Grand Admiral Thrawn, one of the most important antagonists in the history of Star Wars, is back. This latest episode of The Mandalorian, "Chapter 13: The Jedi," did more than bring a fan-favorite character, Ahsoka Tano, to live-action for the first time. It also a reference to established Star Wars villain Grand Admiral Thrawn. Ahsoka's demanded that Magistrate Elsbeth reveal the location of Thrawn, her master. Thrawn's name may not mean anything to relatively new Star Wars fans who only know the Star Wars Universe through its live-action installments, but Thrawn is a character whose significance in Star Wars ges back decades, to before Disney owned the franchise.
Thrawn debuted in the Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire, serving as an Imperial commander in the years after the Emperor's death in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Over the course of novels Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, Thrawn collided with iconic heroes like Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Lando Calrissian, proving Thrawn not only as a master tactician, but a physically unrelenting foe. After meeting his demise during this "Thrawn Trilogy" of books, he was resurrected for the "Hand of Thrawn" duology, consisting of Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future.
Thrawn wasn't only a major figure in Star Wars Expanded Universe novels throughout the '90s, as he would also go on to appear in Star Wars comic book series. While Star Wars movie fans might consider Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine to be the franchise's biggest threats, Expanded Universe aficionados would arguably consider Thrawn to rival their effectiveness.
To the delight of some and disappointment of others, when Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, the studio relegated the Expanded Universe to the "Legends" corner of the franchise, removing the events of those stories from any official canon. Luckily, Thrawn's legacy proved too difficult to entirely ignore, as various Lucasfilm creatives found ways to bring him back into the official canon.
In Season Three of Star Wars Rebels, Thrawn emerged as the primary antagonist of the series, with that series' pre-Star Wars: A New Hope timeline confirming the Imperial was intrinsically linked with a number of important original trilogy characters. In addition to Rebels, Thrawn also received new novels from Zahn, as well as being featured in comic books. Despite those few years of Thrawn erasure, it was clear that Lucasfilm knew how compelling of a character he is and made him more popular than ever.
In the series finale of Rebels, Jedi Ezra Bridger seemingly sacrificed himself to defeat Thrawn, as he caused a ship they were both in to make a jump into hyperspace, but with this maneuver happening in an unprotected ship, it was a seemingly fatal move. However, with Ahsoka and Sabine Wren ending the series in the years after Return of the Jedi going on the search for Ezra, and now with Thrawn's mention in The Mandalorian, clearly his villainy hasn't come to an end. Luckily, this would also mean that Ezra is still out there, so we won't be surprised if he is referenced at some point in The Mandalorian.
While the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga might have wrapped up the trajectories of beloved big-screen characters, Thrawn's adventures could only just be heating up.
Stay tuned for details on Thrawn's future. The third book in a recent trilogy of novels, Thrawn Ascendency: Greater Good, is expected to hit shelves on May 4, 2021.