It’s official. After months of teasing and speculation, Grand Admiral Thrawn is making his canon debut in Season Three of Star Wars Rebels. Lars Mikkelsen, the older brother of Mads “Galen Erso” Mikkelsen, will portray the legendary Grand Admiral. Timothy Zahn, Thrawn’s creator, will also write a novel simply called “Thrawn.”
Thrawn is well known to Star Wars fans who grew up with the books and his presence looms over the entire Expanded Universe to a significant degree. Thrawn’s story is one of the defining tales of the Star Wars universe. While his story in Canon will undoubtedly be significantly different from its Legends counterpart, the core of Thrawn – his tactical genius – will seemingly remain untouched.
But, in Legends at least, who is Grand Admiral Thrawn?
The Last Grand Admiral
Introduced in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is the last of the Galactic Empire‘s warlords. A member of the Chiss species from the Unknown Regions, his full name is Mitth’raw’nuruodo. Thrawn is his “core name,” used for easy reference among family and comrades. A brilliant strategist and naval tactician, Thrawn studies the art of a species in order to understand their weaknesses and strengths. He uses this to formulate strategies to exploit their cultural blindspots and defeat them.
Thrawn started his military career as a member of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force, protecting the borders of the Chiss Ascendancy from external threats. Early on, his career brought him into contact with agents of Palpatine who were intent on stopping the Outbound Flight project, an effort by the Galactic Republic and Jedi to explore beyond the edges of the galaxy far, far, away. Palpatine’s agents told Thrawn that a race of extragalactic “Far Outsiders” were preparing for an invasion of the galaxy. An encounter with the Republic before Palpatine had a chance to strengthen the galaxy to resist them would have been a disaster. Convinced, Thrawn destroyed the Outbound Flight.
Years later, Palpatine remembered Thrawn’s tactical genius and recruited him into the Empire. A career as a brilliant naval commander followed, even if his contributions were not widely publicized due to his alien origins. Eventually, he was raised to the rank of Grand Admiral, one the Emperor’s twelve elite fleet commanders. He was assigned to pacify the Unknown Regions in preparation for the Far Outsider’s expected invasion. A story was circulated that he had fallen out of favor with the Emperor and had been exiled.
Years passed in the Unknown Regions as Thrawn established an “Empire of the Hand” and spread the Empire’s influence throughout the region. He returned to the main galaxy four years after the Battle of Endor and the death of Emperor Palpatine, attempting to reunify the fractured remnants of the Empire. Launching his campaign a year later, his confederation of forces almost brought the fledgling New Republic to its knees. Using innovative tactics and brilliant stratagems, he reestablished the Empire as a potent force using forgotten cloning technology, experimental cloaking devices and the Noghri, a relatively unknown alien species that believed they owed a debt to the Empire so served them as commandos and assassins.
Thrawn’s campaign against the new Republic was halted at the Battle of Bilbringi when he was assassinated. The Noghri learned that the Empire had deceived them and they allied with the New Republic. Thrawn’s Noghri bodyguard Rukh plunged a knife into his heart. With his passing, the Empire fell into infighting and fractured into warlord states again.
But the Grand Admiral was nothing if not prepared. He left a contingency. Aware of the threat posed by the Far Outsiders, he believed that the galaxy would only survive by unifying under his command. But he knew that he might not live to see the fruition of his plans. Thrawn arranged for a clone of himself to be grown and flash-trained while in suspended animation on the planet Nirauan. Guarded by his most loyal officers, the clone slumbered for ten years until it was discovered by Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. In order to escape from the sentry droids guarding the clone, the pair were forced to destroy the chamber that the clone rested in.
A New Beginning
With a new start comes a new backstory. Thrawn’s history will be revealed by Timothy Zahn in a new novel set for release in April 2017. How much of his Legends backstory will be preserved is unclear, but one thing is apparent: the Grand Admiral is taking to the field. And the crew of the Ghost may have met their most formidable foe yet.