Star Wars: Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Journey to ‘Ahsoka’

Screenshot of Thrawn, as voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, in ‘Star Wars: Rebels’. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Studios and Lucasfilm.

Hey! Hallie here!

Yesterday was May the 4th, or as us Star Wars fans know it, Star Wars day! Because I’m posting a day afterwards I’m adopting Return of the 5th rules though, which means I’m focusing my celebratory Star Wars post on the Dark Side. With all the buzz around ‘Ahsoka’ now that we just got a new trailer during ‘Star Wars Celebration’, I felt it was best to discuss one of my favorite Star Wars villains of all time, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn isn’t a force user, but dismissing him for that is just as smart as dismissing Leia for not wielding a lightsaber. He’s one of the most intimidating villains we’ve ever seen in the galaxy far, far away, and he’s by far the most intelligent. However, if you aren’t a fan of the Star Wars books or animated series, you may not have seen this character before the ‘Ahsoka’ trailer was released. So for those of you who aren’t familiar with this character, and for those of you who are but may not know his full story or just want to reminisce, here’s a look at how Thrawn made his way into the Star Wars universe.

Timothy Zahn and the Original ‘Thrawn Trilogy’:

Every time we talk about Thrawn, the first person we have to mention is his creator. That isn’t Dave Filoni, who created the series ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ where Thrawn first appeared on screen, but Timothy Zahn. Just like now, there have always been various authors willing and able to tackle storylines in the Star Wars series that fill in gaps between movies or tell entirely new stories of their own. In the nineties, Timothy Zahn was one of those major authors. Among other stories he created what is known as the Thrawn Trilogy, a series of books where Luke, Leia, and Han went up against the next most powerful threat in the Empire after Palpatine, Grand Admiral Thrawn. In these books Thrawn was dangerous not because of his power, but because of his strategic skills. Thrawn would study his enemies, their pasts, their tendencies, the history of their culture, the art of their culture, all to be able to get inside their heads. And it was incredibly effective. Every time Luke, Leia, or Han thought they had backed Thrawn into a corner, it was revealed he anticipated their plan and they played right into his hand. He was like an evil version of Sherlock Holmes, only ever able to be outsmarted when the characters targeted his need for control. I read these books a long time ago because my aunt was kind enough to lend me her old copies, and though Leia has always been my favorite Star Wars character, I can’t deny that Thrawn was the best part of this trilogy. He was fascinating to read about and scary in a way that felt more real than Palpatine with his force lightning. That’s all thanks to Timothy Zahn. But clearly, the Star Wars universe has changed since these books came out in the nineties. So how did Thrawn make his way into canon?

Disney and ‘Star Wars: Rebels’:

When Disney took over the Star Wars franchise, one of the first things they announced was that the books that had been written as side stories to the Star Wars movies were no longer canon. This angered a lot of fans, but in a way it made sense. Disney wanted as much room to play with the Star Wars timeline as possible, and so many books had been written by that point that it may have been limiting. Still, that left authors like Zahn out of Star Wars with nothing to show for the work they had put into fleshing out the universe. That is, until ‘Star Wars: Rebels’. When season three of ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ came around and a new villain was needed to make the ending season feel intense, Dave Filoni and the creatives behind ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ settled on Thrawn. They were all huge fans of Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and they thought the presence of that character was the perfect thing to up the stakes of the final ‘Rebels’ season. Though they didn’t consult Zahn when bringing the character into the animated show, a lot of love for the character was apparent in his writing. His intelligence and ability to anticipate the Rebels was very much intact. His strategy of learning about his enemies and even collecting art from various cultures were major parts of his character. They even threw in sneaky references to other characters from the trilogy. All that and they cast Lars Mikkelsen, who brought the perfect amount of intelligence and coldness to Thrawn’s voice. Zahn said in interviews he was flattered by and pleased with the use of Thrawn in ‘Star Wars: Rebels’. And fans were just as pleased with it. In fact, the reaction to Thrawn was so positive that they asked Zahn to come back and write another Thrawn trilogy, this time about how Thrawn came into power in the Empire. And best of all, it’s canon.

Thrawn Now:

Now that Zahn is back behind the writing for Thrawn, we have a lot of new content to enjoy. First there’s the first of Zahn’s canon Thrawn series’, which includes ‘Thrawn’, ‘Thrawn: Alliances’, and ‘Thrawn: Treason’. Then there’s the newest Thrawn series that just ended. That one, known as ‘Thrawn Ascendency’, includes the books ‘Chaos Rising’, ‘Greater Good’, and ‘Lesser Evil’. Then, ‘Ahsoka’ is coming to Disney+ in August. That series will pick up where ‘Rebels’ last left off, and for Thrawn, his return is a pretty big mystery. SPOILERS for the end of ‘Star Wars: Rebels’. At the end of season three, Thrawn was defeated by Ezra when Ezra used the Purgils, or space whales, to catch Thrawn off guard and hold him captive on an Imperial vessel. Unfortunately, Purgils are known for randomly jumping into the far reaches of space, which sent both Ezra and Thrawn together into the unknown. Both have been missing for a long time by the time ‘Ahsoka’ starts, so it’ll be interesting to see where the two ended up and how they managed to escape. I’m extremely excited to see Thrawn here for multiple reasons. One is, of course, the fact that this will be the first time we see live action Thrawn. Second is that he will once again be played by Lars Mikkelsen, who is such a good Thrawn that I can’t imagine anyone else playing him. And third, they consulted Timothy Zahn this time which means we get an even more accurate Thrawn. But ‘Ahsoka’ might not be the only place we see Thrawn in the near future. He’s been name dropped quite a bit in ‘The Mandalorian’, so we might see him across various series. Wherever he ends up, I’m excited to see the chaos he’ll bring to the Star Wars universe.

I adore the character of Thrawn and I really enjoyed exploring the history of Thrawn for this post! Part of this was definitely preparation for ‘Ahsoka’, but to be transparent, I’m also starting ‘Thrawn’, the first book Zahn wrote for Thrawn in canon, and I’m hoping to review it here on the blog soon! In the meantime, I hope you all enjoyed your May the 4th and your Return of the 5th. Especially those of you who got to go to big events like ‘Star Wars Nite’ at Disneyland. I’m very jealous. Especially the people who were surprised with the secret characters, Luke, Leia, and Anakin. Seriously, so jealous.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!


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