The early episodes of Ahsoka, the new Disney Plus show starring Rosario Dawson, have one big name looming over the proceedings: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Fans have known he’d be involved with the series for a while — news of his return was teased in Ahsoka updates, as well as a tease in The Mandalorian season 2. But within the universe, his return isn’t guaranteed; as Ahsoka tells Hera (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), she’s mostly been hearing whispers that he survived. She’s hopeful he did, if only because it bodes well for her chances of finding Ezra, and possibly being able to actually kill Thrawn.
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, Star Wars: Rebels, and the Thrawn novels.]
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 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 Emperor Palpatine — sort of. 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 new novels reintroduce the blue-skinned Chiss 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.
Though Thrawn’s Imperial career is impressive, it’s the time after his days as a cadet that is most important for this latest mention in The Mandalorian. Thrawn’s first official post-Disney reintroduction came in Star Wars: Rebels, where he became one of the show’s primary antagonist 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. Though apparently both of them survived the journey, because the next time we heard about Thrawn it was in The Mandalorian.
In a season 2 episode “The Jedi,” Mando and the Child (we’d learn his real name is Grogu in the same episode), head to the planet of Corvus and met Ahsoka. The last time she appeared in any Star Wars series before this was in the end of Rebels, when she and Mandalorian warrior Sabine Wren were setting off on a quest to find Ezra after his purrgil-aided jump to hyperspace.
The Mandalorian showed us that that quest was still ongoing: Ahsoka was looking for someone named Morgan Elsbeth, who had been taken under the wing of Thrawn himself. Elsbeth was apparently an important figure in building the Imperial Navy fleet during the days of the Galactic Empire, which would certainly explain why Thrawn was fond of her. Ahsoka and Elsbeth face off at the end of the episode, and when Ahsoka wins, her only question was on the whereabouts of Grand Admiral Thrawn. But we don’t get any resolution on that subplot until Ahsoka.
[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains spoilers for Ahsoka.]
Ahsoka picks up some time after The Mandalorian, with Elsbeth on the lam and Ahsoka hot on her trail. After Elsbeth, and her allies, and Ahsoka, and her allies, engage in some struggles over an ancient Dathomiri map sphere, both sides make it across the void between galaxies and to the original home planet of the Witches of Dathomir. There, they find Thrawn, who has not only survived the trip, but has kept an iron grip on his deteriorating star destroyer and his troops.
Other than staying alive, what has the Grand Admiral been up to since we last saw him? That remains unclear. Certainly his storm troopers are no longer dressed in standard issue, with their armor not merely showing wear but also unique embellishments, under the leadership of Enoch, a trooper who wears a helmet modified with a gold visor in the mold of a face. What we can say is that Thrawn’s plan is to make it back to his home galaxy — right after a bunch of “cargo” from the “catacombs” gets moved to Elsbeth’s ship. Interesting.
No matter what Thrawn is involved in, there’s no doubt that it’s important. Given the post-Return of the Jedi time period of Ahsoka, it seems possible that if Thrawn could even have been a key figure in transitioning the Empire into the First Order. Ahsoka has two more episodes, and potentially even a movie, to tell that part of the story.