The year was 1991, “Return of the Jedi” was released 8 years earlier and the Star Wars franchise had gone stagnant, until an author by the name of Timothy Zahn stepped onto the scene and wrote a novel titled Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, introducing a fan-favorite villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn. The trilogy written by Zahn (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, known collectively as The Thrawn Trilogy) breathed new life into the Star Wars franchise, and new books, movies, comics, video games, and various other works of Star Wars art exploded from there, filling out a very large extended Star Wars canon. Decades after the release of Heir to the Empire, the Star Wars franchise was purchased by the Walt Disney Company and most of the existing canon was declared defunct, and cast into the category known as “Legends” in order to make way for new creative content and movies. Fans of the original Star Wars canon bemoaned the loss of stories, ideas, and characters, but seemingly no loss was mourned as much as the loss of the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Fast forward to now, “Star Wars: Rebels” began its third season on Saturday and based on the trailers for this season it appears that a familiar character has resurfaced. Furthermore, Timothy Zahn has been brought back in for another dance with Thrawn, with his new canon novel Thrawn set to be released in April 2017.
Welcome to The Sarlacc Pit. This week’s discussion will be about the Legends canon Thrawn Trilogy. While this is not current canon, the resurgence of Grand Admiral Thrawn in “Rebels” demands a look into the character’s original incarnation. I plan on discussing who Thrawn was, his story from The Thrawn Trilogy, why people love this character so much, and finally a discussion on how Thrawn might fit into current canon. As might be expected, this will have major spoilers for The Thrawn Trilogy, so read at your own risk. I also want to stress that as far as the story goes, this is considered Legends, and not consistent with current canon, including “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” I also have to do a shout out to my close friend, Daryl, here, as without him I would have almost no knowledge of Thrawn whatsoever. Daryl read The Thrawn Trilogy and discussed these ideas with me, so he deserves as much credit for this post as possible. He also has served as an editor and fact-checker for many of these posts, so The Sarlacc Pit would probably be filled with typos and errors if not for him. Anyways, without further ado, let’s get started.
Who Was Grand Admiral Thrawn?
Thrawn (or Mitth’raw’nuruodo as was his full name) was a Chiss male who served as Grand Admiral in the Imperial military. This in itself is huge, as the Empire’s speciesist policies meant that there were very few non-humans in the Imperial military, let alone in a position of leadership. He was known for thinking outside of the box, often giving orders to subordinates that made no sense at the time, and pulling off strategies that no one expected to work, making it impossible for adversaries to predict his moves. He tended to isolate himself in his office, which was essentially a duplicate of the command deck on his Star Destroyer, The Chimera. Thrawn studied the art, culture, and history of his enemies in order to know how they thought and how best to fight them. Thrawn would even go so far as to study records of drawings or artwork personally made by individuals he faced against, including artwork made by Admiral Ackbar as a child. This studying of art and culture allowed Thrawn to get inside the minds of his enemies, and exploit weaknesses not seen from a strictly military view. His cunning and ability earned him the Emperor’s favor, despite being a non-human, and earned him his title, although he was assigned to the Unknown Regions.
The Thrawn Trilogy
We are introduced to Grand Admiral Thrawn in Heir to the Empire by his second in command, Captain Pellaeon aboard his ship, The Chimera a few years after “Return of the Jedi.” Thrawn began to work on rebuilding the Empire, after failing to steal a fleet of ships to serve as the new Imperial fleet, Thrawn decided to investigate a hidden storehouse on the planet Wayland, originally used by Darth Sidious to store stolen or acquired technology. Rumor was that the storehouse was guarded by a Dark Jedi, so Thrawn gathered a number of Ysalamari, non-sentient species who created Force-repelling bubbles in order to hunt Force-sensitive prey. The Ysalamari were dispersed throughout Thrawn’s flagship in order to defend his ship from the Dark Jedi and he brought a couple with him along with Pellaeon and his Noghri bodyguard, Rukh to seek the warehouse on Wayland.
Upon arriving on Wayland, Thrawn discovered that the Dark Jedi guardian had been defeated by C’baoth, a clone of a Jedi Master who had started to go mad due to the complications of cloning a Force sensitive. C’baoth attempted to attack Thrawn and his fleet, but his attacks were useless in the presence of the Ysalamari. Thrawn, who had long suspected that Darth Sidious had used the Force to coordinate large-scale fleet maneuvers using Battle Meditation (a Legends Force ability that allowed a Force user to somewhat manipulate a large number of people’s actions during battle), offered C’baoth a place in the resurgent Empire. C’baoth agreed, as long as Thrawn captured Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Solo, and Leia’s unborn twins so that he could raise the twins as his apprentices. Thrawn agreed, and sent tactical teams of Nohgri (a species who had served Vader and then Thrawn after Vader’s death) to capture the Skywalker twins.
While the Noghri went after Luke and Leia, Thrawn began to incorporate C’baoth’s battle meditation and technology found in Sidious’ warehouse to attack the New Republic and steal ships. Eventually, Thrawn discovered an abandoned fleet of dreadnaughts out in the Unknown Regions. These dreadnaughts could serve a capital ships, but did not require as large of a crew as most other capital ships. To crew the dreadnaughts, Thrawn turned to another piece of technology found in Sidious’ warehouse of wonders: cloning cylinders. Using cloning tech, Thrawn’s Empire was able to clone soldiers and pilots faster than they could produce ships, so Thrawn began to focus on stealing New Republic ships along with expanding the Empire’s influence. Now during this time Thrawn continued to execute some pretty complicated strategies and make things hard for Han, Luke, Leia, and the rest of the New Republic, but essentially, this is the overarching strategy.
As Thrawn’s Empire grew, the Noghri tactical teams eventually cornered Leia on Kashyyk. However, one Noghri, after getting close to Leia, realized from her scent that she was the daughter of Darth Vader, the Noghri’s former master. After the swore loyalty to Leia, Leia told the Noghri that they had been fooled by the Empire. The reason they were loyal to Darth Vader was that he had saved them from catastrophe, however that catastrophe originated from the Emperor himself, in an effort to make the Noghri loyal to the Empire. In the end, this was Thrawn’s undoing, as he was assassinated by his own Noghri bodyguard, Rukh, ending his career and his Empire.
Now there’s more to the story of Thrawn as a sequel duology was later released giving more backstory to Thrawn and going on about his legacy, and he pops up in various Legends video games and comics, but we’ll stop his story here for now and move on.
Why Do People Love Thrawn?
Star Wars has some amazing villains, and people are very attached to their favorite characters, but why do people love Thrawn so much? It comes down to a few reasons. First of all, Thrawn proves to be just as imposing a character as Darth Vader, striking fear into the hearts of his enemies, all without the black mask and the Force choking abilities. This brings me to my second point: every villain we see in Star Wars is some demonic Sith Lord, I mean you need the Force to go up against Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi right? But with Thrawn you have someone who is able to give it to the good guys without using the Force. Thrawn’s interesting psychological warfare also provided a different type of combat than the “beat them with superior force” strategy normally employed by the Empire. Essentially, Thrawn was interesting to read about as he was this terrifying enemy whose power came from a different way of thinking instead of some mystical energy field. Furthermore, the character was not overused. He came in to fill the power vacuum left by the Emperor, made things difficult for the New Republic, and died. A story is only as good as its ending and Thrawn’s ending came at an appropriate time.
What Can We Expect From Thrawn Now?
So now that we’ve gone over who Thrawn was in Legends, let’s talk about how he might fit into current canon. It’s been shown that Thrawn is a high-ranking Imperial who was stationed in the Outer Rim dealing with insurgents such as the Free Ryloth Movement (#FreeRyloth), which is pretty similar to his job description from Legends. In “Rebels,” he will be brought in to deal with the burgeoning Rebel Alliance before it gets out of hand, bringing him up against Kanan, Ezra, and the rest of our heroes from the show. However, all this takes place before “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” will he survive and eventually pop back up Post-Battle of Endor to fill a similar role as he did in The Thrawn Trilogy? Daryl and I both predict that this will not be the case. The current post-“Return of the Jedi” novel trilogy is Aftermath, where it appears that Thrawn’s role as replacement Emperor belongs to Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax and then eventually Supreme Leader Snoke, and as far as we know, it does not seem like Thrawn found a way into their First Order.
So what do we think will happen with Thrawn? I think a lot of it will depend on when Timothy Zahn’s novel Thrawn will take place. Will it be a post-“Rebels” story or backstory for Thrawn? My theory is that the character of Thrawn will be almost entirely contained within “Rebels.” Now that the Inquisitorius is defeated and the Rebel Alliance is forming, perhaps the show will move toward a more military-centered plot-line and Thrawn will serve as the show’s main villain for the rest of the series, eventually dying to make way for the Rebel Alliance’s complete formation. I think that if Thrawn is killed after only being a part of canon for part of a season it would not be doing the character justice, but if he sticks around for a couple of seasons, thoroughly wrecking stuff for the early Rebel Alliance, and then is killed in some dramatic way, I think that will be a good, full story for Grand Admiral Thrawn in current canon.
So that is Grand Admiral Thrawn from The Thrawn Trilogy, widely regarded as one of the best villains Legends has to offer. It is exciting to see him brought back for current canon, and I cannot wait to see Timothy Zahn’s return to writing Star Wars novels. All in all, despite what I may say about Legends canon (not all of my opinions on the subject are good), it had some interesting ideas and characters, and Grand Admiral Thrawn was one of them. Once again, there are plenty of more Thrawn stories in Legends besides The Thrawn Trilogy, so if the character has piqued your interest, there is plenty of content about him to choose from.
Phew, now that I’ve spent this post talking about Legends, I’m going to return to my comfort zone: obscure facts from current Star Wars canon. A couple weeks ago Pablo Hidalgo released a Twitter storm of thoughts on the Force, so next week I am going to go through his tweets and discuss some of the ideas he shared. Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!