4 out of 5
Mike Baron, for his comic book adaptations of the celebrated Star Wars expanded universe ‘Thrawn’ trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahler, took a decidedly Baron-esque. very logical approach: a six issues per book, he would divide the books into six roughly equal parts and script them accordingly.
As such, Heir to the Empire moves at great speed: what could be giant scale battles or chases seem to occur within a flash, and dramatic turns of events that would likely be milked for buildup and fallout page-fillings are slipped in to lines of dialogue. Reading it as your only-ever exposure to Star Wars might leave you scratching your head as to its relevance. But of course, that’s not really how this thing is meant to be read. Considered as an extension to characters and concepts with which you already have a frame of reference – and even as a casual Star Wars viewer, that’s the case with me – the way Zahler expands on what came before is mind-spinningly inventive, and by casting it on the comic page in a sort of as-is, straight-forward manner, Baron manages to capture that sensibility, as it reads with a down-in-the-trenches frankness that shows instead of tells.
In short: the rebels – now the fitfully growing and emerging New Alliance – are sending out emissaries to try to cement their government. This includes a pregnant Leia and her now-husband Han; Luke Skywalker is something of a celebrity, and so can tag along in that capacity. A meeting is waylaid by a group of Noghri’s, who we know to be following the lead of one Admiral Thrawn, the new supreme commander for the Imperials. That Zahler’s books became known as the Thrawn trilogy is definitely due to how great of a villain the dude is: very calculated; very calm; he’d rather retreat than save face with wasteful battles in order to play the long game, and though he won’t blink to execute an under-performing soldier, that he arrives at the decision to do so after logically presenting a reason for it – instead of acting out of anger – makes the possibility all the more cold and chilling. This isn’t the ten-steps-ahead master villain, but rather one who knows how to roll with things as they happen, which keeps him constantly able to nip at the New Alliance’s heels. In Heir to the Empire, our lead trio are beginning to sniff out the oddities at the fringes of Thrawn’s plans, leading to their weaving in and out of each other’s paths throughout the books and, thanks to some Force-countering maneuvers by Thrawn, upping the thrills by forcing Luke to rely on his wits.
While this series is very much setting the stage, and putting characters into place, that even-keeled storytelling style mentioned above keeps things rocketing along. Artists Olivier Vatine and Fred Blanchard are also key contributors to this pacing, with a stylized, swooping line and fantastic sense of page layout that allows the scope to zip back and forth between large-scale battle and small character interactions as needed.