Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Luke Ross
Colorist: Nolan Woodard
For me, by far the most significant aspect of the Disney acquisition of LucasFilm was the decision to de-canonise the Expanded Universe. I could understand why they did it – trying to thread the plot of the new trilogy through the labyrinthine canonical moments set up by the books would have put so many constraints on what they were doing as to make it unworkable. The most significant piece of canon that I knew I would miss was the Heir To The Empire trilogy of books by Timothy Zahn, in which we were introduced to a Chiss Imperial Grand Admiral named as Mitth'raw'nuodo – commonly known as Thrawn. I needn't have worried – for Thrawn was re-canonised fairly rapidly with an appearance in the Star Wars: Rebel TV show, and subsequently Zahn has started a new series of books about Thrawn's rise to power before Episode IV.
With this new six-part mini-series, the new novel Thrawn is adapted into comic form. Where the original novels told the story of Thrawn at the height of his power leading the Empire after Palpetine's death in the Battle of Endor, this new story is based upon his first encounter with the Empire and his introduction into the Imperial Hierarchy. Though the circumstances are very different, it is very much still the same Thrawn, and I'm so glad that Zahn was involved in bringing the character back into the canon.
The first issue follows Thrawn as he meets the Empire for the first time, and he is quickly established as the master tactician that forms the basis of his fearsome reputation later in his career. It's a lovely opening, with loads of fine little details that I missed on the first reading, but really appreciated the second time through. Thrawn sufficiently impresses with his capability and strategic planning that he ends up enrolled in the Royal Imperial Academy along with Cadet Vanto – who acted as Thrawn's interpreter when they first met and is one of the few people to treat Thrawn with friendship and respect, and who ends up Thrawn's aide and confidant.
The art is top quality throughout – clean lines with great use of shading and colour. Close-up shots of faces are expressive and natural, and I think that Ross and Woodard have between them perfectly captured Thrawn's style, poise and control. The pace of the story is fairly brisk, but that is to be expected of a novel adaptation – they have a lot of material to fit into not very many pages. I am intrigued that the Imperial soldiers are referred to as Stormtroopers, but are clearly wearing Clone Trooper armour – which raise interesting questions about when this story is set.
While it's a shame it's only going to be a six-part series, I'm delighted that it's an adaptation of the latest novel, which I thought was a fantastic book. Thrawn is back, and he is as smart, as strong and as calculating as he has ever been. If you're a Thrawn fan, this is a great adaptation of the novel, and well worthy of being checked out. If you've never read any of the Thrawn books, this is a great place to find out about how an alien rose to one of the highest ranks in the Empire despite the contempt and hatred towards nonhumans shown by most of his superiors.