Grand Admiral Thrawn is the greatest villain in all of Star Wars. There I said it. From his first appearance, he has demonstrated why the Empire exists. Thrawn is ruthlessly pragmatic but never cruel. He makes you believe the galaxy might be a better place under his control. This origin story boldly brings Thrawn’s menace into the medium of comics.
Written By Jody Houser
Illustrated by Luke Ross
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
One of the most cunning and ruthless minds in all of the Star Wars, Grand Admiral Thrawn is back with his own six-issue miniseries! Written by Jody Houser (ROGUE ONE ADAPTATION) and drawn by Luke Ross (STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS ADAPTATION), follow the comic adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s New York Times best-selling novel about Thrawn’s rise in the Imperial ranks, on his way to becoming one of the most feared military tacticians in the galaxy far, far away.!
Although written by Jody Houser, the Thrawn comic is an adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s recent novel, itself the character’s reintroduction into the new Star Wars continuity. A lot is still the same. Mitth’Raw’Nuruodo, or Thrawn for short, is discovered by the Empire and rises through the ranks. Some things are new. Eli Vanto is our narrator, Thrawn’s imperial translator, later sidekick, and later friend.
It is through Vanto that we learn about the mysterious Thrawn, and also the Empire itself. That’s exciting. An early sequence follows Thrawn as he evades stormtroopers, marooned on an unfamiliar planet. Houser’s script is top-notch, giving lots of room for artist Luke Ross to tell the story. It’s action-packed. Thrawn kills, steals, and stalks his way through the woods, establishing his bona-fides as a serious badass.
Vanto’s perspective give an additional level of depth. We see how Thrawn disrupts his life plans with cold calculation, but perhaps for the better. Vanto had a dream of being an Imperial logistics officer. Basically, middle management. His knowledge of Thrawn’s language and legends bind the two of them together. Watching Thrawn think of new ways to bind Vanto into his service is delightful.
The hardest part of writing a character like Thrawn is capturing his intelligence. He’s supposed to be a genius beyond any human he encounters. Writers are only human. Fortunately, Timothy Zahn’s story does an excellent job of contriving situations to prove his genius. Even more fortunately, Houser is great at Star Wars adaptations, having done an excellent job with the “Rogue One” comic, and she paces Thrawn’s machinations quickly. It feels like watching an excellent football game, seeing the players adapt to everything thrown at them.
The insight into the Empire is also a treat. Most things are unsurprising, but still manage to be fascinating. Of course the Imperials have a protocol for dealing with new alien species. Of course school politics are caught up in the Imperial Senate. Framing everything through an outsider’s perspective is a genius move. I especially appreciated Thrawn’s confusion with the concept of pets, and the idiomatic way in which humans talk about teacher’s pets. That gives us insight into the characters, the different species, and really the whole galaxy.
Luke Ross and colorist Nolan Woodward aren’t subtle, but their artistic flourishes are excellent comics. With such a dense story, flashbacks have to be delivered efficiently, and they play out like ghosts, inhabiting the same panels as the present day story. Thrawn is drawn gorgeously, his vibrant blue skin and red eyes standing out from the grey and white of the Imperials. More than that though, his intelligence and subtle humor shines through his alien eyes, which is especially impressive considering he doesn’t have pupils.
In a time when so many Star Wars books are relying heavily on photo-reference, it’s nice to see a book look as old-school as this. The art has a fantastical quality to it. These pages wouldn’t look out of place in a ’70s fantasy comic, like a “Conan the Barbarian.” It works well for Star Wars. Panels follow a simple grid pattern, until they don’t, and you suddenly realize that Thrawn is saying something important, something with a double meaning. That top tier interplay between words and pictures is why we read comics.Continued below
Sometimes, the best an adaptation like this can hope to do is bring a story to a new audience. “Thrawn” is something more. There’s a lot added here that could not work in a novel, or even on film. By translating this story to a new medium, there’s a new focus, and a new energy. Star Wars fans from all over the galaxy should come see what the “Thrawn” comic has to offer. Odds are, you’ll find something you’ve never seen before.
Final Verdict: 8.7 – “Thrawn” is more than just a simple adaptation, and it elevates the story into a new medium.