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Marvel’s Star Wars: Thrawn brings Timothy Zahn’s latest novel to life

A character study and origin story, rolled into one classically inspired comic

Paul Renaud/Marvel
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Just about as soon as Disney took over the Star Wars franchise, science fiction author Timothy Zahn got some pretty bad news. His acclaimed trilogy of novels, including Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, were no longer considered canon. That meant that his most beloved character, Grand Admiral Thrawn, never existed.

But rumors of the blue-skinned alien’s demise were short-lived. In 2016 it was announced that he would be reintroduced as part of the Rebels cartoon series, and Zahn himself was brought on to write a new novel detailing Thrawn’s origin story.

Thrawn arrived last spring, published by Del Rey Books, and quickly put Zahn back on the New York Times best-sellers’ list. Now, it’s being adapted into a series of comics from Marvel.

Star Wars: Thrawn is written by Eisner-nominated Jody Houser. She also took point on the excellent comic book adaptation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a series that moved briskly through an otherwise troubled script to highlight the emotions and relationships that didn’t seem quite as clear on the big screen as they could have. So far, issue one hews fairly close to Zahn’s original work, which also received praise from our sister site The Verge.

A withdrawn Eli Vanto chats with an ominous, long-haired Thrawn
Cadet Eli Vanto, left, chatting with Thrawn in his cell.

But the real joy in this first issue is the art by Luke Ross and the color work by Nolan Woodard.

Zahn’s novel made extensive use of internal monologues to both foreshadow the larger narrative arc and add extemporaneous color within individual scenes. That’s not always possible in a comic, especially one that needs to cover as much ground as this series does. Ross and Woodard work together to give these characters depth, both in their facial expressions and their posture.

Thrawn is at times regal and bold, shoulders back and eyes clear. Other times he is furtive, dark and intimidating. By far the most delightful characterization is for Thrawn’s aid, Eli Vanto. Even after all the little asides and personal anecdotes provided in Zahn’s novelization, I feel like I’m getting to know Vanto here for the first time.

Overall, the art in this first issues feels very old school, with lots of crosshatches and stippling that remind me of the old adventure serials in the Sunday comics. It will be curious to see if that changes as the timeline moves forward. The series will run six full issues and, according to the official Star Wars website, will include scenes not featured in the novel. Issue two lands on March 14.