There are only a handful of Star Wars characters who never appeared on film as famous as Grand Admiral Thrawn. The blue-skinned, red-eyed Imperial military genius was created by author Timothy Zahn for Heir to the Empire, the 1991 novel credited with reigniting interest in the Star Wars franchise. With Thrawn, Zahn created a villain as threatening as Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, providing a challenge for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the New Republic five years after Return of the Jedi.
When Disney decided to ignore the old “Legends” Expanded Universe, fans feared that Zahn’s creations would be as well. However, seeing as so many Legends ideas have made it into the new canon through Star Wars: The Clone Wars and other material, it seems only fair that Thrawn make the jump as well. So when Rebels Season Three debuts on September 24, we will see Thrawn in motion for the very first time.
Strap in for a look at Thrawn and make sure there’s no back-stabbing Noghri around.
1. Thrawn’s ‘Rebels’ Appearance Was Announced at Star Wars Celebration Europe, as Was Zahn’s New Book ‘Thrawn’
Thrawn’s return to the Star Wars universe was announced at Star Wars Celebration Europe in London in July. Rebels executive producer Dave Filoni, who also guided The Clone Wars, unveiled the trailer for the new season, which included a look at Thrawn.
“You couldn’t have grown up a Star Wars fan without encountering Thrawn in Heir to the Empire. It was a dark time when there weren’t any more movies, and it blew our minds that there could be more,” Filoni said.
In an interview with ComingSoon.net, Filoni said that it was important for Zahn to be involved in the new incarnation of his famous character.
I was pretty adamant with a couple of people saying, ‘Listen, we need to have Tim sign off on this. This is kind of a waste of time [otherwise]. We, of course, can do what we want with a character that Lucasfilm owns, but without Tim’s okay, what does it mean? That’s not going to be good. Once we had some stuff, we wanted to do what we thought was right and make the character. Then we brought him in. We had the production fully prepared.
Zahn will get to flesh out more background on Thrawn in the new canon with a book appropriately titled Thrawn. It’s due out in Spring 2017.
2. Zahn Hopes That Thrawn Stays as close to the Original Character, Including His Famed Strategic Skills
In an interview with The Daily Dot before Celebration Europe, Zahn said that he’d like to see Disney stay as close to the character he created as possible. In other words, he hopes we don’t see a character who just looks like Thrawn and has the same name, but none of his famous skills as a military leader.
…I’d obviously like to see Thrawn as I created him. If they change him too much … or any of my other characters, I’m not sure I’d see the point of why they call it that character in the first place. But again, it’s all owned by them. They get to do what they want to. So, we’ll see what happens. And again, I haven’t heard anything official from [Lucasfilm] about whether that rumor is even right.
Thrawn’s personality, at least as defined by the Legends books, was very different from other Imperial officers. Most of the Empire’s officers were human, but Thrawn was a Chiss, a blue-skinned race from a planet deep within the Unknown Regions of the Star Wars galaxy. He loved art and believed that he could learn anything he needed to know about an enemy’s tactics from their art.
3. Thrawn’s Real Name Was Mitth’raw’nuruodo & He Created a Clone of Himself
Thrawn’s full name was Mitth’raw’nuruodo, which was similar to other Chiss characters. He was also prepared for any possibility, including his own death. That means he had created a clone of himself, which Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade (another Legends character many would like to see revived) discovered in Zahn’s Specter of the Past, which was part of the two-book The Hand of Thrawn duology. Luke and Mara didn’t think it was necessary to kill the Thrawn clone because it hadn’t done anything like its predecessor. However, the clone was killed during their escape of the Hand of Thrawn complex.
This was thought to be the end of Thrawn, but the character continued to hang over the Star Wars universe, especially when the Yuuzhan Vong invaded the galaxy in The New Jedi Order series. It turned out that Thrawn had known about the Yuuzhan Vong and possibly wanted to prepare the galaxy for it. Although Thrawn had been a member of the Galactic Empire since before A New Hope (again, at least in the Legends stories), the New Republic supposedly never knew of him before the events in Heir to the Empire.
4. Thrawn Could Block a Jedi’s Force Powers With the Ysalamiri Creatures
Although he doesn’t have one sitting on his shoulder in the Rebels trailer, one of the coolest (if not scariest) aspects of Thrawn was that he used ysalamiri. These were lizard-like creatures that could somehow create a bubble that suppressed the Force. The trailers show Thrawn standing in front of statues of creatures that look a lot like ysalamiri.
Since Force-users seemed all-powerful in the Star Wars movies, having a ysalamiri on your shoulder would make you even more powerful. So why was Thrawn the only Imperial officer with one? Zahn wrote in the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire that he decided that ysalamiri would be relatively unknown because the Jedi made sure few knew about them. He also decided that it would be nearly impossible to get a ysalamir off a tree without killing it.
Despite the ysalamir-like statues, it looks like that will just be an Easter Egg. Filoni said that he doesn’t want to introduce them because a creature like that could create more story problems.
5. Lars Mikkelsen, the Older Brother of Mads Mikkelsen, is the Voice of Thrawn
The voice of Grand Admiral Thrawn is Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen, the older brother of Mads Mikkelsen, the actor who plays Jyn Erso‘s father in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Mikkelsen also starred as Charles Magnussen in Sherlock and played Russian politician Viktor Petrov in House of Cards.
Mikkelsen’s other credits include The Day Will Come, Flame and Citron, Headhunter, Borgen and Those Who Kill. He also appeared in the original Danish version of The Killing.