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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the most popular early "Expanded Universe" stories created for the Star Wars universe was Timothy Zahn's series of novels beginning with "Heir to the Empire". These took place following the events of the Classic Trilogy, and really went a long way to set the stage for what followed.

Two of the most notable characters created by Zahn were Grand Admiral Thrawn, a surviving Imperial officer of no small reputation, and Talon Karrde, a smuggler who would eventually throw his lot in with the New Republic.

Recently, Hasbro released a comic-book two-pack featuring these characters. "Heir to the Empire", along with the rest of what is colloquially known as "The Thrawn Trilogy", was a sufficiently popular story to warrant a comic adaptation.

This is not the first figure of Grand Admiral Thrawn. There was one quite a number of years ago, but this was before Hasbro ramped up the detail, and, in most instances, the articulation on most of their figures. I had no reservations about picking up a new Thrawn. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Talon Karrde figure.

Let's consider them individually.

GRAND ADMIRAL THRAWN - I've always found this character interesting. He was a non-human in the very human-centric Empire, who managed to achieve considerable rank. The obvious reason the Empire was so human-centric was budgetary -- George Lucas had enough to do to outfit non-humans for the Rebellion, Cantinas, and whatever else. But he probably could have gotten away with Thrawn had the character existed at the time.

Thrawn, unlike most of the really wild and weird aliens of the Star Wars universe, was relatively human in appearance. The only real differences of note were pale blue skin, and red eyes. I rather liked that.

Let's see what the Star Wars information site Wookieepedia has to say about Grand Admiral Thrawn. As it turns out, it has quite a lot to say, and I'm going to have to present a fairly basic overview here. For many further details on this interesting character, I recommend the Web Site's entry on him.

Mitth'raw'nuruodo, better known by his core name Thrawn, was a male Chiss who served in the Imperial Navy and became the only non-Human Grand Admiral . He was regarded as the best military strategist in the navy, and despite the Empire's strict non-Human policies, rose to a position of power.

Thrawn served as an officer in the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force for many years, where he demonstrated his brilliance. However, many of Thrawn's ways were contrary to that of Chiss society at large, and so he was exiled. Thrawn was discovered by Imperial Navy officer Voss Parck, who brought him to Palpatine. Palpatine had already learned of Thrawn in 27 BBY, and knew his command skills.

Over time, Thrawn climbed the Imperial ladder, and in 2 ABY became the 13th Grand Admiral in the Imperial Navy. Shortly after, Thrawn left on a secret mission to pacify the Unknown Regions. He remained there for several years after the Battle of Endor, which saw the death of Palpatine. The Empire was on the verge of collapse by 9 ABY, when Thrawn returned. He had a plan to crush the New Republic. Though the Grand Admiral was able to deal the New Republic several mighty blows, he was unable to destroy the fledgling government.

Thrawn perished in the Battle of Bilbringi at the hand of Rukh, his Noghri bodyguard, who had recently learned that the Empire had betrayed his people. Though Thrawn was dead, he would be remembered as the genius tactician and Imperial leader who nearly brought down the New Republic.

Note - "BBY" and "ABY" refer to "Before" and "After" the "Battle of Yavin", generally considered a distinct point in the history of the Star Wars universe.

Wookieepedia continues:

Reports current during the last years of the Galactic Republic claimed that Thrawn was a high-born son of the Nuruodo bloodline, one of the Ruling Families of the Chiss Ascendancy. However, it appears that the truth was rather different. Thrawn was born a commoner, and gained status by pursuing a military career; on earning his commission in the Expeditionary Fleet, he became a merit adoptive of the Eighth Ruling Family—the Mitth Family, not the Nuruodo.

In 19 BBY, Captain Voss Parck of the Victory-class Star Destroyer Strikefast discovered Thrawn on a remote planetoid at the edge of the Outer Rim Territories near the Unknown Regions. By disabling Colonel Barris's force with primitive tools and traps, Thrawn impressed Parck. Thrawn insisted he return to his people to protect them, but was convinced by Parck that by offering his service to the Empire, he may be better equipped to do so. He even hinted that Palpatine may one day send Thrawn back to the Unknown Regions with the advanced technology and capabilities of the Empire. Convinced, Thrawn joined him and was brought to Coruscant. Upon arrival, Parck presented Thrawn to Emperor Palpatine, who was most pleased to have the commander responsible for Outbound Flight's destruction before him.

Parck began training Thrawn, but the student quickly surpassed the master, and Thrawn engaged in a long period of private tutoring with the Empire's greatest minds. Thrawn climbed through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, much to the chagrin and in spite of the xenophobia exhibited by many of its Human officers.

Thrawn rapidly attained command rank, appearing in public with Palpatine and other high-ranking dignitaries at significant events such as the commissioning of Executor, and serving as captain of the Imperial-class Star Destroyer Vengeance.

Few in the Empire guessed at Thrawn's true importance. Palpatine was using his most able commander to explore the Unknown Regions and nullify or exploit any potential threats he encountered. Moreover, at some stage before 3 ABY, he received a secret promotion to the rank of Grand Admiral, although this was known only to his direct subordinates and a few of Palpatine's most trusted agents.

Four years after the Battle of Endor in 8 ABY, Thrawn finally returned from the Unknown Regions to the Empire proper. He transferred his flag to the venerable Imperial II-class Star Destroyer Chimaera, named Captain Gilad Pellaeon as his second in command and gathered a small but skilled command armada. After a number of successful early raids, the Imperial Ruling Council gave official control of the Imperial Military to Thrawn.

Author Timothy Zahn has stated that Thrawn's character is a composite of various historical and fictional personalities, including Erwin Rommel, Robert E. Lee, Hannibal Barca, Alexander the Great, and Sherlock Holmes, to name a few.

Artistic renditions of Thrawn during his final campaign often picture him with an ysalamir. Ysalamiri were furry, lizard-like tree-dwellers native to the planet Myrkr, most known for their ability to repel the Force by creating a Force-neutral bubble. This ability evolved in response to predation by the Force-sensitive Vornskrs.

Thrawn discovered this ability and tended to keep one in close proximity to him to ward off nosy Jedi.

The Thrawn figure is excellent, and appears to be an entirely new figure. I'd rather assumed that it might have used a previous body mold for an Imperial Officer or Grand Moff or some such, but the copyright date on the back reads 2008. So either this is an entirely new body, or Hasbro's updating the dates on these things.

Articulation is superb. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. None of this colossally annoying "diagonal cut" articulation that turns up every so often, either. These are proper articulation points, all with a good range of motion, generally consisting of a swivel or rotation as well as the usual forward and back movement.

Thrawn is dressed in white with a black belt, black sleeve cuffs, and black boots. Here is where we encounter the only paint problem on the entire figure. I think the boots MAY have been painted by hand, and while they've been painted decently neatly, which is more than I can say about most hand-painted jobs I encounter, the area around the articulation point has been left unpainted, and since the figure was molded in white plastic, it tends to be pretty glaring. Personally, I recommend doing a retouch with a good Sharpie.

The only other area of painted detail on Thrawn, aside from his head, is the board of little colored rectangles on his jacket that most Imperial officers wear to one degree or another. These have been very neatly done.

Thrawn's head has been cast in a very proper shade of pale blue. The facial expression is relatively neutral. Thrawn wasn't one to be some over-the-top screaming commander. He generally kept his cool rather well, if memory serves. He has black, short-cropped hair, and red eyes outlined in black.

About my only criticism regarding the structure of the figure is a rather long and skinny neck. This is in order to accommodate the ysalamir that comes with him, that is designed to be hooked around his neck. It's well made if a little creepy-looking.

Overall, though, this is an excellent figure of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and an improvement over the original.

TALON KARRDE - The Wookieepedia entry on this character was even more massive than the one for Thrawn. Granted, Karrde outlived Thrawn, so maybe that's not terribly surprising. As before, I'll provide a basic summary as best as I can. but for a far more in-depth look at Talon Karrde, I recommend the Wookieepedia entry -- and it's not exactly light reading.

Talon Karrde was a smuggler and information broker who dominated the underworld market in information. He began his career in the organization of Jorj Car'das, where he moved quickly through the ranks to become one of Car'das's top lieutenants. When Car'das disappeared in 0 BBY, Karrde quickly and quietly took over the organization to avoid internal feuding. The smuggling and information-brokering organization was already formidable, and when Jabba Desilijic Tiure was killed in 4 ABY, Karrde was able to pick up the most pieces and guide his group to the top spot in the smuggling world. Known as an honest and honorable man, Karrde kept a low profile despite his lofty underworld position.

In 9 ABY, Karrde was drawn into the Galactic Civil War, in which he had previously avoided taking sides, when he rescued Luke Skywalker from being stranded in deep space and helped Skywalker avoid capture by Imperial leader Grand Admiral Thrawn, though only after his hand was forced. Thrawn placed a bounty on Karrde, driving him to sell the location of the Katana fleet, a secret he had kept since his days in Car'das's employ, to the New Republic. Karrde then organized the Smugglers' Alliance to represent the smugglers to the New Republic and aid in the battle against Thrawn. When Thrawn was defeated, Karrde remained a valued ally of Skywalker and the Solos but was not trusted by the New Republic leadership as a whole due to his shady past.

Born sometime before 31 BBY on a planet Karrde always kept secret—feeling it would cause others to label him politically—Karrde entered a life of crime as a young man. He began his career in the employ of Jorj Car'das, the leader of a smuggling and information-brokering gang. There, Karrde rose through the ranks, gaining much experience in both the smuggling and information-selling trades.

In 0 BBY, Car'das suddenly disappeared along with his massive private store of information. Karrde, by now one of Car'das's chief lieutenants, conferred with the other lieutenants as to who what should happen to the organization as Car'das's absence wore on for three months. A bloody internal squabble nearly developed, and it was suggested each lieutenant take his own portion of the organization and go his own way. Instead, Karrde took over the organization, neutralizing the other lieutenants and announcing his control in a single night.

Karrde maintained a scrupulous neutrality in the Galactic Civil War, aiding either side as it profited him but never clearly casting his lot in with any one party; he had no desire to become involved in galactic politics in any significant way. Karrde used the heavily modified bulk freighter Wild Karrde as his flagship, outfitting it for maximum performance. He also had offices installed on the ship from which he worked, sorting the massive amount of information fed to his sensor-stealthed ship.

Six months into 8 ABY, Karrde visited Varonat, where they knew the Krish crimelord Gamgalon was involved in a safari operation; Karrde wished to know what Gamgalon's true interest was and if he could cut in on the business. Masquerading as one Pandis Hart, Karrde claimed that his ship had suffered a hyperdrive failure and entered one of the Morodin-hunting safaris supposedly to pass time while it was repaired. His hyperdrive mechanic was a young woman named Celina Marniss who impressed him with her competence and wide-ranging knowledge. This was in reality Mara Jade, another prominent character in the Zahn-authored stories. After five and a half months of watching Jade in action and being continually impressed by her talents and demeanor, Karrde decided to promote her to be one of his lieutenants with an eye towards grooming her to take the deceased Tapper's place as his second-in-command. Karrde invited her to a private dinner in which he gave her the news, but that was quickly broken up by the arrival of the Imperial-class Star Destroyer Chimaera over Myrkr. Karrde knew through his sources that this was the flagship of the Empire's new secret military commander, Grand Admiral Thrawn, which is largely how Kaarde got involved in the stories.

I'd tell you more, but it would be more interesting for you to enjoy the books yourself.

Years later, and with a growing and increasingly legitimate relationship to the New Republic and its leaders, Karrde was invited to the Luke Skywalker - Mara Jade wedding to serve as the father of the bride. He sought a Jedi artifact from Terrik as a wedding present, then proceeded to Coruscant. There, he participated in Skywalker's bachelor party, surprising him along with several other friends in the Red Rancor cantina; he felt honored to be considered a close enough friend to be invited to the party. Shortly after Skywalker arrived, however, they were set upon by a swoop gang, leading to a bar brawl that the bachelor party handily won; Karrde suggested they leave quickly to avoid attracting more attention. Karrde arrived for the wedding, which was to be a huge media event, and spoke with Jade as they prepared.

As member systems of the New Republic clamored for the benefits of Karrde's information-sharing network, he was forced to expand his organization beyond the point where he could know all his employees personally, something he regretted. He also began slowly moving out of the smuggling business, a process which took several years, as did Jade's disengagement from the organization. He did maintain a reasonable shipping business, but kept his trade legitimate.

Author Zahn once "played" Karrde -- with hair extensions -- for a photographic role, and has commented that he sees Talon Karrde as being who Han Solo might have been if Solo hadn't joined up with the Rebellion as early as he did.

The figure is clearly from Karrde's earlier days, during the "Heir to the Empire" story. The figure is an excellent likeness of the character as he's been portrayed in comic adaptations and the like. Talon Karrde has tan-colored skin, long black hair with some hint of grey, a mustache and goatee, something of a mean look in his eye, and is wearing a fur-collared vest, sleeveless grey shirt, and brown trousers and dark brown boots that aren't too far removed at all from Han Solo's wardrobe -- including the belt and pistol holster.

Karrde's eyes are especially well painted. I never fail to be impressed by the level of painted detail possible on as small and yet as vital a detail as the eyes of a figure, especially in this small scale range, when the company making the figure is really paying attention. And clearly they were paying attention here. Karrde's eyes have the whites, blue irises, black pupils, a little white "light reflection", and black lines over the eyes representing eyelashes, all very neatly done. Between that and the fairly heavy "scowling" eyebrows, you really get the impression this figure is staring at you -- and not entirely in a friendly manner.

The rest of the figure's painted detailing is also nicely done, if somewhat minimal (that's not a complaint), and includes the fur on the vest, a gold buckle on the belt, the dark brown boots, and a certain minimal mottling on the shirt and vest that couldn't really be described as "weathering" or "dirtying" so much (two techniques which drive me nuts), as a sort of "texturing", and the end result is really very nicely done.

Karrde comes with a silver blaster that fits into the holster on his right leg. He is as well articulated as Thrawn, fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. His head is more poseable than one might expect given the ling hair, which is very well done and "falls" neatly behind his back, but surprisingly, doesn't hinder articulation much.

The set includes a reprint of HEIR TO THE EMPIRE #1, the first issue of the adaptation of the Thrawn novel. It reads well, the artwork is very good, and it sort of makes one want to track down the rest of the issues. I would imagine there's a trade paperback out there someplace.

So what's my final word here? Grand Admiral Thrawn and Talon Karrde represent characters from one of the earliest, and yet still extremely impressive, efforts to take the Star Wars universe beyond the movies, beyond Return of the Jedi, and set it on a course that continues to this day. Who really needs the mythical Episodes 7, 8, and 9, when book authors and comic book producers have turned out as much material as they have, with the approval of LucasFilm.

And here's a great chance to own two very impressive figures representing those early stories. The STAR WARS COMIC PACK featuring GRAND ADMIRAL THRAWN and TALON KARRDE definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!