The fan-favorite Star Wars Expanded Universe character of Grand Admiral Thrawn is celebrating his 30th birthday next month, as Timothy Zahn’s beloved novel Star Wars: Heir to the Empire was first published in May of 1991. In honor of that momentous anniversary, Lucasfilm Publishing and Del Rey are releasing not just one, but two new Thrawn novels written by the character’s creator this year, the first of which (entitled Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy – Greater Good) is due out next week.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy – Greater Good is the second volume of Zahn’s current Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, which takes place before the titular Thrawn (full name Mitth'raw'nuruodo, if you want to take a stab at pronouncing it) leaves his star system of birth– situated in an area of space outside the main Star Wars galaxy known as the Chaos– and joins the Galactic Empire, eventually going on to become a Grand Admiral in Emperor Palpatine’s navy.

I found Greater Good to be uniquely interesting as Thrawn novels go, in that it pushes the title character aside almost entirely and focuses instead on the people who surround him in the Chiss military and government. Thrawn is a key player in the story, of course, but we only see him from these formerly supporting characters’ perspectives and even then it’s in fleeting glances and during short scenes. The remainder of the novel is spent fleshing out the lives of other personae dramatis such as Admiral Ar’alani, Senior Captain Lakinda, First Officer Samakro, sky-walker Che’ri, caregiver Thalias, syndics Thurfian and Zistalmu, and a Force-sensitive “Pathfinder” named Qilori of Uandualon. These characters get tangled up in a web of intrigue, political machinations, and espionage as part of a plot to take down the Chiss Ascendancy and Senior Captain Thrawn with it.

There’s also a group of alien refugees who refuse to give the names of their species or their home planet, the leader of which comes under Thrawn’s care after his ship answers a distress call. She holds the title of “Magys” and is prepared to intentionally end her own life– not to mention the lives of her remaining people– unless Thrawn and his allies can prove to her that her homeworld is still capable of sustaining life after a devastating attack wiped out most of its cities. Meanwhile, a cadre of alien spies known as the Agbui are working diligently to infiltrate one of the Chiss planets, make a name for themselves among a ruling family, and instigate a conflict that will have dire consequences for the blue-skinned civilization if Thrawn isn’t capable of catching on to the devious plot and putting a stop to it before it’s too late.

This is all part of the scheme enacted by the mysterious being known as Jixtus, established in the final moments of the prior novel Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy – Chaos Rising. Jixtus’s physical appearance is repeatedly described as cloaked in secrecy and I believe readers are intended to transpose their own suspicions as to the eventual revelation of his identity– and we do get another hint near the end of the book– but ultimately I think Zahn is saving that particular unveiling for the third and final installment in the trilogy, due out this fall. Until then, we Thrawn fans will have to make do with enjoying the well-choreographed space battles, high-level bureaucratic dealings, and slow-burn character building that make this effort such an impressive feat. Bear in mind that the author has created this part of the Star Wars universe pretty much entirely out of whole cloth, and outside of the physics of interplanetary combat and a reference to Thrawn having encountered Anakin Skywalker in the previous book, there really isn’t anything recognizably tying Greater Good to the fictional world of Star Wars we’ve known and love for over four decades.

That’s far from a criticism, mind you, as I absolutely love seeing Zahn get to play in his own sandbox like this, and we know this story ends with Thrawn going off into what the Chiss hilariously call “Lesser Space,” so it’s great to see the story gradually building to that predetermined end point. Notably, Grand Admiral Thrawn got name-dropped by Ahsoka Tano in an episode of The Mandalorian last winter, so I feel it’s very safe to say we’ll be seeing a lot more of the character in the coming years, and in all likelihood for the first time ever in live-action Star Wars, which is amazingly cool. And it’s undeniably wonderful that we’re still getting Thrawn novels from the writer who created him, years after Heir to the Empire was relegated to “Legends” status and the character was subsequently brought into the current canon via the animated series Star Wars Rebels. Let’s hope Timothy Zahn remains a creative influence in Thrawn’s life as a Star Wars character, and bring on Lesser Evil.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy – Greater Good will be published next Tuesday, April 27, but is available for pre-order right now.