The Thrawn Trilogy: The Importance of Story “Cleanup”

There are good endings, the ones that leave us crying or make us smile, blessing us with a feeling of wonderful satisfaction. There are bad endings, the ones that make us yell and throw our books against the wall.

Why do we never talk about the “meh” endings? Because they, perhaps, are the worst kind of ending of all. They’re not memorable for good or bad reasons; they just exist and leave us as confused as the guy in the cover photo above. And that’s why we’re here today.

Last year, I wrote a review for Heir to the Empire, the famous Star Wars legends book that introduces Grand Admiral Thrawn. I praised the novel for how well it weaved together plot lines with multiple different characters, and I still think it’s a wonderful book to learn from. But I’ve now finished the trilogy, ending with the final book The Last Command, and I have some conflicting feelings.

To put it simply, I think I understand now why everyone talks about Heir to the Empire but no one talks about the Thrawn Trilogy as a whole. To me, the trilogy feels like a case where a series starts out based on a good idea, but the rest of the series seems to be centred around trying to make the rest of it as good as the first book. Pretty much every single one of the series’ main plot points was introduced in book one, making the following two books seem like overly long extensions of the first. And once you get used to Thrawn’s annoying yet impressive “all-knowing” nature, it stops being a shock factor in books two and three.

Essentially, the novelty wears off a bit. I get the sense that these books would have been better as films; they’re packed with action, but after book one and a bit of two, the character work takes a sharp dip – and that was what I loved the most about the first book. Most disappointing to me, though, was the series ending, and that’s what I want to focus on here.

I enjoyed The Last Command the least out of all three of the books (and let me be clear that I didn’t think the second two books were bad, they were just okay in my opinion). The main reason was it had that kind of ending I was talking about a moment ago.

The “meh” ending.

As I said, I didn’t dislike the Thrawn Trilogy. I loved the first book. The second two were just okay, and the ending reflected that. It just left me sitting there saying: “Huh. Okay, I guess?” And it wasn’t even the climax that disappointed me; at least one part of it was a pretty good culmination of the series. What bothered me the most was what I like to call the “cleanup.”

I don’t know if there’s an “official” word for it – de-escalation, the normal world, wind down – but this is the very end of the book after the climax where you take a deep breath and know that everything’s finally okay. The entirety of The Last Command felt squished to me, like Zahn had too much to wrap up but wasn’t allowed past a certain word count. You can see this crystal clear in the cleanup…which is just over 3 pages long and contains only one conversation between two characters. Two.

Coming at the end of a series with multiple plot points to conclude, both plot-wise and within most of the 5-6 main characters, you should be able to tell just from that explanation that a cleanup like that is not nearly thorough enough. It falls so short that this one “cleanup” conversation has to be stretched a bit to sound unnatural so the characters can talk about how other plot points were concluded “off-screen.”

Even then, I was still left with questions. How does Luke feel about training new Jedi – his main character thread throughout the whole series that’s never actually resolved? How will Leia balance politician/Jedi/mom life? How is the New Republic going to deal with the clones that were already produced in Thrawn’s factory? With a series focused on so many characters and plot points, this ending was not nearly enough, and it was pretty disappointing not to get at least one scene with all of the main characters at the end.

So my point today is this: make sure the magnitude of your cleanup matches the magnitude of your series. What happens after the climax is just as important as the climax itself because it will be the last impression you leave on readers. Don’t ignore the end of your book, the deep sigh that comes after the action. Leave your readers with something they’ll remember. Something good.

We’ll talk more about endings on Friday – stay tuned!

Happy writing!
-E.J.

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3 thoughts on “The Thrawn Trilogy: The Importance of Story “Cleanup”

  1. Reading this is giving me anxiety because I’m in the editing phase for one of my manuscripts, and boy is there so much to clean up. But as they say, writing is rewriting, so here I am trying to embrace the part of the process I dislike the most. Are there any Star Wars books you’d recommend to a beginner? I’ve always heard they were well-written, but I’m not sure where to start. Even my favourite blogger Chuck Wendig has written a few books on the series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! 😂 I’m sorry for giving you anxiety, but I believe in you! Also, Bloodline by Claudia Gray is my absolute favourite Star Wars novel! It’s the story that got me into Star Wars books in the first place and it’s just based on the original trilogy so you don’t need any extended canon knowledge. Dark Disciple by Christie Golden is also pretty good, but you kinda need to have seen Clone Wars before reading that. And I really enjoyed one of the newer Thrawn series by Timothy Zahn, starting with the book titled Thrawn. (I have to specify because there are now three different Thrawn series all by the same author. 😅) I haven’t read a whole ton of Star Wars books (I’m more into the Doctor Who novels, if I’m being honest) but those have definitely been my favourites so far. Hope that helps!

      Liked by 1 person

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