Thrawn is officially returning to the Star Wars universe and coming to live-action for the first time ever. The alien admiral is one of the most famous and beloved extended universe and book characters in Star Wars history, and after getting name checked in The Mandalorian, it seems he’ll play a pivotal role in Ahsoka Tano’s new Disney Plus series as its main villain. He even shows up briefly in the first trailer for the series, which Disney and Lucasfilm premiered at Star Wars Celebration 2023.
In case you aren’t caught up on the wider, non-movie Star Wars canon, here’s a brief introduction to Thrawn, and everything you need to know about one of Star Wars’ most beloved villains.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2 episode 5, as well as Star Wars: Rebels and the Thrawn novels]
Why is Thrawn the “heir to the Empire”?
Grand Admiral Thrawn is an Imperial officer who was first introduced to the Star Wars universe in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire. The novel and its two sequels which — later known as the Thrawn trilogy — took place shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi. Zahn’s books filled readers in on what happened to the Galactic Empire in the years after the death of Darth Vader and supposed death of Emperor Palpatine. As it turns out, Thrawn happened.
While that original trilogy of novels was decanonized when Disney bought the Star Wars franchise, Thrawn was reintroduced in Star Wars: Rebels, and given a series of new novels also penned by Zahn. These novels reintroduced the blue-skinned Chiss (a humanoid alien species from the planet Csilla) as a brilliant tactician and a worthy, more strategically adept successor to Emperor Palpatine.
Rather than treading the same ground as his original trilogy, which took place in a period that is now covered by Disney’s sequel trilogy, Zahn’s latest Thrawn books tell the story of how Thrawn came to join the Empire and his meteoric rise through its ranks.
Thrawn’s first official post-Disney reintroduction came in Star Wars: Rebels, where he became one of the show’s primary antagonists for its last two seasons, attempting to quell the rebellion in its infancy.
In the show’s finale, Thrawn faces off with Rebels protagonist Ezra Bridger. While on-board Thrawn’s command ship the Chimaera, Ezra catches Thrawn off guard by attacking his fleet of ships with purrgil, giant tentacled creatures capable of hyperspace travel. In the final moments of the show, Thrawn and Bridger are both aboard the Chimaera when the purrgil whisk it off into deep space. Apparently both of them survive the journey, which is probably how we get to Thrawn’s mention in The Mandalorian.
What is Thrawn’s role in The Mandalorian and Ahsoka?
In season 2 episode 5 of The Mandalorian, called “The Jedi,” Din Djarin and Grogu head to the planet of Corvus and meet former-Jedi Ahsoka Tano. In the episode, Tano explains that she’s tracking down someone that Thrawn took under his wing in a search for the Grand Admiral’s current whereabouts.
While she doesn’t explain exactly why she wants to find Thrawn, it’s likely that it has something to do with the whereabouts of Ezra Bridger. Tano’s last appearance in a Star Wars series before this was at the end of Rebels, when she and the Mandalorian warrior Sabine Wren were setting off to find Bridger. Whatever the reason is, it seems that Ahsoka’s quest for Thrawn will play an important role in the plot of her Disney Plus series.
The first trailer for Ahsoka makes this even more clear, by letting us know that Thrawn is back and working to rebuild the Empire — and maybe even revive Palpatine himself.
Who’s going to play Grand Admiral Thrawn?
This is probably the biggest outstanding question about Thrawn’s place in Disney’s Star Wars universe. Thrawn voice actor Lars Mikkelsen has said that he isn’t playing the character in live-action, and though people have fibbed about their roles in blockbusters before, that leaves the door open for all kinds of choices. Disney could opt for a beloved character actor to fill the role, or it could go the stunt-casting route and pick someone ultra-famous. But for now, we’ll just have to wait and see what direction Disney chooses to go.
As for his role in the story itself, it’s still anyone’s guess where Thrawn’s plot will go, and how it will tie into the Empire, the First Order, or even the stories of Ezra and Sabine, but the good news is we won’t have to wait long to find out. Thrawn’s return to Star Wars, and his live-action debut, aren’t far away. Ahsoka is set to be released this summer on Disney Plus.