The Thrawn Trilogy: Cover Art Retrospective

will: Greetings, gentlebeings, and welcome to Force Visions, where we’re in some downtime after finishing the Thrawn Trilogy but aren’t quite ready to start spinning up on our next book just yet.

Think of this month or so as the brain food coma of digesting the last two years of writing.

Seasonally appropriate joke: check!

z: Flat stare at joke: check!

will: Happy Thanksgiving, Americans. Hope the food was good and the family not too difficult.

z: But I second these ones.

will: In the best traditions of Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal, this week we’re going to steal an idea from an older piece of writing by Mallory Ortberg on her wonderful and recently-closed website The Toast, and do a look at the covers of the Thrawn Trilogy. But in the interests of not just aping that brilliance–not that I think we could anyway–we’re going to add in the new “Legends” covers as well.

But first, if you haven’t read Ortberg’s analysis of all of the cover art of the Star Wars EU, Go do that.

So, first up, what else:

Heir to the Empire
Cover Artist: Tom Jung

will: Yeah, this definitely does set up the idea that C’baoth is the “Heir to the Empire,” not Thrawn. Then again, maybe that’s second-level clever, as you realize that “who really is the Heir” is a major underlying theme–if the Empire was a balance between Lawful and Evil, what is it becoming now?

z: Yes, that’s a good question, but thinking such things are beyond me at the moment because what bits of my psyche are not scarred by the C’baoth Chest Musculature and Straggly Beard that Somehow Manages to be a Goatee are scarred by… what is that coming out of his fingers?!

will: Force lightning, I guess?

z: ….you saw Return of the Jedi, right?


will: But beyond that, I’m willing to forgive more because of time–remember, this ties into the whole “new Star Wars content” theme of Heir. Of course you had to have Luke, Leia, Han, even Chewie (who looks like he’s here just to get his mandated cover appearance in accordance with the contract with Sidekicks’ Local #1138), because how better to scream “This is a new Star Wars novel!”

Well, except for the giant “STAR WARS” on the top. There’s that.

z: …in the correct font, natch.

Your description of Chewie’s pose nicely supports the thought bubble I always envision above his head, which goes “…can I go now.”

I do like the color scheme of this cover; that tone of blue may be my favorite color anyway.  I am disturbed by the placement of the x-wings, don’t know why.  The artist is actually very good at arms and hands; I really like Leia’s hand holding the blaster.  I don’t know what Thrawn is, why is he posed that way, and….

…wow, I’d never noticed that before…

…is that a ysalamiri on his shoulder?

(And if not, what’s with that red blob?)

Cover Artist: Christopher M. Zucker

will: This one by comparison is lovely, but uninformative. But then, by the 20th Anniversary, it doesn’t need to inform. The look of milled metal has an appropriateness to it–maybe the truest Heir to the Empire is the legacy of metal ships, metal thinking.

z: I’ve got no snark about this one, because I honestly just like it.  It’s also very 20th-Anniversaryish, if you know what I mean.

Cover Artist: Rich Kelly

will: …what?

z: …welp.  *cracks fingers*

will: I mean, sure, it solves the “Thrawn doesn’t get enough importance” factor, but only if you can recognize that weird blue face-like thing as Thrawn’s face. And there’s something just off about the art style used–ironic in light of Thrawn. Maybe the materials or something. It looks a little like the artist thought Picasso would be a good model to work from due to Thrawn being, you know, blue. It’s not full cubist but it looks like the artist took cues from that.

Blue’s cues, I guess.



Anyway, I don’t like that art style that much in general, but while it’s OK for Luke, it really really does not work for close-ups.  For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Thrawn has pupils, and doesn’t have a nose that’s been broken multiple times in bar brawls; also, I’m not sure I can appreciate the eyebrow detail.  I can’t resolve the background although it’s OK not to be able to, I guess, except… X-Wing… nose?  In the corner?

In a sense this goes the opposite way to the Classic cover: That one was all Star Wars! Star Wars! This is Star Wars! including vast swathes of space and stars and such, this one… I think the artist panicked when they realized that they had to throw something space-y in there.  Because if this is the first book you got, and you didn’t recognize the lightsaber, the only thing that tells you this is Star Wars is the red-font title.

Which, by the way, was classier in its gold-over-blue form.  Just saying.

Dark Force Rising
Cover Artist: Tom Jung

will: Yeah, Ortberg speaks for me mostly. I find it interesting that what might be the least space-battley book of the three features the Falcon on the run from TIEs–not that that didn’t happen, but still–and I have no clue at all what’s going on with the cliffs in the background. Honestly this one could have been where you show C’baoth, it would have fit.

z: I’m going to be nice and think that those are the cliffs at Jomark, and C’baoth is in his High Castle somewhere atop them.  Ignore the blood-waters and the red skies, that’s just to fit the general color scheme.

Also, Luke and Thrawn have the same cobbler.

Also, the hand-holding-blaster is still very skillfully drawn.

Cover Artist: Rich Kelly

will: No thank you. It almost looks like the artist started with one piece and it was split in half for Heir and this, but it couldn’t have been the case–Thrawn’s face would be mismatched and he’d have two noses if you put the two together. And whoever decided that the best way to have a Thrawn Trilogy cover was “big giant head of Thrawn” needs a lesson in…something that I can’t give because I don’t know art.

Huh. I’ve checked, and I’m wrong: turns out all three Legends Thrawn Trilogy covers are intended to be a single panorama.


z: No, that doesn’t surprise me, although it’s not a good decision, because just imagine the panorama in full… it doesn’t make things better.  They just left out a strip or repeated a strip when they split this one from Heir, that’s all.

You say you don’t know art, but I think you do, and maybe just couldn’t think of the word.  The word you’re looking for about your lesson is “composition.”  And the word I’m looking for with respect to that and those covers is “nope.”

will: I will say that Leia does look pregnant in this picture, I guess. I mean, I’m no expert but I can believe it. Something about the way she is carrying herself says it.

z: Huh, that’s actually a nice touch.  There’s also the cut of the tunic-thing she’s wearing, and the fact that she’s wearing a thigh-holster instead of a waist-one.    And I like that she’s wearing pants with the Corellian side-stripes.  And maybe that is a lightsaber hooked there.

But I had never noticed any of these things before because Han’s face exists in two different planes, and one half is about 12 years old.

The Last Command
Cover Artist: Tom Jung

will: Now we’re talking.

Sorry, Ortberg, I can’t disagree with you more. This one is great–yes, it would benefit from an appearance by Thrawn, but the placement of C’baoth as a sideline to the main fight is great, especially when one realizes that that isn’t Luke. It’s the clone–hence the blue saber, and it does explain why he looks young.

z: Yes, and Mara makes it to the cover, which has made me do a little happy dance ever since.  And she’s wielding Leia’s saber, which we were told is green in Dark Force Rising.  I’m not going to comment on the form-fitting camo, but apparently she also uses the same bootmaker.

will: Han and Leia look…old, oddly. I mean, yes, they are supposed to, but aside from the hair and the anachronism, I would almost believe that the artist used 2016 Harrison Ford as a model. And Leia is waaaaaay too clingy and passive–not that this is a new problem for Star Wars promotional material, as witness some of the leg-clingy early posters. I guess you can spin it differently, but it feels wrong.

z: That pose is actually a direct freeze-frame from Return of the Jedi, where Han and Leia are listening to Threepio’s history lessons to the Ewoks.  It’s a moment of peace together, so I never read that as clingy.  Hence why Leia looks amused, too.  But a) You’re right about Han being at least 2000s’ Harrison Ford, b) oh, look, climactic conclusion to a very tense trilogy where everyone is clashing with everyone else at the same time so let’s use a scene of momentary peace on the cover because… um… reasons?

will: Plus, more cliffs. Why, again?

z: Because Mount Tantiss and look I’ve got nothing okay.

Cover Artist: Rich Kelly

will: Props for having the guts to drop the classic characters entirely, but not so much for the execution…you end up with something that looks almost straight out of a Baen Books cover (and that’s high insult): blue skinned military dude in what’s clearly an overly fancy military uniform watching a battle.

z: It is high insult, and I’m not sure if it is undeserved.  Also, that’s what I meant by “putting all three together doesn’t make it any better.”  What you end up having is Luke HUGETHRAWNFACE Han Leia um is this the same dude from behind?  Oh and spaceships filling the empty spaces in between.

will: If it weren’t for the Falcon I wouldn’t know what to look at. The smaller dogfight and battle scenes are fine, I guess, but feel too insufficiently drawn to be important. And what’s with the burning wreckage?

z: It is battle.  There must be burning wreckage. Right?

And also, did you note who doesn’t make it into any of those covers?  Not only Pellaeon (which, I completely, utterly agree with Ortberg about that) but no Mara, no Karrde.  I think that 30 years on, you could maybe take the risk, book designers.

will: I suppose we could dive into the other covers, like foreign versions (some of which are pretty cool), but…nah. That’s all for this week, folks. Next week, more R&R style material, we’ll figure out what soon…

z&will: In the meantime, digest well, and may the Force be with you.


One thought on “The Thrawn Trilogy: Cover Art Retrospective

  1. The cover of the Last Command has an interesting composition, but it’s by far the worst drawn of the three. I don’t know what’s going on here, I kind of wondered if it was a different artist but apparently it’s not. Mara’s pose looks awkward and artificial, the faces are all weird (especially Luuke’s and C’baoth’s), and C’baoth’s proportions look wrong… I don’t know what happened here, but it’s not good.


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