The Star Wars universe has gone on a pretty wild over the last few years. In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm for a cool $4 billion and everything changed. What had been canon wasn’t anymore and the future of the franchise became a blank slate.
Still, a good idea remains a good idea whether or not it’s been stricken from the official canon, and in the years since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, some of these de-canonized ideas have crept back in – chief among them, Grand Admiral Thrawn. First created by Timothy Zahn for a then quasi-official sequel novel to the original trilogy, Heir To The Empire, Thrawn has been resilient in the face of corporate takeovers.
A fan favorite villain on par with Darth Vader, Thrawn isn’t a Sith or Force-wielder but rather a brilliant tactician with a keen eye for understanding his enemy. In the Expanded Universe (now called Legends continuity), Thrawn became the main antagonist for the New Republic following the Emperor’s death, but in today’s Disney-era canon, he comes along much earlier. In Star Wars Rebels, an animated series set roughly five years before the events of A New Hope, the Grand Admiral is antagonizing a whole different cell of Rebels from the planet Lothal.
Rebels is set to wrap its four season run in the coming weeks, so very soon we’ll learn whether or not Thrawn will meet his end or live on to play a role in the ongoing Galactic Civil War. Before then, however, fans can learn all about how a blue-skinned, red-eyed alien from beyond the Outer Rim came to rise to the rank of Grand Admiral in Marvel’s latest Star Wars mini-series – Thrawn.
Adapted from the novel of the same name (also written by Zahn), Thrawn #1 introduces an alien who looks nothing like the pristine and poised Grand Admiral fans have come to expect. His clothes are ragged, his hair long, but where it matters most Thrawn is just the same: calm, calculating, and keenly observant. Through a sequence of surprise attacks and traps, this seemingly outmatched Chiss easily infiltrates a group Imperial soldiers, and though he’s eventually captured, his abilities earn him more respect than typically given to the Empire’s prisoners.
From there, writer Jody Houser walks us through the steps Thrawn – full name, Mitth’raw’nuruodo – must take in order to first gain the Emperor’s trust and begin working his way up the Imperial ranks. As setup, it’s a fantastic introduction to how Thrawn operates, using his sharp mind to out think those who see him as lesser because he’s alien. That’s an interesting angle as well, given how the Empire is so often shown to be predominately human, white, and male. Having not read Zahn’s Thrawn novel, I can’t speak to how Houser’s writing compares as an adaptation, but as a fan of Star Wars Rebels (and as a terrible, no-good, Thrawn fangirl), she perfectly captures Thrawn’s elegant speech and the way he can talk himself out of almost any situation.
There’s also an interesting dynamic being developed between Thrawn and an unfortunate cadet who becomes his liaison/translator thanks to being able to speak Thrawn’s native language, Sy Bisti. This Cadet Vanto isn’t really a friend or confidante for Thrawn, at least not willingly, but their interactions allow Houser to further portray Thrawn as someone who can easily use any person or situation to his advantage.
With bright blue skin and glowing red eyes, Thrawn is a visually striking character – especially when suited up in a gleaming white Imperial uniform. This Thrawn isn’t as that stage in his career yet, but whether in dirty rags or a cadet uniform, Luke Ross and Nolan Woodard make him a sight to behold. (Apologies, I’m fangirling again.) Overall, Ross’ pencils are very clean while he shades with hashes and halftone. This makes the art appear polished, but on a closer look it’s all a little rough around the edges. It’s a good fit for a book that touches on how Imperials think they’re elite when more often they aren’t much better than thugs. The panel layouts Ross uses also work well in relaying a lot of information very quickly. Beginning with nine-panel designs, he rarely uses less than five or six per page and this helps keep the story moving at good pace.
Woodard uses bright coloring for Thrawn, obviously, and he always stands apart from the drab styling of fellow Imperials. Yet, whenever the story moves to a locale like the Emperor’s throne room – depicted in a threatening red and black color scheme – or to a Coruscant exterior – with a beautiful orange, pink, and purple sunset sky – the colors will evoke a different atmosphere, distinguishing them from the grey tones of the bland and depressing Imperial corridors.
Thrawn #1 is a very strong start to what may well be the best Marvel Star Wars mini-series yet. It’s obviously building off what was already a well-received book for a favorite character, but this adaptation has enough merits to stand on its own. For those who’ve always found the cool and collected Grand Admiral an oddly enticing if mysterious character, this is a series you need to check out.