Review by Frank Plowright
In 2017 Timothy Zahn followed up on his early 1990s trilogy of Star Wars novels. These pitted the wits of the extremely capable Grand Admiral Thrawn against the former rebels now setting up the New Republic after Return of the Jedi. This can also be found as a trio of graphic novels beginning with Heir to the Empire, or collected as The Thrawn Trilogy. Thrawn was a great creation, a supreme strategist, yet adaptable except when it comes to a single minded belief in the Empire. Thrawn drops back to an earlier era with the Empire still in control, opening with an exploratory ship with a mission to explore new worlds and seek out new life and new civilisations, returning home with a legendary Chiss warrior.
From the beginning of his training for serving the Empire Thrawn is intuitive and capable, and the more he learns of humans, the better he becomes. Dragged along in his wake is Eli Vanto, a cadet assigned to be Thrawn’s translator to begin with, but gradually a trusted companion, and at the halfway point Thrawn meets Arihnda Pryce, an ambitious woman with good reason to want the downfall of some powerful people. She has a hard learned ability to navigate political minefields, something that at this early stage of his career Thrawn lacks.
Zahn’s plot shows Thrawn to be cunning and manipulative, a strategist and pragmatist from the start, and the combination of Jody Houser’s adaptation and Luke Ross art present this well. Thrawn’s eyes are distinctively red without pupils, and so not the beacons of emotion that human eyes are. It means Ross has to be subtle with visual cues when needed. We take Thrawn on his own terms, and while he’ll sometimes explain himself to Vanto that’s not always the case. Ross designs both locations and alien species well, giving them something visually appealing and exotic.
Unlike the Thrawn seen in earlier graphic novels, this younger years version isn’t the finished article, and it’s strange seeing him occasionally fallible and not entirely in control, although well ahead of most he encounters. It renders him occasionally smug and unlikeable despite the revelation that there’s more to circumstances than has been assumed. This is a story all Star Wars fans should enjoy greatly, and anyone not quite as immersed can still pick up Thrawn and like what they read. As was originally the case, Zahn is writing a trilogy of Thrawn novels set during the Empire years, so it’s likely at some stage Alliances will also have a graphic novel presentation.