Star Wars: The Last Command (#1 – 6) – Mike Baron

3 out of 5

A fitful conclusion to the Thrawn Trilogy that, storywise, inserts a lot of fun twists, then somewhat deflates, maybe due to Baron’s divvy-up-the-pages-equally approach underserving the conclusion.  Visually, Edvin Biukovic brings back the European flair Olivier Vatine and Fred Blanchard brought to Heir to the Empire, but switch-ups in page layouts and a weird sense of scope (flip-flopping between space scapes and conversations) makes pacing hard to get ahold of.  In other words: it’s mostly fun, and more satisfying than Dark Force Rising, but seemingly indecisive as to what the ultimate threat we were fighting against was.

We can suppose the intents and purposes, though: that Thrawn’s plotting comes closer to splintering the New Republic, while wild jedi-in-the-rough C’baoth is either secretly in the lead with his Skywalker-wooing plans, or maybe he’s just insane.  Baron (channeling Zahn) does a good job of keeping us in the dark, and at Last Command’s opening, everything is teetering on a fun edge: we don’t know which way Mara leans; we don’t know if the Alliance is tricking Thrawn and fully waylaid by his tricksy cloaking plans, and Thrawn, cool cucumber as ever, smiles and pets his villain-familiar, a ysalamiri.  All of the setup of Heir to the Empire has paid off: we’re fully comfortable with all of the various races and characters introduced over the last twelve issues, and the politicking between these races, and amongst the smugglers, in Dark Force Rising puts us on the other side of that story’s uphill climb of attempted tension.  But then Thrawn somewhat shrinks into the background, with C’baoth taking the fore, and he’s frankly just not as interesting.  To be fair, these ‘balancing’ of the villains was introduced previously, but I guess we (okay, I) kept hoping for Thrawn to come out ahead, and while the conclusion of his bit is fantastically understated, I wish he’d had a bit more chance to shine prior to that.

Biukovic (and inker Eric Shanower) make an awfully pretty page, especially when Digital Chameleon assists Dan Brown on colors: the pages gain a lot of depth.  I’d say, choreography-wise, the pages are very readable, and Edvin leaves letterer Ellie de Ville ample space to do her thing.  But at the same time – whether this was script direction or Edvin, who can say – he switches between vertical and horizontal layouts without much motivation, with the same being true for when he cuts to external, space-bound shots and interior shots, which assumedly left Ellie with the decision of how to guide the eyes properly through dialogue.  She generally sticks with a left-right, top-bottom division, but it still inevitably ends up confusing with Biukovic’s layouts, and when he goes to those exterior shots, we have no reference who’s saying what.  It’s definitely notable enough to become a hitch when reading, but when the action picks up (which is common), the story is fun enough – and the visuals slick enough – to be temporarily forgotten.

Undoubtedly, these books were a massive undertaking.  I don’t doubt the difficulty, and Baron and his various teams made it seem not only mostly a fluid read, but also one that I can easily accept in comic form.  That is, knowing it was also a book makes a lot of sense, but it still has definite value in its visual form.  The final volume suffers from a crunch of plotlines and visual concepts, but ultimately pays off all that’s led to it.