Thrawn’s rise to power begins.
Marvel has published some great Star Wars comics over the past few years, but their track record hasn’t been so swell when it comes to adaptations of existing stories. Both The Force Awakens and Rogue One were rendered lifeless and inert in comic book form. The twist with Marvel’s latest Star Wars adaptation, however, is that it draws from a novel rather than a film. That gives writer Jody Houser and artist Luke Ross far more material to work with and immediately yields stronger results.
Star Wars: Thrawn is an adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s 2017 novel, which provided the definitive, Lucasfilm Story Group-approved version of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s origin story. Either the novel or this comic are ideal for fan of Star Wars Rebels who want to learn a little more about the strategic mastermind who’s become such a thorn in the side of the growing Rebel Alliance. Houser and Ross don’t stray far from the source material in this first issue, covering the novel’s opening chapters in truncated form and often directly reusing pieces of Zahn’s text.
Right away, this issue does a fine job of communicating who Thrawn is and the Machiavellian mindset that makes him such a unique threat among the pantheon of great Star Wars villains. In short order, he rises from utter obscurity to become one of the brightest new recruits in the Imperial Navy. Houser, like Zahn before her, is able to showcase just enough of Thrawn’s emotions and motivations while still keeping him at a relative distance from readers. It helps that Thrawn has a partner/foil in the form of Cadet Vanto, a trainee reluctantly dragged into Thrawn’s orbit. Their uneasy partnership and friendship prevents the story from taking an overly cold and clinical look at Thrawn’s rise.
The downside to this faithful approach, of course, is that fans of the book aren’t getting much new in the bargain. It’s certainly a novelty seeing Zahn’s text given visual life. Ross and colorist Nolan Woodard capture the grim vibe of the post-Episode III Star Wars universe. And Ross’ rendition of Thrawn himself is suitably imposing, even as much of the book’s cast melts into a generic sea of Imperial cadets and troopers. It’s just hard to argue that this story actually benefits in any way from being adapted to a new medium. Ross’ plain grid layouts rarely enhance the energy of any given page. This is a competent adaptation, but also an unnecessary one for those who have already read the novel.