Star Wars Cover Art: The Thrawn Trilogy

September 7, 2011 at 10:05 am | Posted in Art, Books | Leave a comment

They say you shouldn’t always judge a book by it’s cover, but that doesn’t mean the cover isn’t important. As part of a new ongoing series of articles, I’m going to undertake an exploration of Star Wars cover art that focuses on the novels. Whether it’s a closer look at the artists, a surprising variation of a cover, or an interesting piece of trivia, the articles will helpfully shed light on a subject that is often overlooked or only briefly glimpsed at.

In honor of the recent release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, I’ll be looking at the cover art of the Thrawn Trilogy this week.

On May 1, 1991, a groundbreaking book hit the stores: Heir to the Empire. Written by Timothy Zahn and published by Bantam-Spectra, HttE spring boarded the expanded universe to a starving fanbase. Followed by Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, the Thrawn trilogy reinvigorated the EU and hooked millions of readers on Star Wars books.

These iconic books were brought to life by cover artist Tom Jung. Tom was born in Boston, MA and attended the Museum of Fine Arts there. After serving in the army, he worked as an illustrator and art director for various advertising agencies in New York. Later he worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Allied Artists, Columbia, Paramount, and Cinema Center Films designing movie posters for films like Dr. Zhivago, Gone With the Wind (for the re-release), Papillon, Lord of the Rings, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, and Star Wars.

Movie posters designed by Tom Jung.

Just about every Star Wars fan is familiar with this image…

Tom Jung's poster for Star Wars.

In addition to A New Hope, he also designed posters for The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars posters designed by Tom Jung.

For the covers of the Thrawn books, Tom Jung captured the essence of each book by portraying the characters in various action poses. With some similarity to his Star Wars posters, they form a layered image. Each book features Luke, Han, and Leia, with C-3P0 and R2-D2 on the spine. They also feature the villains with Thrawn on the first two covers, and C’Baoth on the first and last book. Chewie manages to make his way onto Heir to the Empire, while Mara gets a prominent central position on The Last Command. There is also a definite feel of action on each cover. Whether it’s C’Baoth’s commanding presence, the Falcon flying overhead, or Luke battling Mara Jade, there is always a feeling of movement; a snapshot of a scene. When Mr. Jung worked on movie posters, he stated “The goal of poster art is to crystallize a film into a simple image – to catch a moment.” His cover art does just that.

The original cover art for The Thrawn Trilogy as designed by Tom Jung.

Like many Star Wars books, the Thrawn trilogy had a rather interesting array of foreign covers. For instance the Dutch covers went with a completely different art scheme focusing on the Big Three and spaceships.

Dutch covers for The Thrawn Trilogy.

Whereas the Spanish covers stuck with Tom Jung’s artwork. I particularly like the way “Star Wars” looks in Spanish “La Guerra de las Galaxias.”

Spanish covers of The Thrawn Trilogy.

The 1996 Russian covers, like the Dutch covers, departed from the Tom Jung scheme. At the top the Big Three maintain their presence, yet the bulk of the cover strays oddly away from the themes. For some reason Heir to the Empire wrongly portrays scenes from the Dark Horse Dark Empire comics. Dark Force Rising shows an image of Coruscant which, while exotic and spacey, doesn’t represent the contents of the book all that well. The Last Command shows a glimpse of a space battle yet it throws in the second Death Star which isn’t in the book. There is also an alternative version of The Last Command which shows an image of Monument Plaza (Coruscant again), and this time it doesn’t even have a space shuttle to add any action or movement to the scene. Unfortunately I’m not sure if the others had alternative covers or not, however I was able to track down the images they used.

Russian covers of The Thrawn Trilogy, 1996.

Truce At Bakura by Drew Struzan, and Dark Empire by Dave Dorman.

Coruscant, drawn by Ralph McQuarrie.

Monument Plaza, on Coruscant.

The 2004 Russian covers went with the traditional route but with a darker color scheme that actually works well to not only form a common style to the series, but also darkens the mood a bit.

Russian covers of The Thrawn Trilogy, 2004.

The 1993 Cezh cover of Heir to the Empire is just darn right comical. The artwork is done by Karel Kilberger, and it just doesn’t match the style that is typical of Star Wars. To be honest, it looks very unprofessional and childish. So stark was the appearance of this cover that I did some looking around and found a link to a page on TFN. Someone mentioned there that this was a “highly accomplished artist” that does a lot of illustrations. They also posted a lot of additional images which makes me wonder if the Czech version of the book was semi-illustrated. The images for Dark Force Rising also suggests that it might have been semi-illustrated too, though it’s worth noting that the cover art for the remaining two books reverted back to Tom Jung’s covers.

Czech cover for Heir to the Empire done by Karel Kilberger.

Oddly there’s only one image for a Japanese cover, and that’s for The Last Command. Sadly it’s not a very good scan either. The details of the image look interesting though.

Japanese cover art for Star Wars: The Last Command.

Once again the Hungarians put their own spin on the covers, and I really like what they did. Thrawn’s presence is very intimidating on HttE and is feature more prominently than any of the other covers. Plus Mara Jade makes the cover with spaceships, droids, and lightsabers to boot. The next cover moves on to just space battles, but it’s also well done. There are a lot of space battles in the series so it makes sense to cover it. The third cover is a little weaker since it focuses on aerial combat planetside. Still there’s action, and the artwork is good. Not sure if that is supposed to be Wayland or not, but if it was, that would add an extra cool factor to the cover. Again I have no idea who the cover artist is, which is a shame because I really do like their work.

Hungarian covers for The Thrawn Trilogy.

The remaining covers all went with the traditional route, though the coloring appears to be different on the German version (this could also just be discrepancies in the quality of the scans).

Polish covers of The Thrawn Trilogy.

German covers for The Thrawn Trilogy.

Bulgarian covers for The Thrawn Trilogy (minus The Lost Command).

Of course Heir to the Empire will be coming back to hardcover with the release of the 20th Anniversary Edition on September 6th. The new book will feature the following dusk jacket with the Imperial emblem, while the cover itself will be a black and white version of Tom Jung’s classic cover. If all goes well, we’ll hopefully see Dark Force Rising and The Last Command to go with it. If they stick with the 20th Anniversary releases, they would get published in 2012 and 2013. (Dark Force Rising was released May 1, 1992, and The Last Command was released April 1, 1993).

Next up the early Bantam era.

Written By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

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