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November 21, 2018

Star Wars: Thrawn #1 (review)


Star Wars: Thrawn #1
Marvel Comics, February 2018
Writer: Jody Hauser

Star Wars: Thrawn is a new comic book series from Marvel Comics, based on LucasFilms’s evergreen and globally successful sci-fi franchise Star Wars. More specifically, the comic (like the novel it was adapted from) focuses on and serves as an origin story for the character named Thrawn (full name: the unpronounceable “Mitth’raw’nuruodo”), who is a popular villain among fans of the Star Wars franchise.

Thrawn is one of the more interesting characters from amidst the Star Wars properties. Thrawn was first introduced as Grand Admiral Thrawn in the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, written by Timothy Zahn. The Star Wars novels from around that time, collectively dubbed the “Expanded Universe”, are set after the events of the third film. As such the Expanded Universe novels, although authorised by LucasFilms, conflicted with official Star Wars continuity when LucasFilms (after acquisition by global entertainment monolith Disney) took the franchise in a different direction via the 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Expanded Universe has since been folded into their own non-canonical category called “Legends,” which makes these novels essentially official fan-fiction – a terrible fate in the minds of Expanded Universe aficionados. However, Thrawn has proven to be so popular that he has been absorbed into official canon. The character was reintroduced in the Star Wars Rebels animated TV series, which is part of LucasFilm’s recognized official continuity.

The six-issue Star Wars: Thrawn comic book series will hopefully help new readers understand the character’s appeal. Writer Jody Hauser does a great job with the adaptation, which shows Thrawn as one of the most cunning, manipulative strategists from within the Star Wars universe, without resorting to the cheesy monologues and grandstanding that are so popular with villainous characters.

Star Wars: Thrawn’s story starts by establishing the notoriety of Thrawn’s species, the Chiss, and shows that the stories of their efficiency as hunters are not myths. Thrawn is very successful in trapping and ambushing different groups of Imperial Troopers who are exploring and investigating the planet that he is stranded in, at one point even managing to stow away on one of their ships while wearing a storm trooper’s armor.

From capture, Thrawn manages to bargain for his freedom, not by groveling on the Emperor’s feet but instead by convincing the Emperor of his value. The character shows great smarts in avoiding any offering of loyalty (which would not be a great bargaining chip in dealing with the paranoid, untrustworthy Emperor). Instead, Thrawn proposes a mutually beneficial agreement and explains what he hopes to gain out of the agreement.

Thrawn then gets drafted into the imperial army: he so impressed the Emperor that he was automatically bestowed with an officer rank. But the character, once again, shows great smarts by choosing to hide his rank and mingle with other cadets as a new alien recruit (the comic touches lightly on the subject of discrimination in this part). The story puts in solid effort in painting a clear picture of the politics and infighting among the cadets, and perfectly establishes Thrawn as the supreme pragmatist and tactician – the alien managed to turn the tables on bullies from influential families without resorting to violence, and without seeking revenge. Instead, Thrawn recognizes that his detractors and attackers have skills that would be of value to the Empire. So instead of pressing a case and getting them discharged, he sought to have them transferred to positions within the army where their skills would be most useful. This has the benefit of improving the Empire’s efficiency and also intimidating his bullies.

And just in case Thrawn’s skill and intelligence earn the approval and admiration of the reader, the story is quick to remind that he is not a hero to root for. Thrawn will manipulate, scheme, and even sacrifice allies if it suits his agenda. It is commendable that the story did not turn Thrawn into a sympathetic antihero, despite the character’s popularity among fans making that the easy story to write.

It is only the first issue of the series, but Star Wars: Thrawn has already done so much in establishing Thrawn as one of the most interesting characters in the franchise. And it looks like the comic is going to be a great read for people who are more interested in the ruthless politics behind one of the most powerful organizations in the Star Wars franchise. It is also admirable that Star Wars: Thrawn manages to avoid being too reliant on an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars mythos. Beyond some basic familiarity with the franchise, everything that a casual reader needs to enjoy the story has already been provided within the pages of this comic, to Mr Houser’s great credit.

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