In my estimation, Grand Admiral Thrawn is the greatest and most significant character ever created in Star Wars Legends.
It’s hard to imagine now that there was ever a period of time in which the future of Star Wars storytelling seemed bleak, but that was the case in 1991. The original trilogy had ended nearly a decade earlier, and new stories were sparse. That is, until Heir to the Empire was released. The first book in a trilogy, it told a brand new Star Wars story featuring Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and others in the post-Return of the Jedi world, facing a new enemy who had returned from the far reaches of space to unify the Imperial remnants: the blue-skinned Chiss, Grand Admiral in the Imperial navy, Thrawn. And he almost won, too.
Ever since then, Thrawn has been a staple and a favorite for many Star Wars fans, and after Legends was rendered non-canon after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm (a good decision, by the way), Thrawn was nonetheless brought back to canon in the animated Rebels series, as well as a new series of books by Timothy Zahn.
And now, he has been mentioned in a live-action Star Wars project for the very first time ever, which is still pretty surreal, but awesome. In Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian, Ahsoka Tano questions the magistrate about the whereabouts of her master, Grand Admiral Thrawn. So for viewers who heard that and don’t know who Thrawn is, well, here’s the canon version of it:
Mitth’raw’nuruodo (a.k.a. Thrawn) was a Chiss who was adopted into the Mitth family of the Chiss Ascendancy in the Unknown Regions. He served the Ascendancy as a Senior Captain in the Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet, which at one point led him to Batuu, where he teamed up with Anakin Skywalker to investigate the disappearance of Padmé Amidala during the Clone Wars. Thrawn, meanwhile, was on a mission to investigate potential threats to the Chiss.
As the Ascendancy grew more and more aware of potential threats in the Unknown Regions, Thrawn faked his exile to purposefully be found by the Empire and brought in, so that he could join with them to see if they might be helpful in the fight against these threats. Though aliens rising in the Imperial ranks was rare, Thrawn’s natural abilities and brilliant military tactics allowed him to catch the attention of Emperor Palpatine and quickly rise through the ranks of the Imperial navy. After a number of successful missions, Thrawn was given command of the Chimaera, which would become his flagship for years to come. He continued to display a stunning brilliance in combat, strategy, and analysis, and this eventually earned him the rank of Grand Admiral – one of the most senior and respected positions in the Empire. There were just twelve Grand Admirals in the Imperial navy, and Thrawn became one of them, appointed by Palpatine to the lofty rank.
As a Grand Admiral, Thrawn was part of several key missions in the early years of the Galactic Civil War, most notably being called in by Governor Pryce to deal with the Rebels on Lothal. Thrawn slowly but surely fought against this Phoenix Squadron, and he eventually figured out the location of their hidden base. He launched a devastating attack on their base on Atollon, from which the Rebels just barely escaped, badly shaken and with heavy losses.
This encounter, however, was viewed as a failure by the Imperial leadership, including Palpatine and his enforcer, Darth Vader. Thrawn and Vader were sent on a mission to Batuu together – eerily reminiscent of the team-up between Thrawn and Anakin years earlier – and they discovered the mysterious threat in the Unknown Regions that the Chiss feared: the Grysks. Despite this, Thrawn remained loyal to the Empire and did not flee to aid the Ascendancy.
Remaining with the Empire, Thrawn resumed his pursuit of the Phoenix Squadron, but he also had other ambitions. He had long figured out the mysterious Death Star Project (which was favored by Grand Moff Tarkin), but he personally favored his TIE Defender Project. The TIE Defender was a specially modified fighter that possessed both shields and hyperspace capability, and Thrawn tried to get this project greenlit – which was cheaper than the Death Star and also thought by Thrawn to be more helpful to the cause. As he made his case for this, the Rebels launched an attempt to liberate their homeworld of Lothal. Thrawn returned to lay siege to the planet, threatening total destruction. But the Jedi Ezra Bridger surrendered to him, though this too played into his plan. As Bridger confronted Thrawn on the bridge of the Chimaera, Purrgil emerged from hyperspace, attacked the ship, and took it to hyperspace with Thrawn and Bridger still on board.
And what happened to them is still a mystery, one that is likely to be explored soon.
In The Mandalorian, it is revealed that Morgan Elsbeth works for Thrawn and that Ahsoka Tano is seeking information about his whereabouts, implying that Thrawn may have managed to return. But what does that mean for Bridger? And what would it mean if Thrawn returned? Those things remain to be seen. But the legacy of the Grand Admiral remains.