Ahsoka Tano has “started hearing whispers… of Thrawn’s return.”
That’s according to the latest trailer for Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars Disney + miniseries that will see Rosario Dawson reprise the titular role originally voiced by Ahsley Eckstein. Even the uninitiated can tell from the gravity of Dawson’s performance and swelling orchestrals that Thrawn’s return is not a good thing, but we don’t get many specifics on exactly who he is.
Fortunately, Popverse is here to catch you up on the character’s backstory before Ahsoka debuts, and let me tell you, it’s a big one. Though the character is only just now making the transition to live action, there’s enough written about Grand Admiral Thrawn to fill a galaxy of his own. But don’t take my word for it; let’s dive in.
Who is Grand Admiral Thrawn?
The man born as Mitth'raw'nuruodo is a high-ranking official in the Galactic Empire, a brilliant strategist and ruthless warlord. A member of the Chiss race from the planet Csilla, Thrawn is striking in appearance, his crisp white Imperial uniform complimenting his severe features, blue skin, black hair, and strangely cold red eyes.
Though details of Thrawn’s character history have changed over the years (we’ll get to that in a minute), his personality has remained largely the same since his first appearance in the early ‘90s. He is assured in himself, elegant in his bearing, cruel in his manner, and most importantly, absolutely cunning in making war. Though there may be longer lived villains in the Star Wars universe, none are better military tacticians than Thrawn, in canon or out.
On that subject, a quick note before we go on. Thrawn’s story begins outside of what is now considered Star Wars canon, during the time between the release of the original movies and Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. After The Force Awakens was released, the canon was reset, leading all of the novels, comics, and video games that contradict those events to be labeled…
Star Wars Legends
Thrawn first appears in the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, written by Timothy Zahn (If you’re thinking, “Hey, doesn’t Ahsoka call him ‘Heir to the empire’ in the trailer?,” you’re right! That was almost certainly an easter egg for Thrawn fans). Thrawn is introduced in the novel as one of the Empire’s greatest generals and resistor of the New Republic being formed by Luke, Leia, Han & Co. Though the Imperial forces are significantly weakened by Palpatine’s defeat at the end of The Return of the Jedi, Thrawn manages to organize them into a force that seriously disrupts the founding of the galaxy’s new democracy and even more seriously endangers the lives of the films’ heroes.
Thrawn creator Timothy Zahn would write two more novels in what is now called the Thrawn Trilogy: Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. And though the novels featured fan-favorite characters established in the original movies, the Chiss Imperialist is largely agreed to have been the breakout star (hence the name of the trilogy). Zahn would explore the character’s legacy further in the novels Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future, and visit his earlier days in the 2006 novel Outbound Flight. From then on, Thrawn would appear in dozens of works set in the Star Wars Extended Universe, including a Dark Horse-published comic adaptation of the Thrawn trilogy.
Then, in 2014, the galaxy far, far away got a makeover and set of mouse ears as the franchise was worked into a different canon according to the plans made by its new owner. However, Disney knew that the blue baddie was too good of a character to simply forget, and in 2016, producer Dave Filoni confirmed that Thrawn would be making his way into the…
Current Star Wars Canon
The Grand Admiral’s first appearance in modern Star Wars canon came via the animated Rebels series, on which Thrawn was voiced by Sherlock actor Lars Mikkelsen, who we recently learned will also portray the character live in Ahsoka. Probably the biggest change made to Thrawn is to move him back in time, to the era before Palpatine’s defeat, where he would confront the ongoing Rebel Alliance. Thrawn was a memorable villain on Rebels, notably for his position of foil for the character of Ezra Bridger, a young Force-wielder who will also be making his live-action debut in Ahsoka.
With Thrawn back in the Star Wars sandbox, it was only a matter of time before creator Timothy Zahn would get his hands on him again (I mean, their names rhyme!). In 2017, Zahn released the first of his ‘New Thrawn Trilogy,’ which served as both a reintroduction to the canon and exploration of the character’s past. This trilogy, consisting of the books Star Wars: Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason were followed up by both a six issue Marvel comics miniseries and yet another trilogy, this one called Thrawn: Ascendancy.
Again, a lot of these new adventures delve into Thrawn’s previously unexplored past. And though we’re absolutely here for more villain origin stories, we can’t help but wonder…
What is Thrawn’s future?
Due to the character’s withstanding popularity and Timothy Zahn’s ability to write a trilogy like you or I make carbon dioxide, it’s clear that there are plenty of stories ahead for Thrawn in Disney’s Star Wars canon. That said, what we know about those upcoming stories is little to nothing. But is that going to stop us from speculating?
You bet your blue butt it’s not.
Of the several projects announced at the Star Wars Celebration 2023, one of the most intriguing was the upcoming Dave Filoni-directed film, which is reported to be set in the “modern” Star Wars era (that is, before the sequel trilogy). Though details were scant, Filoni did confirm two things that have our Thrawn-senses tingling. The first, as reported during our live-blog of the panel, was that the movie would spin out of The Mandalorian. Not only is Ahsoka itself a spinoff of the character’s appearance on the Disney + series, but it’s in her Mando debut that we first hear Thrawn’s name spoken in a live action show.
But the really interesting part of Filoni’s announcement comes when he speaks about inspirations for the film. According to the producer (who, we’ll remind you, was the one to first announce Thrawn’s introduction into the modern canon in 2016), his film will take inspiration from the Extended Universe of non-canon stories, better known as Star Wars Legends [...]
And the original galaxy that belonged to Grand Admiral Thrawn.
For more news from a Galaxy Far, Far Away, head to Popverse’s Live Blog coverage of the Star Wars Celebration 2023.