When Star Wars was purchased by Disney in 2012, the world of fandom was shaken to its core. In any franchise, canon is the framework that keeps the universe together. Star Wars at the time already had an incredibly rich mythology that crossed platforms, shining through in PC and console games, a CCG, and comic books. The cornerstone of these franchises was the extensive library of novels. Suddenly, this vast trove of history was largely thrown out of the canon, re-classified as Star Wars Legends. The countless hours in my youth spent on the adventures of Mara Jade, Jacen and Jaina Solo, Rogue Squadron, the rise of the Jedi Academy on Yavin, amazing villains like the Yevetha, the Ssi-Rruvi, and Admiral Daala – all scattered to the winds of what suddenly amounted to fan fiction.
Perhaps one of the biggest casualties of Disney’s hard reboot was Grand Admiral Thrawn, the creation of Timothy Zahn, a long-time author of Expanded Universe fiction. Quite possibly the most compelling villain in the Expanded Universe, Thrawn was something completely foreign and unique. As Zahn recently described his character’s first appearance in 1991, “Most of the Imperials [at that time] were gloating semi-incompetents or gloating incompetents, or just plain scary like Vader and the Emperor.” Rather than leading using fear, those under his command were absolutely loyal. A Grand Admiral, a new rank unto itself, with his own personal cadre of alien Death Commandos, clad in a pristine white uniform, a counterpoint to his blue skin, black hair and blazing red eyes. So. Cool.
The saving grace for the Disney shake-up was that the newly re-branded Legends category of Star Wars literature was fair game for eventual inclusion, and in a lot of ways, it was the best of both worlds. Some of the weaker elements of stories could be freely cast off, like Chewbacca dying on account of a moon falling on him, while stronger elements could come into the new, unified canon. In 2016, Thrawn had his first appearance in an episode of Rebels (“Steps into Shadow”) and is now a major focus of the series.
In 2017, Thrawn took center stage in Zahn’s best-selling origin novel, “Thrawn”.
2018 brings writer Jody Houser’s comic-book adaptation of Zahn’s “Thrawn” into the lively universe of Marvel’s canon Star Wars titles. While the post-Return of the Jedi Thrawn we were originally introduced to is yet unwritten, we know he’s alive and scheming as of Rebels. Only a few short years prior, he’s terrifyingly adept at guerrilla jungle warfare and boldly offering his services to Emperor Palpatine for “A state of mutual gain.” Watching Thrawn deftly handle the machinations of his fellow cadets at the academy, besting them, and then turning the entire situation around to maintain a net benefit for the Galactic Empire is amazing.
This is not your standard petty and vengeful Imperial bureaucrat. This is a red-eyed distillation of Sun-Tzu re-writing Game Theory. It’s known he eventually attains the rank of Admiral, then Grand Admiral, but precisely how he gets there is another matter. It’s both delightful and chilling at the end of issue #1 to see how cooly he reveals his designs on his own future, minutes after graduating the Imperial Academy.
Luke Ross’ visuals, especially his use of shadow and perspective, give a voyeuristic appeal to the story. This is a character many in Star Wars fandom know and love, and we’re eagerly watching his ascent through the Imperial ranks. It may not stop there, with another Thrawn novel out later this year (“Thrawn: Alliances”, due out July), and Marvel editor Heather Antos decidedly coy about future storylines.
The Star Wars Universe continues to grow, especially as a vehicle for anthology films, with releases due out roughly every year or so (or as long as we’re willing to line up for them). Knowing that the Legends universe is there with its wealth of characters just waiting to be thrown back into the canon is as nourishing as blue milk. Kyp Durron, Tenel Ka, Thracken Sal-Solo and all the rest are on the table. They might not all see the silver screen, they might not make it into a novel, but even some fan service as a bit character in the comic books will go a long way towards easing the great disturbance in the Force that was the destruction of the Expanded Universe.