Thrawn For a New Generation

Thrawn Art

“Grand Admiral Thrawn.” The name elicits a response. In the Star Wars: Rebels Season Three Trailer, it is a name that makes an impact when Hera says it. Zeb utters the Lasat swear word, “Karabast.” Thrawn is known to them, and his name inspires fear. Fans had a much different reaction. They rejoiced. For some fans, this moment will be remembered alongside “Chewie, we’re home,” in terms of the effect it had upon them. It will for me. I’ll recall sitting on the floor with my daughter recovering from having her grab my shirt and shake me with excitement when TIE SS-25 says, “You can call me Wedge,” and I will remember how I held her a little tighter as a shot of three star destroyers slowly led to the reveal of the familiar Chiss. Thrawn was once again a part of Star Wars canon. Not only would he be in Rebels, but we were also getting a new book by Timothy Zahn, the same author who introduced Thrawn to the world in 1991. Throughout the day, I kept telling my wife, “I can’t believe he’s back,” but I also kept reminding myself that that statement is only partially true. Thrawn is not back. He is being reintroduced. He will not necessarily be exactly the same character he was in the novels. He will not be just my Thrawn anymore; he will be a Thrawn that my daughter and I will get to share, similar yet different. It seems as if the core of Thrawn has been kept though. Even in a three minute trailer, he still destroys his enemies through an analysis of their art, possesses an unparalleled tactical mind, and inspires loyalty through a faith in his abilities.

Study of Art

Art by Banksy

"Learn about art, Captain....When you understand a species' art, you understand the species." - Heir to the Empire

The most famous quality of Thrawn may be his Sherlockian ability to deduce the weaknesses of his enemies by analyzing their art. The brushstrokes of a painting or the curvature of a sculpture speak to Thrawn and reveal elements of the culture that created it. Thrawn uses this knowledge to react to and destroy his enemies. In Timothy Zahn’s first novel, Heir to the Empire, Thrawn is introduced to the reader when he is able to defeat a New Republic force because he recognizes that the leader of the force is an alien species called an Elomin. Through his study of Elomin art, Thrawn knows the exact tactic that will result in their destruction: a Marg Sabl maneuver.

During the Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 trailer, Thrawn says, ““To defeat an enemy, you must know them. Not simply their battle tactic but their history, philosophy, art.” This dialogue shows that Thrawn’s method of destroying his enemies through art analysis will still be present in his animated form. We see Thrawn analyzing various art related to the crew of the Ghost. A Mandalorian mural that was seen during episodes of The Clone Wars and one of Sabine’s starbirds are holo-projected around him. There are also a few pictures relating to Hera, including one that shows Cham Syndulla, Hera, and who we can assume is Hera’s mother. Ezra’s Imperial ID is present and so are wolf paintings that were in the Jedi Temple on Lothal. How will the pieces of glass of each mural, the splashes of paint in Sabine’s precious paintings, or Ezra’s body language in his picture betray the subjects? What precious detail will Thrawn learn from each of these, and how will they lead to the destruction of the crew of the Ghost?  


The Procession of the Trojan Horse by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

"Concentration, focus, long-term thinking--those are the qualities that separate a warrior from a mere flailing fighter." - Dark Force Rising

At the end of the trailer for Star Wars Rebels: Season 3, Thrawn says, “I will pull the rebels apart piece by piece. They’ll be the architects of their own destruction.” This intrigued me. In the novels, Thrawn was a tactical genius. With nothing more than his keen powers of observation and his intellect, he brought the New Republic to the verge of collapse, but how could he cause the rebels to cause their own destruction? As I reflected more on this (and viewed the trailer quite a few more times), I noticed that many members of the ghostly crew seemed to have their own dilemmas that they are dealing with. Sabine is dealing with the Empire’s treatment of Mandalore; Ezra is distracted by Darth Maul and the secrets of the Sith Holocron; Hera’s father, Cham, returns and speaks of how “the Empire is getting better at anticipating our moves.” Could it be possible that all of these distractions the rebels are facing are not a coincidence? Could it be that Thrawn sees Sabine’s art and recognizes ties to Mandalore and exploits that connection? There’s a good chance that Vader could have been told of the existence of Maul, and he knew that Kanan and Ezra had the Sith holocron at the end of “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Someone as brilliant as Thrawn could drawn the logical conclusion that putting Ezra and Maul together would cause problems. Attacks against the rebel cell on Ryloth would inflict pain on Hera, with each attack leaving Hera to wonder if it was the one that would kill her father. Thrawn may use his analysis of the art and philosophies of his targets to create a gauntlet that will wear them down, and if it doesn’t destroy them, it could pull them apart from each other. Sabine could find that she needs to return to Mandalore to claim leadership, Ezra could go on a dark pilgrimage to uncover the secrets of the Sith holocron in order to protect his friends, and an engagement against Ryloth could force Hera to leave her friends in order to lead a task force sent to rescue her father. By orchestrating such a personal series of events, Thrawn could create a dismantling of the rebels that is “so artistically done” (The Last Command).

Honor in Battle

The Loyal 47 Ronin by Mu Pan

"You served too long under Lord Vader, Captain. I Have no qualms about accepting a useful idea merely because it wasn't my own. My position and ego are not at stake here." - Heir to the Empire

The films, novels, and television shows of the Star Wars saga make it very clear that you don’t ever want to serve under Darth Vader. Mistakes are frequently met with a deep tissue trachea massage that will leave you with a rather severe case of rigor mortis. The leadership of Thrawn is quite different. Thrawn ruled by inspiring loyalty in his troops. Thrawn’s creator, Timothy Zahn, reveals as much in the annotated version of Heir to the Empire, when he says, “The Star Wars movies revolved around villains who led by coercion and fear. That may work for a short-range operation (Vader’s crew certainly put their hearts into their work), but it’s not so good long-range or long-term. So I decided to create a commander who could lead by loyalty.” This was why popular Imperial characters like Captain Pelleon and Baron Soontir Fel followed Thrawn. He was not lusting after power and revelling in its use like Vader or Palpatine. He used his abilities to prepare the galaxy to face a greater threat, and each man or woman under his command was important to him because they were one step closer to defeating that threat.

We have yet to see any of the crew who will serve under Thrawn in Star Wars: Rebels, but we are introduced to Governor Pryce in the trailer. She is the woman who tells Grand Moff Tarkin that she “needs someone who sees a bigger picture.” While we don’t know if she has served with Thrawn, we do see that she knows of him and has faith enough in his abilities to request his help. I don’t know that she’s loyal to him though. Perhaps the greatest indicator of this component of Thrawn’s character is the treatment of Agent Kallus during Rebels’ second season. The episode, “The Honorable Ones,” ends with Kallus clearly questioning the methods of the Empire. He seems disillusioned with it. He has seen the crew of the Ghost celebrate the return of Zeb only to be callously dismissed by Admiral Konstantine as Kallus limped his way back to his bunk. The message is clear. The Rebellion is loyal to its own, but the Empire is not. While many fans have assumed that this indicates a possible defection by Kallus (something I wouldn’t mind seeing), it’s possible that he only needs to see that there is still honor and loyalty left in the Empire. Thrawn could provide that. He could show Kallus that not all the leadership of the Empire is as ruthless as Tarkin and Vader. Thrawn could provide Kallus with a leader worth being loyal to.  

Thrawn will not necessarily be exactly the same character he was in the novels, but based on the trailer, he will have some of the same characteristics. That’s what’s important. He will not be just my Thrawn anymore; he will be a Thrawn that my daughter and I will learn about together. As older fans, we have to accept that he’s not just our character anymore, but as long as we are willing to be open to the fact that there will be some changes, the shared experience of being reintroduced to him together with other fans will be worth it. Now, if only we could see Talon Karrde introduced into canon...


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