Part 1 explored Thrawn’s past. Now author Strider Leigh delves into his present and future…
In July of 2016, Star Wars fans lost their minds when Grand Admiral Thrawn was revealed to have been plucked from the proverbial grave of the Star Wars Legends era. Thrawn, the first and some would consider greatest villain from the old Expanded Universe, was being given new, animated, life aboard the current Star Wars TV series Rebels. Not only that, but Timothy Zahn was penning a new story to slot his iconic character in Disney’s take on Star Wars.
When Thrawn made his debut on Rebels, before we see him we hear his voice. Soft and calm it fairly slithers into the scene ahead of him. As in Heir to the Empire, Thrawn emerges from the shadows to suggest he has been there all along. Simply watching and waiting.
Thrawn emerges into a far different galaxy than the one we originally met him in. In the EU, the Empire was all but defeated with no clear leadership to guide them. Thrawn had to succeed with finesse where his predecessors could succeed with force. Thrawn can’t simply blow into Coruscant and kick the New Republic in the face, he must out think them. He uses psychological tactics to cut the New Republic off at every turn, using mining crafts to steal ships from shipyards, restarting the Empire’s cloning facility, playing mind games with New Republic politicians, laying siege to Coruscant with clocked asteroids, discovering and then stealing most of a long lost battlefleet from the Clone Wars. The only plan he ever attempted that was constantly thwarted was his attempts to kidnap a pregnant Leia Organa Solo.
The proof that Disney is taking Thrawn seriously as a character comes during the scene where he catches Hera Syndulla attempting to retrieve a family heirloom. As the soft, dark score rises behind him, Thrawn unravels and lays bare before the whole room who Hera is, largely by understanding the significance of the art piece in her possession. Ezra, hidden under stormtrooper armour realizes they’ve been made, but before he can even react Thrawn had beaten him to the draw and stunned him. The brilliant ability to see through people is a well-known ability of Thrawn’s, but even his quick, crack shot with a blaster pays homage to an adventure Thrawn had in the old EU in a short story penned by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, Side Trip. Thrawn, while undercover wearing Mandalorian armour, demonstrates his prowess with a blaster during a very intense encounter. Thrawn is utterly in control in the scene creating a sense of helplessness for the heroes that goes beyond the danger of a firefight. An enemy who can see through you to your most private weaknesses is one to be truly feared.
Zahn, as part of his announcement for the upcoming novel Thrawn, explained that the book would cover the titular character’s first encounter with the Empire and his rise through the ranks that leads into the events of Rebels. Thrawn’s original origin story was that he played fast and loose with his race’s rules of engagement with other races. Exiled to a planet he was eventually picked up by Imperial forces who were impressed with his tactical ability. Tactical ability that, much like the Ewoks before him, allowed him to take down Imperials using whatever he found lying around in the jungle. Thrawn rose quickly through the ranks until one bad political decision, that most agree was organized by the Emperor and Thrawn themselves, got him exiled once again to the Unknown Regions. This time, however, he had a fleet at his disposal and a mission to bring as much territory under the Empire’s thumb as he could. The death of the Emperor and near defeat of the Empire being the catalyst that returns Thrawn to galactic civilization and Heir to the Empire. How much Zahn will twist Thrawn’s old story and how much new material he will bring in is yet to be seen. Rebels have given hints by paying homage to the past, but as the brilliant Grand Admiral said himself once:
“History is on the move, Captain. Those who cannot keep up will be left behind, to watch from a distance. And those who stand in our way will not watch at all.”