A Tale of Two Thrawns: Comparing the Canonized Thrawn to the Hype

Hello everyone and welcome to the Sarlacc pit. A while back I wrote a post about the portrayal of Mitth’raw’nuruodo (but you can call him Grand Admiral Thrawn) in Legends canon. Thrawn was just about to enter current canon in the Disney XD series “Star Wars: Rebels” when that post was written, and people were super hyped about it. Now that “Rebels” has ended and the sequel to Timothy Zahn’s novel Star Wars: Thrawn (title Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances) is slated for release in a month, I think now is a good time to return to everyone’s favorite Chiss to see if canonized Thrawn has lived up to Legends Thrawn. This post will have major spoilers for Star Wars: Thrawn and “Star Wars: Rebels,” as well as spoilers for Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End so read at your own risk!


So let’s look at how Thrawn has been portrayed in canon novels. The novel Star Wars: Thrawn, which was written by Thrawn’s original creator Timothy Zahn, tells all about how Thrawn, a Chiss warrior from the unknown reaches of space quickly rose through the ranks of the Imperial military. As one of the few non-humans in the Empire, he had to fight not only the competitive world of the Empire, but he also had to fight against the racism of his peers. Strangely enough, his ability to quickly rise through the ranks did not translate to respect from his peers, but rather resentment. He did, however, have friends in high places, as his origins from outside of known space won him an audience with the Emperor himself, who helped assure his military career.

Thran Nerd
A clever Tumblr user (cystemic) fixed this panel from the Thrawn comic.

Alongside Thrawn throughout the novel is Eli Vanto, who plays the part of John Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holmes. Eli not only serves as Thrawn’s assistant in helping him adjust to the Imperial system, but he also is also type of student to Thrawn, who teaches Eli how to observe and react to different scenarios. Through Thrawn teaching Eli, we are able to see just how intense Thrawn’s thought process is. While he may not be as quick to kill or harm as other Imperial military personnel, Thrawn is as cold and calculating as they come, and had the strategic capacity to carry out even the strangest plans with huge success.

Thrawn trap

It’s also worth noting that Thrawn was not just an evil mastermind behind a desk. Thrawn was a great commander, but he was also a strong warrior capable of carrying out operations in the field when needed. Thrawn single-handedly took out a group of stormtroopers, hacked into their comms, stole trooper armor, and snuck onto a Star Destroyer to gain an audience with Imperial command. Timothy Zahn did a fantastic job of creating a character who is not only terrifyingly smart, but also strong enough to take matters into his own hand when needed.

Thrawn trooper
This is Thrawn during his emo phase.

Thrawn even gets a brief shout out in the Aftermath trilogy, where the Emperor’s true interest in Thrawn is revealed. It turns out that throughout his reign as Emperor, Darth Sidious was receiving messages through the dark side of the Force from Unknown Space. Thrawn, who was from Unknown Space, was recruited by the Emperor to help plot a navigational course through Unknown Space to the apparent source of these messages. In Empire’s End we learn that the Battle of Jakku, was a final gambit by the Emperor. Gallius Rax, a secret mentee of the Emperor, was to lure the remnants of the Empire and the Rebellion to Jakku. Rax would then drop some incredibly powerful Sith artifacts into the core of the planet, which would cause the planet to explode, destroying what was left of both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. A sort of “if I can’t control the galaxy, no one can.” Rax was then supposed to take a few select Imperials into Unknown Space to meet with the mysterious dark side messenger. While the destruction of Jakku was prevented, and Rax was killed, Rae Sloan was able to herd the remnants of the Empire to this mysterious messenger. NOTE: while this is unconfirmed, I believe that it is strongly implied that this messenger ended up being Supreme Leader Snoke, thus it Thrawn played a major role in the formation of the First Order.


Now, let’s talk about “Star Wars: Rebels.” It’s easy to make an Imperial seem highly effective in a novel where the Imperial is the main character. However, in a series marketed towards children where the protagonist is a member of the Rebel Alliance, it is more difficult to make the bad guy seem as effective. Since Thrawn was bound by the plot of “the good guys have to win,” the Grand Admiral was not nearly as effective as he was in the novel. Throughout the series, Thrawn often let the heroes escape. Sometimes this paid off and Thrawn was able to track down the Rebels later, or gain more information about the Rebel Alliance, but sometimes the heroes getting away just meant that they got away. It is worth noting that Thrawn was more often bound by general Imperial incompetence rather than any failings of his own. The constant fighting for advancement often caused other Imperials to ignore strange orders from the uppity non-human, causing Thrawn’s seemingly airtight plans to fail. Despite most of the blame falling on others, it is hard to be afraid of Thrawn or see him as a threat when he keeps getting defeated.

Also, “Rebels” ended with him getting dragged into hyperspace by a bunch of space whales in one of the biggest WTF moments in canon. Generally, it would be easy to assume he died, but it has been stated that he survived. So maybe we haven’t seen the last of Thrawn on television.

Thrawn space whales.png
This is Thrawn, about to get dragged into hyperspace with an open cockpit, and yet he survived? “Rebels” played fast and loose with the rules of hyperspace.


In Canon you can almost say that we see two different Thrawns that are defined by their surroundings. In the novel Thrawn, Thrawn is mostly in command of himself and a few hand-picked allies. Those that he does not personally chose to work with he works around, and thus his complicated schemes work brilliantly. In “Rebels,” Thrawn is a highly intelligent person surrounded by idiots that constantly get in the way of his well thought out plans. So if the question is does Canon Thrawn live up to the hype? I would say generally yes, he is a super intelligent bad ass who uses extremely complicated schemes. However, in my opinion the novelized Thrawn definitely does a better job of living up to the hype than the televised Thrawn. Although, that could be due to the lack of space whales in the novels.

That’s all for Thrawn this week. However, this Thursday marks the release of the newest Star Wars movie: “Solo: A Star Wars Story!” So naturally, be prepared for the official Sarlacc Pit review for my next post. As always, thank you for reading, and may the Force be with you!


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