With so many properties going cross-media these days, it can be hard for even those well-versed and vested in various universes to keep track of character histories. For those new to a particular property, or for those of us who say, read Heir to the Empire twenty years ago and have since had their brain filled with education and children and taxes and stuff, catching up on years of backstory is a daunting, and probably impossible task.
GeekMom Shiri (hi, that’s me! *waves*) is here to make it easier for everyone with a new series of short(ish), sweet, handy-dandy reference guides to all of those rad characters you want to know more about but for whom you don’t have the time, patience, or time (yeah, that was deliberate) to disappear down the internet vortices.
I’m going diving so you don’t have to.
My plan is to try to avoid spoilers but there may be mention of meetings, relationships, or pivotal events in a specific character’s chronology that have happened in, say, a book or comic, but which haven’t happened on screen yet. I’ll do my best to keep the reveals to really important stuff which happened more than a year ago. Try.
Also, these are meant to be a toe in the pool, not a cannon-ball. The goal is a streamlined profile rather than exhaustive one. I’m going to have to leave stuff out. If it’s something you think I missed something essential, feel free to let me know in the comments (but please stick to the “really important, more than a year ago” criteria).
In honor of the Star Wars: Rebels S3 premiere, “Steps into Shadow,” I think we’ll inaugurate this new feature with a character who was born in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, created by Timothy Zahn for his Thrawn Trilogy (also known as the Heir to The Empire trilogy; the series includes Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command). The character was kind-of-sort-of fired when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2014 and the Expanded Universe became Star Wars Legends, but he is now, once more, part of the official canon fold. (Hooray!)
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Full Name: Mitth’raw’nuruodo
Bio: Brace yourself, it’s about to get confusing up in here. Keep in mind, this ain’t nothing when compared to the backstories of some of Thrawn’s more recently acquired friends over in the Marvel division.
Right. Going in.
Born a commoner on Csilla, Thrawn was adopted into one of his world’s noble houses. He used this opportunity to join his homeworld’s (space) navy. Thrawn was the youngest Chiss ever to achieve the rank of commander in the Expansionary Defense Force. Thrown used the Expansionary force as a stepping stone to the Republic Navy, wherein he he became known for eradicating any and all threats to galactic safety though his methods were different from those of his contemporaries (we’ll get there). It was during his tenure in the Republic Navy Thrawn first met (then) Senator Palpatine when Thrawn destroyed part of Palpatine’s secret Sith task force. Palpatine, apparently impressed, because instead of executing the Chiss officer, Palpatine appointed Thrawn to guard the soon-to-be Empire’s galactic borders from external threats. Thrawn execute his assignment in the Way Outer Rim (no, I did not make that up) more than admirably, even destroying a Republic cruiser because it was attracting nasty alien attention. The fact several Jedi Knights and Masters went down with the ship probably didn’t hurt his rep with Darth Sidious.
Returning home to effect the ultimate goal of protecting his own people from external threat but believing only a united Galaxy can stand against invasion, Thrawn acted against the core moral values of the Chiss in a variety of ways (including allying with Palpatine) in order to protect them. In so doing, he got himself exiled to an inhospitable but ultimately survivable world where the officers of the Imperial Navy find him several years later. “Captured” by the Imperials, he was brought to Emperor Palpatine, who remembered Thrawn from their previous encounter and admitted him to the Imperial Navy at the rank of Captain. While he did assist in attempts to take out the Rebellion, Thrawn’s main focus was the pacification and protection of the Unknown Regions beyond the Outer Rim. He used the opportunity of being mostly free from the Empire’s watchful eye to create a confederacy of species and colonies intended to stand against extra-galactic threats. The “Empire of the Hand” was loyal to Thrawn rather than Palpatine (though most of the involved worlds were nominally allied with the Empire, at least for the sake of appearances) and adopted neither the Empire’s speciesist policies nor its “rule of terror.”
Thrawn was one of the imperial officers summoned to Corsucant after the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the first Death Star; he urged Palpatine to strike the main rebel base immediately in an attempt to smash the gains they percieved themselves to have made but Palpatine opted to wait for Vader and to plan the Empire’s next move, hoping that allowing time to pass would kill sympathy for the Rebels. Thrawn, along with the other officers, was assigned to identify the Rebel leaders and to uncover the identity of the pilot who had fired what proved to be the fatal shot for the fully armed and operational battle station.
After being elevated to Grand Admiral (possibly secretly? Things get kind of murky here), Thrawn spent a large proportion of his time in the Unknown Regions doing his thing and continuing to consolidate the power of the Empire of the Hand. He returned to the Core worlds from time to time on various assignments for/with Palpatine and Vader. Thrawn was once again in deep space during the pivotal Rebel victory at the moon of Endor. He stepped into the power vacuum left by Palpatine’s death and gathered the fractured Imperial Navy into a force he used to attack the fledgling New Republic. He kicked their butts on several occasions but failed to resurrect the Empire before being murdered by his own body guard (remember, this is Legends, pre-TFA, and happened in 1993, which I think we can all agree is well outside the “spoiler” range). His last words were purported to be, “But… it was so artistically done.”
Thrawn is beloved by fans because, despite being a villain, he is so very different from other well-known Imperials. Repulsed by the tendency toward harsh punishment and execution, Thrawn preferred to reward his people for creativity (though execution was by no means off the table depending on the crime). He encouraged his officers to offer their opinions and considered each carefully before making a final decision. He was also willing to acknowledge defeat, to withdraw rather than needlessly relinquishing or losing his remaining resources, and to hold an attack until he was certain he had a thorough understanding of his enemy and was confident in his ability to defeat them. A brilliant tactician, Thrawn was also insistent on the application of detailed intelligence; though he could, and did at times, go in guns blazing, he was more likely to sit back and observe for a time, to study the intricate details of a situation and the psychology and art of his enemies so as to better understand an exploit their weaknesses. In his first appearance on Rebels we see this pay off when he rattles off a list of tiny, seemingly unconnected facts that, in fact, lay the Rebels’ plan open to the Imperials, allows them to anticipate and prepare, to act when, without Thrawn’s analysis, they would have been forced to react.
I have a very, very “bad” feeling about this…
Thrawn’s newest incarnation is voiced by Lars Mikkelson (brother of Mads Mikkelson, who plays Jyn Erso’s father, Galen, in the upcoming Rogue One. Because everyone in the Star Wars universe, be they fictional or non-, must somehow be related) and in the course of a few minutes spread over a one hour episode, has established himself as the cold, detached converse of Vader’s fiery hatred, the duo forming a vise that is certain to put our heroes in real danger of being crushed.
Grand Admiral Thrawn will also be featured new novel by Timothy Zahn, entitled (prepare yourself), Thrawn, scheduled for publication April 11th of 2017. This book will be part of the new, official canon. The product description is pretty sparse for obvious reasons.
Up Next: Luke Cage