‘Star Wars’ Secrets: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Thrawn

There are tons of popular heroes and villains in the Star Wars universe. One of the latest big bads to join Disney’s new-look canon though is a surprisingly familiar face: Grand Admiral Thrawn. The blue-skinned villain first appeared in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Heir to the Empire trilogy of Expanded Universe novels, acting as the primary adversary for Luke, Leia, and Han post-Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Sadly, he was unceremoniously jettisoned from the canon once Lucasfilm sold to Disney.

Following the latest season of Star Wars Rebels, and a new Star Wars: Thrawn novel from Zahn, Thrawn has officially returned to the saga. So with that, let’s get familiar with him, both inside and outside the canon.

1. A little background on his character from Heir to the Empire

A blue-skinned Thrawn, folding his hands and looking into the camera menacingly

Grand Admiral Thrawn | Del Rey

In Timothy Zahn’s original Heir to the Empire trilogy, Thrawn was cast as a military genius, single-handedly keeping the Empire alive following the destruction of the second Death Star. Unlike the violent, iron fist that Darth Vader used to rule over his men, Thrawn inspired undying loyalty from his crew, using a much softer, yet sternly effective touch.

He’s one of the few non-human officers employed by the Empire, as a Chiss hailing from the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. Throughout his trilogy of books, he proved himself a worthy adversary, outwitting our heroes at virtually every turn, before finally suffering defeat at the hands of Rogue Squadron.

Thrawn’s character was based off of the likes of Alexander the Great, Sherlock Holmes, and a cadre of other historical and fictional geniuses, making it no small mystery why he proved to be so formidable a foe throughout his run in the Expanded Universe.

2. He’s the first Expanded Universe character to ever get reintroduced into the canon

Part of what made Disney’s decision to throw out the entire Expanded Universe as canon so upsetting, was that it undid dozens of novels worth of stories and characters. It was a necessary decision for Disney though; they couldn’t make a new trilogy set after Return of the Jedi with 50-plus books worth of required reading for fans. And so, Thrawn, and every other EU story was scrapped.

As one of the most popular characters in the old Expanded Universe, Thrawn’s return was practically an inevitability. He was reintroduced in a teaser (above) for Season 3 of Rebels at 2016’s Star Wars Celebration in London, marking a huge turning point for the Disney-run Lucasfilm.

This opens up a whole realm of possibilities for the future of the franchise. Thrawn is officially the first EU character to return to the canon, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if he wasn’t the last.

3. How he prevailed in Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels

Thrawn whispering in the ear of Hero Syndulla

Thrawn on Star Wars Rebels | Disney XD

Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Star Wars Rebels

Directed primarily at kids, the Rebels animated series has made a habit of having our heroes come out on top more often than not. Season 3 saw them take on the newly-introduced Thrawn though, and he became the first Imperial to actually give them a run for their money.

After giving our heroes a wide berth early on in the season, he managed to root out a mole inside the Empire, deduce the location of the hidden Rebel base, and annihilate a large portion of the Alliance forces in a climactic final assault. All in all, it was a good indication that the Thrawn we’re seeing now isn’t far off from the sheer force of nature he’s depicted as in the old EU novels.

4. Thrawn’s role in laying the groundwork for the First Order

Stormtroopers looking off into the distance, in front of a red banner bearing their logo

The First Order as seen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens | Lucasfilm

Spoilers ahead for Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy

Thrawn wasn’t simply shoehorned back into the canon as a PR move. The final installment in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy hinted at a much larger role for the Grand Admiral, revealing how he assisted the Emperor in mapping the uncharted regions of wild space.

That in turn, led to a small, elite cadre of Imperial VIP’s using those newly-mapped routes to hide from the New Republic after the Battle of Jakku. And it’s how they planted the seeds for the fully-grown First Order we see in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

5. Some have theorized that Benicio del Toro will play Thrawn in The Last Jedi

Benicio Del Toro flashes a peace sign on the red carpet

Benicio del Toro | Jason Kempin/Getty Images

As of now, Thrawn is alive and kicking in the Rebels timeline, making us think that this isn’t the last we’ll see of the fearsome blue-skinned Grand Admiral. More than that, his role in mapping the Unknown Regions of space, and the fact that in the final Aftermath novel, a Super Star Destroyer (typically commanded by a ranking Admiral) was sent ahead into wild space, has led some to think that he may appear next in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Here’s what we know: Benicio del Toro has officially been cast for a role in The Last Jedi that has yet to be revealed. He’s been exceedingly coy in interviews when asked about whether he’ll be playing a villain, but it’s also worth noting that he’s a solid physical match for Thrawn. We won’t know for sure until more rumors crop up, although it’s an exciting prospect all the same.

6. Inside Zahn’s new Thrawn novel (and how he became an evil Sherlock Holmes)

Cover art for the new Thrawn novel, showing a quarter of Thrawn's glaring face

Star Wars: Thrawn | Del Rey

Rebels isn’t the only place that Thrawn has been given a major role. Released April 11, 2017, the self-titled Star Wars: Thrawn novel penned by the character’s original creator, Zahn, runs through his early days in the Empire. The book introduces an intriguing new facet to him, having Thrawn operate as a Sherlock Holmes-type, and heavily utilizing his considerable deductive and observational abilities.

7. Zahn’s goal was to make the new Thrawn as close as possible to the original character

Thrawn with his hand resting below his chin, looking over holographic star charts

Thrawn on Star Wars Rebels | Disney XD

Resurrecting a character from the old Expanded Universe is a tall order to say the very least. That’s why the Rebels showrunner made a concerted effort to get Zahn’s blessing. For Zahn, his only requirement was simple. “I’d obviously like to see Thrawn as I created him,” he told Daily Dot, “If they change him too much … or any of my other characters, I’m not sure I’d see the point of why they call it that character in the first place.”

From what we’ve seen early on, Lucasfilm has done an admirable job hewing to the old EU vision for the character.

8. He’s voiced on Rebels by the brother of Rogue One star, Mads Mikkelsen

Lars Mikkelsen wearing a tuxedo, smiling, and looking to the left of the frame

Lars Mikkelsen in House of Cards | Netflix

Family gatherings at the Mikkelsen house must involve a good deal of Star Wars talk. Between Mads Mikkelsen starring as Galen Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Lars Mikkelsen voicing Grand Admiral Thrawn on Rebels, there’s a whole lot for the two brothers to cover.

Lars has also been featured prominently in Netflix’s House of Cards, as well as on the third season of BBC’s Sherlock. 

9. Coruscant was actually created by Zahn in the original Heir to the Empire trilogy

An above-view of Coruscant, showing a high-tech city-scape

Coruscant | Lucasfilm

Coruscant may be widely recognized as the capitol planet of the galaxy, but in the original Star Wars trilogy, it actually never made an appearance until George Lucas released the special editions.

The planet first appeared (and was named) in the Heir to the Empire trilogyand was then adopted by Lucas in scenes he added after the destruction of the second Death Star in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

10. The Heir to the Empire trilogy is credited with inspiring Lucas to pen the Star Wars prequels

Cover art for all three books in the Thrawn trilogy

Cover art for the Star Wars: Heir to the Empire trilogy | Del Rey

Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy first hit shelves in 1991. This was long after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi left theaters, and a full six years before Lucas released the Special Editions for the original trilogy. By the time it released, public interest in the Star Wars saga was waning.

The Secret History of Star Wars by Michael Kaminski even theorizes that the inspiration for the prequels came directly from Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, affording it an important place in the history of the iconic saga.

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