filled with political and military intrigue.
The power of that mysterious mysticism combined with the breathtaking intricacy of the makeup of the Chiss society really puts into perspective how much Timothy Zahn put into the Chaos. Upon finishing the book and the trilogy, you can’t help but wonder if Zahn wrote this trilogy to tell more stories about Thrawn...or was he really trying to create his own universe all along?
Few writers in the Star Wars canon create prose as easily identifiable as Timothy Zahn. If you’ve read a single one of Zahn’s numerous galactic endeavors, you can likely recognize his signature style and rhythm in all of his subsequent work.
This is not to say that Zahn’s ability doesn’t improve over time or that he lacks innovation. Quite the opposite. He is a master of his particular style of writing that combines the technical prowess of Luceno and Freed with the character development of Gray and Scott. Although Lesser Evil tends to stray far more toward the former in the earlier parts of the book, it is undeniable that the final Ascendancy novel features Zahn firing on all of his creative cylinders.
If you’ve previously been confused by his expansive use of technical jargon and battle descriptions that reflect a man with a collegiate physics degree, you’ll likely find some of that confusion in Lesser Evil as well. If parenthetical name descriptors have given you pause in the past, be prepared to pause again.
But if you’re willing to devote the time to understanding Zahn’s method of writing, Lesser Evil presents an incredibly rewarding experience. The writing lends itself to longer reading sessions where you can build up momentum and really sit in the world Zahn creates, so if your usual reading habits involve a chapter or two before bed, you may be better served carving out some intentional time to delve into Thrawn’s final journey.
That being said...the benefit to this potential preparation is immense. Once Zahn’s particular style of prose sets its hooks into you, Lesser Evil absolutely flies by. Whereas the consistent change of character and setting can be daunting at the start, this tactic eventually creates an atmosphere of constant excitement and engagement as all of the storylines drift toward a singular goal.
Timothy Zahn is nothing if not a master of the long game.
Because that’s what this trilogy represents. The culmination of the long game that started all the way back with Heir to the Empire. With each subsequent entry into Thrawn’s history, Timothy Zahn has filled in gap after gap in ways only he can, and his writing style, while not the most easily accessible for all readers, reflects the methodical nature of his story planning exquisitely.
If Lesser Evil actually reflects the end of Timothy Zahn’s journey with Star Wars, we can all sleep happily knowing that he stayed true to his character, his pacing, and his style up through the very last page.
There’s something so naturally enjoyable about ridiculously large space battles.
Though the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy has been filled with a number of rather massive battles, it’s no spoiler to say that Lesser Evil takes the cake in terms of scale, emotional weight, and pure entertainment value. No matter if you’re able to follow the descriptions of every plasma sphere and vector jump or if you simply live for the chaos of the laser volleys, the action sequences in Lesser Evil provide some of the most enjoyable set pieces in Thrawn’s history.
The stakes are high, the loyalties are tested, the body counts rise, and there are no guarantees every time two ships face off. This type of adrenalized action is made all the better by the apex of the political battles within the Chiss society that have been boiling over since the beginning, and Zahn balances each end of that spectrum to create a climax worthy of all the pages it demands.
Lesser Evil is the end of an epic. Plain and simple. All the players have followed their destinies throughout the previous volumes, and when the stage is set and the actors are this well equipped...you can’t help but have the time of your life.
And although Lesser Evil must be judged mainly on its own merits, there’s no denying that the level of its entertainment is heightened even more due to the impressive nature of its predecessors. Because the battles are not just battles, and the conversations are not just conversations.
They are victories and losses.
Choices and consequences.
The building of legends and the destruction of legacies.
And it all comes together beautifully. A fitting end to a great saga that will leave you so excited that you may just turn the book over and start it again.
Timothy Zahn has ended his time with Thrawn by writing the most true-to-self book we’ve seen in quite a while. Lesser Evil reflects the unabashed intent of its creator in every way from the growth of its characters, the complexity of its writing, and the resolution of its conflicts...and not all writers get to go out in such a self reflective way.
Creating an entirely new cast of characters separate from the main galaxy of Star Wars is hard. Making us care about them is harder. But sticking the landing while tying up all their threads...well, that’s pretty near impossible.
It’s a good thing they brought in a legend to do just that. Thank you, Timothy Zahn. We’re so glad you got to write this story...and we’re even happier that we got to witness it.