Who Is Grand Admiral Thrawn?
The Galactic Empire is studded with many colorfully villainous personages, but Grand Admiral Thrawn has always stood out as one of the most vivid figures among this distinguished pantheon. With his blue skin, red eyes, and icy demeanor, he’s an utterly unforgettable presence. That may explain why the fan community has never forgotten him. Since his first appearance in Timothy Zahn’s best-selling 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, he’s been a consistent favorite among devotees of what was once known as the Expanded Universe and is now relegated to the unofficial status of Legends.
Although the exploits for which he was initially known were removed from canon (at least for now), Thrawn did not forever disappear into the ether of unverified myth. Somehow Thrawn returned. For fans of Star Wars, Grand Admiral Thrawn’s first canonical appearance in the TV series Star Wars Rebels created shockwaves. Further enthusiasm was generated when Zahn soon afterward launched a new series of novels—which also immediately became part of official Star Wars chronology—that focused on this notorious Star Wars villain from the Unknown Regions.
The first live-action appearance of Grand Admiral Thrawn in Ahsoka, the popular Disney+ TV series, has understandably sparked renewed interest in him. Given that, it may be helpful to explore Thrawn in more detail. Where did he come from? How did he attain his current rank? Keep reading for an overview of these topics and more.
Thrawn is a member of the near-human Chiss species, which is physically characterized by red eyes, blue skin, and darker blue hair. These distinctive-looking beings hail from the Unknown Regions, and their homeworld is the icy planet Csilla. The Chiss also colonized several other worlds in the Unknown Regions, including the planet Rentor, Thrawn’s birthplace.
The Unknown Regions is a mysterious, almost legendary area of the galaxy that few outsiders have ever wanted to visit. It is rife with black holes, hyperspace anomalies, and various other hazards that earned the Unknown Regions its local nickname: “the Chaos.”
During Thrawn’s time, the Chiss were the predominant ruling force in the Unknown Regions, exercising power via the aristocratic nation known as the Chiss Ascendancy. This governing body was composed of various ruling families, which were not strictly based on blood relations. It was possible to leave one family and join another. Young Thrawn, born into the Kivu family, took advantage of this option by joining the Mitth family, which was more supportive of his military aspirations.
Thrawn’s full name is Mitth’raw’nuruodo. Like all Chiss, he uses a “core name” that is derived from each of the three components of the full name, which are helpfully separated by apostrophes. The first part of a Chiss name is their family name, the second is their given name, and the third their social rank. Therefore, “Thrawn” is formed from the middle of his full name, like so:
The Chiss generally use only their core name in their interactions with others. Thrawn follows this habit as well.
Thrawn is a brilliant military tactician, guided by a cold, advanced intelligence, not bloodlust. His approach to military strategy is cerebral rather than reliant on brute force. As he once said to his foe Hera Syndulla: “To defeat an enemy, you must know them. Not simply their battle tactics, but their history, philosophy, art.” His manner is calm and polite; rarely does he lose his temper. He is genuinely supportive of his subordinates, and avoids abusing them gratuitously.
At the same time, Thrawn can be utterly ruthless in achieving his goals, flouting all laws and accepted procedures without hesitation. Although he prefers to avoid military engagements that might result in civilian casualties, he will certainly not allow the safety of non-combatants to interfere with the mission at hand.
Thrawn is a strong believer in militarism as a force for maintaining order throughout the galaxy, and this philosophy motivated his efforts to reach the upper strata of the Imperial army. He has never been blind to the deficiencies of the Empire, which he regards as “corrupt” but also necessary to prevent the galaxy from lapsing into complete chaos. But although he is unquestionably devoted to the Empire, it may be said that Thrawn’s devotion to his people and the Chiss Ascendancy is even greater.
Like the vast majority of Chiss males, Thrawn is not Force-sensitive.
Thrawn in the Chiss Ascendancy
Thrawn began his military career in the Expansionary Defense Fleet of the Chiss Ascendancy. The Chiss Ascendancy traditionally had a non-intervention policy in regards to activities in other parts of the galaxy. This included strict laws against preemptive strikes—in essence, the Chiss could never shoot first.
Thrawn’s military talents became evident early on, and he attained the rank of Senior Captain, but on a few occasions he ran into trouble with the organization due to infractions of the non-intervention policy. Then as always, Thrawn valued military victory over adherence to rules and regulations. During this time he also formed a close bond with Thrass (Mitth’ras’safis), a high-ranking member of the Chiss Ascendancy and, like Thrawn, a member of the Mitth family.
As Senior Captain during the latter days of the Clone Wars, Thrawn played a decisive role in repelling the Nikardun Destiny, an empire that had designs on capturing Chiss territory. Thrawn not only captured the Nikardun general Yiv, but would go on to crush the Grysk Hegemony led by Jixtus, who had instigated Yiv’s crusade. Along the way, Thrawn became acquainted with Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and even joined him on a mission to Mokivj in hopes of enlisting aid in the fight against the enemies of the Chiss.
Thrawn in the Galactic Empire
In the aftermath of the Clone Wars, Thrawn joined the Galactic Empire in hopes of forging an alliance that would benefit the Chiss. Once again, Thrawn rapidly rose through the ranks, his obvious talents overcoming the Empire’s distaste for non-humans. He would eventually become Grand Admiral and the commanding officer of the 7th Fleet.
At the request of Arihnda Pryce, the Imperial Governor of the planet Lothal, Thrawn set his sights on a troublesome rebel cell that operated out of the starship Ghost, led by Captain Syndulla and Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus. But Thrawn’s crusade against the Rebels would prove to have disastrous consequences for him. After a number of encounters that failed to vanquish the Ghost crew, Thrawn and his ship were unexpectedly ejected into hyperspace, due to the heroic sacrifice of young Jedi Ezra Bridger, who disappeared along with the Grand Admiral into parts unknown.
After a decade of rumors and speculations about Thrawn’s possible whereabouts, Ahsoka Tano and her associates discovered that the Grand Admiral and his forces were living in exile on Peridea, a mysterious planet in another galaxy. It soon became clear that Thrawn has remained a major threat to their galaxy, having made an alliance with the Dathomirian witches known as the Great Mothers. With the help of their magic, Thrawn hatched a plan to escape from exile with a fleet of zombified soldiers known as Night Troopers.
Ahsoka and Sabine Wren would travel to this far away world and reunite with their long-lost friend Ezra. Together, the three Rebels engaged Thrawn in battle once again, fighting against his army of Night Troopers. Despite their best efforts, Thrawn was able to finally escape Peridea on his star destroyer, with help from the hyperspace transport ring known as the Eye of Sion. His destination: Dathomir.
And here is where the story stands at the present moment, as Thrawn seemingly prepares to enact his plan to resurrect the Empire. Where does Thrawn go from here? Only time will tell, but fans can look forward to getting some answers in the upcoming Mandalorian movie, in which Thrawn has already been confirmed as the “big bad” villain.
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