Who is Thrawn and Why is His Reveal Such a Big Deal?


In a watershed moment for Star Wars fans, one of the most beloved characters from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe has finally been brought into the official canon. While many of us know the character to varying degrees already, if you are curious to know more about this blue-skinned fellow, hit the jump to find an answer to the question – Who is Thrawn? – and to see why fans of the character are so excited at the news of his return.



“The only [puzzle] worth solving. The complete, total and utter destruction of the Rebellion.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn (Heir to the Empire)

Thrawn as a character was the primary antagonist of a trilogy of novels released in the early ’90’s by Timothy Zahn. These three novels- Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command introduced several characters that were to become long term mainstays of the Expanded Universe. Among these characters were Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, Captain Pellaeon, and even the Solo twins Jacen and Jaina. But it was Grand Admiral Thrawn, the cold and calculating gentleman-villain, whose name was to be applied to this trilogy.


“The Thrawn Trilogy” served as a sort of reawakening of interest in the Star Wars universe that had begun to wain in the years following Return of the Jedi. He was a villain far removed from what we had grown accustomed to, closely resembling Tarkin in demeanor but still a highly distinct character in his cultured refinement that would serve as a template for many later villains even outside of the Star Wars Universe. So we know the origins of the character but we still have yet to pierce the surface of who exactly Thrawn is.


Thrawn Quote

Do you know the difference between an error and a mistake? Anyone can make an error. But that error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn (Heir to the Empire)

Character Biography*


*note- What follows will draw extensively from Thrawn as a character in the old Expanded Universe, drawing mostly from Timothy Zahn’s work. It is currently unknown how much of this will be transferred over to canon.


Grand Admiral Thrawn was born Mitth’raw’nuruodo, a Chiss. The Chiss were an empire beyond known space in the “Unknown Regions” and thus beyond the influence of the Republic and later the Empire. Thrawn was born a commoner but through his remarkable military skill was elevated to the Chiss nobility. He would come to Palpatine’s attention through his actions involving a deep space colonization project known as “Outbound Flight.” I won’t go into much detail in the actual events and recommend reading Zahn’s book Outbound Flight instead. But following these actions, Thrawn would find himself exiled from Chiss space and later come into the employ of Palpatine after the creation of the Empire.


Thrawn, through his prodigious military abilities, achieved the rank of “Grand Admiral” a remarkable achievement in the thoroughly human-dominated Imperial military. Thrawn’s abilities stemmed from his unique outlook on warfare itself. One of Thrawn’s primary attributes was his taste for alien art. Thrawn believed that, through understanding the art of a species, he could then be capable of understanding the very way the particular species thought. Through such practice Thrawn proved to be capable of such feats as identifying what formations an alien fighter squadron would engage in and how they would react to his own ships’ formations.




In the years following the collapse of the Empire, Thrawn would return from an Imperial expedition into the far reaches of space to find the galaxy in chaos as the New Republic struggled to reassert order. Thrawn above all else believed in an orderly society, and thus through sheer force of will united the warring factions of the Empire and brought them all under his banner. In the few years of his leadership, the Empire stood on the brink of restoration before circumstances beyond even Thrawn’s ability to see would lead to both his death and the final defeat of the Empire. As of now, the current canon does not speak of Thrawn and any actions he may have took in the aftermath of the Battle of Endor, but we now know he exists and will no doubt be as dangerous to our Rebel heroes as Vader was, if not more so.


Thrawn stood in direct contrast with Vader in how he handled his subordinates. Rather then wantonly killing any man who failed him, Thrawn instead allowed room for failure in his men, assuming they stemmed from matters outside of their control. There are two famously contrasting scenes in the Thrawn trilogy involving an ensign who fails in managing a tractor beam, causing Thrawn’s meticulously laid out plan to fall apart. In the first instance the ensign threw blame on his superiors and refused to admit that he had been trained properly. In actuality, he had just failed to do his duty with due diligence, leading the ensign to be quickly executed by Thrawn. But later on, another ensign would also fail and allow a rebel to escape, but the ensign proved to Thrawn that the fault came from the design of the ship, impressing Thrawn with his creativity involving the technical fault. This ensign was applauded by the Grand Admiral and the fault was fixed. When a later rebel would try the same trick he would find to his horror that it no longer worked.




What made Thrawn truly elite among his peers was his ability to manipulate Force users. Despite being unable to draw from the Force himself, Thrawn still proved more than capable of manipulating Jedi to act in ways that benefited him. For example, at one point, he took a flaw inherent in the Force where Jedi experienced increased sensitivity to mass deaths and used this flaw to temporarily stun a group of Jedi. He is perhaps most famous, however, for his use of Ysalamiri, a lizard which creates an anti-Force bubble, to weaken Jedi by stripping them of their greatest asset.


In the “Thrawn Trilogy” Grand Admiral Thrawn would nearly bring about the very downfall of the New Republic before his untimely death. He was a virtually unstoppable force in his ingenuity and creativity, always seeming five steps ahead of the Republic at every turn. The great mystery of Thrawn was trying to understand what he was planning next, every little action he engaged in built on to a greater master plan in which all the pieces aligned in a stunning cascade. One goes from wondering why Thrawn seemed to be so intent on stealing mining ships to utter amazement in how these ships would be later employed. This was the genius of Thrawn, playing chess while the rest of us are caught up learning to play checkers.



“He’s a clever villain. People like reading about clever, interesting opponents to our heroes. People who are able to outthink, outmaneuver as well as outfight. Ultimately the heroism of the hero is measured by the villainy or power of the villain and with Thrawn I wanted something different than Force using Vader or Palpatine. Somebody who doesn’t have Luke’s Force Powers, but can run him around in a maze whenever he really wants to” – Timothy Zahn


“I am not the Lord Darth Vader–I do not spend my men recklessly. Nor do I take their deaths lightly.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn (The Last Command)


Why Thrawn?


The Expanded Universe was a mixture of good, bad, great, and awful. The Thrawn Trilogy stood among the very greatest of these works, and Thrawn as perhaps its most memorable aspect. He was gentleman soldier, something we had never seen in the Star Wars universe. His refinement and culture stood virtually unparalleled among any character we had yet to be introduced to. He wasn’t some evil megalomaniac that wanted to rule the galaxy, his motivations were of a desire to instill order and stability. In the decades since his first appearance he has been one of the foremost anti-villains and fan favorite characters even among the classic film characters.


For a time, the Thrawn Trilogy was considered an honorary Episode 7, 8, and 9 in recognition of the merit of the novels and the impact they have had on Star Wars culture. Ask many of us who supported the old EU who we most wished was still around out of the sea of Mara Jades and Kyle Katarns, and you’ll find that it is quite often Thrawn we are seemingly drawn to in the end. A great villain is a rare gift and Thrawn’s merits as a villain mark him among the greatest villains not only in Star Wars but arguably in media as a whole.


The reaction to Thrawn’s return to canon cannot be understated. Out of all the scenes from the exquisite trailer for Rebels, the near universal reaction is a proclamation of ecstatic glee at Thrawn’s reveal. Everytime I personally watch the trailer, my heart beats just a little faster at Thrawn’s reveal. To see him standing surrounded by art is more in character than anything I had personally hoped for. This, coupled with the return of Timothy Zahn to Star Wars literature, serves as a source of excitement and a ray of hope proving that in our new canon any are welcome as long as they deserve it.



To defeat an enemy you must know them. Not simply their battle tactics, but their history, philosophy, art…” – Grand Admiral Thrawn (Star Wars Rebels)


So what now?


Despite being a character found in a relatively small handful of books, Thrawn has become an icon to Star Wars fans everywhere. One can only imagine how his popularity will shift moving forward. Many, myself included, only dared to dream we could even be introduced to a character similar to Thrawn. The actual return of the blue-skinned grand admiral, who appears to be almost identical to his EU counterpart, is perhaps the first step to an end of the scatterings of bitterness some fans still feel over the canon wipe.


The introduction of Thrawn to Rebels and the upcoming book by Timothy Zahn gives a new tool for Lucasfilm in their development of our unified Star Wars story. Thrawn will be introduced to a new generation of Star Wars fans, and perhaps even bring those who have been hesitant to get into Rebels into the fold. He serves to demonstrate that the menace of the Empire extended beyond superweapons and the Sith. I expect his impact on Rebels to be immeasurable in both fan reaction and dramatic impact.


It is rare that we as consumers of stories are gifted with villains who we admire for their intellect and creativity rather than their ruthlessness or menace. It gifts us the ability to understand and match wits with a villain as opposed to merely stand in awe of them. For me personally, Thrawn has been my favorite character since his first appearance in Heir to the Empire. It is why he is my avatar in The Cantina, and while not the source of my Cantina username, he is a definite inspiration of it. My excitement at his arrival can hardly be put into words. Feel free to share your thoughts on Thrawn’s return in the comments below or in The Cantina.


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69 thoughts on “Who is Thrawn and Why is His Reveal Such a Big Deal?

  • July 19, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I’m so pumped about Thrawn. Possibly my favorite villain of all time.
    I just hope that its…artfully done.

    • July 19, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Well done sir…well done…

      • July 20, 2016 at 9:21 pm

        Would have been/could be – an amazing cinematic death scene.

  • July 19, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    It looks like they directly translated him from the legends novels…very exciting!

  • July 19, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Even EU fans are shown more respect than PT fans.

    (Arguably the most important EU character is brought into the canon… And PT fans can’t even get a 0.005 second glimpse of Anakin’s Tatooine pod racer flag at Maz’s palace.)

    • July 19, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      Taking out a flag is disrespectful? They even referenced the PT in TFA with the clone army line.

    • July 20, 2016 at 12:07 am

      Agreed, fortunately, I like both (EU and PT) but yes, we need more references, although we know Disney banned the PT

      • July 20, 2016 at 12:45 am

        LOL!!! Another one of these? Disney has not “banned the PT”

        Are you reading ANY of the literature? How about the excellent Obi-Wan & Anakin TPB that came out today? Or….. Ahsoka novel that is coming, etc.

        Enough with this lame and patently false argument that Disney is ignoring or banning the prequels. It just isn’t happening and it really is getting old at this point.

        • July 20, 2016 at 9:24 pm

          Ahsoka is not PT, it is EU.

          • July 21, 2016 at 12:31 am

            Sorry. You can disassociate them if you like, but Prequel era characters = PT.

          • July 21, 2016 at 5:35 am

            Oh no, I’m sorry. She’s PT. She’s always been canon, as Clone Wars has been canon since it’s inception since Lucas had a direct hand in it.

            EU has become legends. Ahsoka Tano is canon.

            She’s PT. Whine more.

          • July 21, 2016 at 7:31 pm

            Prequel trilogy, where does she appear in either Episodes I, II, or III, please let me know. Not comic books or novels regarding the PT era, the ACTUAL PT movies?

          • July 22, 2016 at 4:47 am

            The Clone Wars takes place between the Episode II & III, the ACTUAL PT where the story is continued! And it’s canon! She’s PT brah, just like the cast of Rebels are OT.

            You can’t change how canon works in order to support your invalid arguments.

      • July 20, 2016 at 1:11 am

        Yes, Di$ney have completely banned any reference to the prequels…

        …Apart from talking about “balance of the Force” in the opening line of TFA and later referencing clones, using Ewan’s voice, featuring a battle droid prominently in the Aftermath novels, featuring droidekas, magnaguards, etc. in the Marvel comics, visiting Naboo and hinting at Darth Maul in Shattered Empire, bringing back the same actor for Mon Mothma in Rogue One, bringing Maul back in Rebels…

        Apart from that they’ve totally banned any reference to the prequels!

        • July 20, 2016 at 9:22 pm

          Technically Mon Mothma does not come from the prequels, that scene was deleted from the theatrical trailer, and of course it’d make sense to use the same actress. “Bringing back” Maul, he never went anywhere, he was in Clone Wars. They are indeed cherrypicking from the EU and the PT, but as for the new movies, no word on the Obi Wan movie, but we will get 5 movies at least that heavily reference only the OT. So maybe not banned, but certainly ignoring and giving it the cold shoulder.

          • July 20, 2016 at 9:38 pm

            So one movie (we don’t know what will be in VIII on yet) makes slightly more reference to events of 30 years prior than to events 50 years prior? Hardly surprising.

            If Disney wanted to ignore the prequels they’d have dropped any and all references to the Clone Wars cartoon as well, it’s the same era with significant ties to the movies.

            Yeah, I’d be surprised if we hear any reference to the more controversial things — midichlorians or Gungans for example — I don’t think too many tears will be shed over that.

            Oh wait, actually the new Marvel Star Wars had a Gungan in it so…

          • July 21, 2016 at 5:36 am

            Mon Mothma does in fact come from the prequels. She was cut from Episode III, but she was put into the time line during the Clone Wars.

            Which is canon, and Prequel Trilogy.

            Does it hurt being this wrong so often?

          • July 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm

            Mon Mothma’s FIRST appearance was Return of the Jedi, Calamari Cruiser conference/war room, c´mon dude. It hurts having to type this kind of info ANY sw fan should know.

          • July 22, 2016 at 4:48 am

            First appearance in real life? Yes.

            First appearance in the Star Wars Time Line? Prequel era, Clone Wars.

            Learn to read for comprehension.

      • July 20, 2016 at 9:15 am

        That banned PT references rumor was just that… rumor. There is no credibility to that.

    • July 20, 2016 at 12:59 am

      We were here first, and we’re more numerous. Get over it.

      • July 20, 2016 at 2:38 am

        If numbers are the reason for believing favorably/unfavorably in things, then TPM made more bucks than ANH. Count ’em. First Star Wars to cross a billion bucks.

        And quit telling me to “get over it” when you yourself hate the prequels after a decade.

        FYI, I love the original trilogy too,

        • July 21, 2016 at 5:33 am

          Transformers: Extinction made tons of money too. It was also an awful movie.

          Yer point?

    • July 20, 2016 at 1:10 am

      You got “balance of the force” in the first 30 seconds of TFA. Be a fan of all Star Wars. Stop dividing yourself.

      • July 20, 2016 at 2:41 am

        I’m sorry but the balance you refer to was the balance of light and dark and not the Anakin bringing balance to the force prophecy.

        So no, that wasn’t a PT reference.

        • July 20, 2016 at 4:26 am

          Balance was never mentioned before the PT and Lor San Tekka didn’t specify what balance meant in that context (neither did the PT, actually), so chill.

        • July 20, 2016 at 9:20 pm

          ‘Balance’ – a concept which, by the Jedi, misunderstood completely, may have been.

    • July 21, 2016 at 5:33 am

      You got over a decade of crap from the Prequel trilogy. Stop whining.

  • July 19, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Those painted depictions of Thrawn look like Chris Pine.

    • July 19, 2016 at 11:54 pm

      Yes, but as Dave Fioni said in the Rebels panel at Celebration, they are not canon. They are paintings on the wall intentionally made to look like they are sitting on his shoulders as a wink to the fans.

      • July 20, 2016 at 2:34 am

        The lizards were the best thing about this character…

        • July 20, 2016 at 4:28 am

          You mean “worst” thing about the Thrawn trilogy. Zahn had to create them to force Luke to be able to be fallible.

          But Thrawn could guess the plot by looking at a painting, lol. What was cool when I was 12 is no longer as amazing in hindsight. Still fun, though.

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:02 am

    The best thing about this is that the story group is finally making good on their promise to use the best parts of the EU. Thrawn is the best part of the EU, IMO, so I hope we can expect to see some more where this came from. Many people are overlooking that it appears Dark Troopers are making an appearance in Rebels, as well.

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:14 am

    My first encounter with Thrawn was the DOS game TIE Fighter. I fondly remember him climbing the ranks from Vice Admiral to Grand Admiral just as I was climbing the ranks as an officer in the Imperial Navy. Glad to see the Admiral back!

      • July 20, 2016 at 5:15 am

        The only place where I recall he was captured in an actual game/animation media early on. There was no animated series in the 90’s and we didn’t get a wiff of him in the original Clone Wars show before ROTS.

        • July 20, 2016 at 9:10 am

          Yeah, I’ve heard of him, obviously but I never read any of the old EU beyond Splinter of the Minds Eye & the 3 early Han Solo novels.

    • July 20, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Still my favorite SW game after KOTOR

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:19 am

    “Who is Thrawn?” “Get out.”

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:41 am

    I’m excited about Thrawn because he has the potential to become the greatest (non-force) villain in Star Wars. I hope they do him justice. I hope he comes out in one of the future films!!

  • July 20, 2016 at 5:17 am

    Thrawn likely bites it before 7. He might not be as high ranking as before but I don’t see Snoke (Spoilers for not reading Life Debt) keeping him around with the elimination of such low hanging fruit for the First Order early on. Bloodline also confirms other officers and politicians as having been instrumental in creation of the First Order but Thrawn is never hinted at.

    • July 20, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      I too am VERY excited to see Thrawn, but what where is he by the time Rogue One happens? ANH? Is it a waste of a good character to have him get killed in a single season?

    • July 21, 2016 at 5:31 am

      The First Order actually appears to be pretty Anti-Galactic Empire in all of the ancillary publications. Thrawn was an Imperial purist.

      The First Order most resembles the Tea Party/Trumpette’s taking over the Republican party here in the real world.

  • July 20, 2016 at 5:35 am

    It kinda makes me laugh that everyone said Benicio del Toro looked like he could play thrawn and now….thrawn is once again canon. Coincidence? Most likely…but imagine if he showed up in VIII

    • July 20, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Interesting…would they present Thrawn as a mo-cap character, or just blue makeup and red eyes?

      • July 20, 2016 at 9:14 pm

        I don’t think Disney wants to have BdT in another make-up laden character after GotG.

  • July 20, 2016 at 8:40 am

    If Thrawn is not in the Original Trilogy nor the Aftermath novels nor Bloodline, does this mean Thrawn will die during Rebels?

    • July 20, 2016 at 11:40 am

      I hope not, it would be kind of a waste to introduce him only to kill him off by the end if the season. They did that with the inquisitors but they are pretty dispensable.

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Whatever. The only “real” canon are the live action films, and everyone knows that. Thrawn will never feature in the films for the simple reason that he looks like something out of a low-budget 1960s Star Trek episode.

    • July 20, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      People who think they can decide what “real canon” is clearly don’t get the idea of Lucasfilm’s new canon. The canon novels, comics and the TV shows are all very much part of the “real” canon, together with the films. But I suppose you’ve never heard of Saw Gerrera either, who was introduced in The Clone Wars TV show and will now play a role in Rogue One, clearly demonstrating how important they consider a coherent universe and storyline to be. It’s all part of the “real” canon.

      • July 20, 2016 at 4:59 pm

        But of course we get the idea of new canon. Canon = money. You even don´t need to be graduated to figure it out. The more the stamp of “canon” will spread, the more crazy fanboys will be to have it 🙂

    • July 20, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      I take it that you’re not a Reader…
      Also, why are you using Caitlin Jenner’s profile pic? 😛

    • July 20, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Amen to that, Sister! I would wait to see the “Star Wars story” films tho…because the one with the guy pretending to be Han Solo I will avoid.

    • July 21, 2016 at 1:59 am

      I wouldn’t be so sure. They had a hard time casting Thrawn for a reason. They chose Lars Mikkelsen who has a great voice but is primarily a live actor. I have a pretty good feeling he will play Thrawn in at least one film. Not to mention the overwhelming response Thrawn got after the Rebels trailer. He literally stole the Celebration show.

  • July 20, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Cool. I like Thrawn and hope he is in the movies too. A spinoff film based on the Thrawn trilogy would be awesome. They should have done that instead of solo. I hope they don’t do the whole emperor cloning himself 100 times.

    • July 21, 2016 at 5:29 am

      That’s why doing anything from Legends is a bad idea. That shit ended up being awful.

  • July 20, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    My question is why Thrawn is standing in front of a sculpture that depicts Randall from Monsters, Inc.? Disney has gone to far!

    I say go back to the Thrawn trilogy, write out the parts with Jacen and Jaina, and they could stand on their own in the SW universe.

    • July 20, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      Thats not Randall. Its an Ysalamiri. Two of them actually.
      But I can easy see the resemplance 🙂

  • July 21, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    The best part about bringing Thrawn for Rebels back is that it does not have to interfere with newly established canon in any way. During the Clone Wars era, it’s easily explainable for him to be in the Unknown Regions/Chiss space. After his appearance(s) in Rebels is complete, he can be easily transferred back to the Unknown regions to combat an unknown threat (similar to his work in Wild space creating the Empire of the Hand). That way, he’s conveniently out of the way during the events of the Original Trilogy.
    Heck, for all we know, Thrawn might really be Supreme Leader Snoke or his father… 🙂

  • July 24, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    I like the idea of Thrawn living to Rogue One, or even Episode VIII (via Benicio del Toro). Unlikely maybe, but to see the villain of the old EU’s honorary Sequel Trilogy on the big screen would be a touching tribute. Either way, I’m glad he’s back.

    I’ve still wished Kyle Katarn could come back, but with Rogue One the way it is (revolving around a Katarnless team of Rebels), and no Jedi Academy, he doesn’t fit in very well. He could still be an agent of the Rebellion around Rogue One, and an agent during the days of the New Republic, but that seems unlikely. The Death Star plans and Jedi Academy were such big parts of his identity. And with Mara’s major identity pieces also gone now (mainly her connection to Luke), she’d never be able to come back either. Neither of the characters would even be remotely the same, because they’d lack major pieces of their history and future.

    So it probably is best to be excited for and honored by (as appreciated fans) Thrawn’s return, rather than expect or demand more, as some of us may want to. As a sort of fond look back/farewell (as I see it) to the past Expanded Universe, this is a bittersweet, but positive, way to honor the great times we had prior to the Prequels, while paving the way for a new golden age of Star Wars. May it last, and be prosperous.

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