By Clyde Hall. An alien tactical genius. Logical. Ruthless. Inspiring, not demanding, loyalty to those under his command. If ever there was an Imperial villain with a difference, it’s Grand Admiral Thrawn.
When he first appeared in Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire, he struck me as a more understandable nemesis than the Sith, a professional Imperial soldier not wedded to Palpatine’s megalomaniacal desire for power, nor his xenophobia. As a proud warrior unwilling to simply turn over the Imperial military forces to the New Republic when he might instead rally the remaining ships, personnel and material to establish his own stratocracy, he set forth on a task with a goal undoubtedly less nebulous or nefarious than that of Palpatine’s Empire.
Of course, part of such an undertaking would necessitate the Grand Admiral opposing the New Republic to establish his revised Imperial state, pitting him against Luke Skywalker and friends. But if anyone was equal to the task of succeeding at long odds, it was Thrawn, a true leader who had marginal interest in the Force but focused on promoting capable, competent officers and grooming an unstoppable engine of planetary conquest.
I was quite taken with the character, and time has proven it a good call. Grand Admiral Thrawn, despite never appearing in the Star Wars cinematic universe, has endured. Even after Disney established the Expanded Universe SW stories as non-canon, Thrawn was made an exception. Since then, he’s entered the new continuity as part of Star Wars Rebels and been the focus of Timothy Zahn’s 2017 novel, Star Wars: Thrawn. Now the durable warrior continues his conquest of fandom in Marvel Comics’ adaptation of that Zahn novel.
The six-issue miniseries begins not with interstellar space battles, but with an Imperial mission to study a mysterious settlement and crash site on a nameless planet beyond the outer rim. Imperial Cadet Vanto, supply officer in training, is part of the investigative team due to his familiarity with the Sy Bisti language sometimes employed in Wild Space.
He’s also familiar with myths of that region, including the legends of the Chiss, proud warriors known for military prowess and drive to succeed or die. It’s fortunate Vanto’s along, because soon the Imperial force is being picked off by a stealthy guerilla fighter who turns out to be Mitth’raw’nuruodo (shortened to “Thrawn” for expedience), a banished member of the Chiss. He’s eventually captured, interviewed by Vanto, and taken to Coruscant as a ‘gift’ for Emperor Palpatine. From this humble beginning, Thrawn maneuvers himself to a seat at the Big Game of the Empire, across from Palpatine and Vader, and with a chip all his own to play. Thus why some describe him as the Jon Snow of Star Wars.
Thrawn is a character study, a backstory. There aren’t any flashy blaster battles, at least not yet. Rather, writer Jody Houser has focused squarely on Thrawn, the way he plans, the way he thinks, the insights he gains, and makes it fascinating. We watch as the alien warrior enters accelerated Academy training with everything against him, but deftly turns each weakness into strength, asserting himself as someone to be reckoned with. The progression is perfectly biotic, believable, and that makes it all the more impressive. Houser’s taken the backbone of the Zahn narrative and focused it expertly on only what matters, story-telling strong and Spartan.
She has able assistance from artist Luke Ross, whose bold lines form technological and uniform details that make this unquestionably part of the Star Wars mythos. The balance between such necessary framing and the vital character-building expressions and emotional conveyance keeps this a personal story, exceptional individuals given great backdrops and costuming. It could be the storyboard for a live action film.
Those who have read the Zahn novel may feel a sense of familiarity from the storyline, but this creative team delivers the thrill you get seeing a favorite book realized on celluloid. They’ve tapped our mind’s eyes for the graphics, channeled our inner reading voices for the dialogues, and conveyed Thrawn to a new innovative dimension of reality.
Written by Jody Houser.
Art by Luke Ross.
Colors by Nolan Woodard.
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles.
8 out of 10