Blue skin. White uniform. Glowing red eyes.
You know who I’m talking about. This Chiss needs no introduction - but I’ll give him one anyway - Grand Admiral Thrawn (or Mitth’raw’nuruodo if you like a verbal challenge!). With the release of new novel, Thrawn by Timothy Zahn and a recent re-read of the classic 90s trilogy, I’ve got Thrawn on my brain right now. He is stalking my dreams and haunting my waking thoughts. Haha, ok maybe not that dramatic, but I have been thinking about him a lot recently. What is it about this notorious Imperial that makes him so enthralling? How is it that he has stood the test of time?
A military genius and master strategist; Thrawn has engrossed fans ever since he first sauntered into our lives back in 1991 in Timothy Zahn’s groundbreaking novel Heir to the Empire, and he has stayed in our hearts ever since. Yet Thrawn isn’t a hero, he’s the main antagonist of Zahn’s trilogy and his machinations set in motion a series of events which hound the New Republic for years even after his demise. He is for sure a Bad Guy. Nevertheless many fans are captivated by him and he certainly makes my personal list of top Star Wars characters of all time!
We as Star Wars fans have always liked a villain. Darth Vader is not only the most iconic villain of the saga, but he’s also one of the most iconic screen villains of all time. When you picture the original Star Wars films, chances are it’s Vader who springs to mind, not Luke Skywalker. Holding on to this admiration, or at least appreciation for villains, it’s no wonder that us Star Wars fans immediately relished the chance to meet a new antagonist in the form of Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Thrawn is everything Vader is not. Clad all in white, not black, he is cool and logical where Vader is fearsome and impulsive. If Vader is fire then Thrawn is undoubtedly ice.
Aboard his flagship the Chimera, he wreaked havoc on Coruscant, Nkllon, Ord Pardron and Ukio in the legendary Thrawn trilogy. Then, in the Hand of Thrawn duology, the New Republic was brought to its knees by the mere memory of the indomitable Grand Admiral. Now, he is doggedly pursuing Rebel Alliance in the animated TV series Rebels, and in his new, self-titled novel Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, we get a glimpse into his past and his incredible and sometimes bloody, rise to power.
I think one of the reasons we are all drawn to Thrawn as a character and a villain is because of his mystery. We very rarely get to view the world through his eyes so we never really know what is going on in his head or how he is such a master of Imperial warfare. We are always left wanting more with Thrawn. He has no desire to rule through fear and intimidation like Vader or Tarkin, nor does he furiously bark orders like Director Krennic. He inspires loyalty from his underlings because they all respect and admire him. You also get the sense that he returns that respect...if you have earned it!
One of the other reasons I think we find Thrawn so compelling is because among the Empire, he is something of an underdog. Using never-seen-before tactics to thwart his enemies and rivals, he creates anger and suspicion among his peers who Do Not Like Change or anything that deviates from the norm. Staggering military genius aside, Thrawn is also an alien trying to rise to power through the xenophobic ranks for the Empire. He’s not just any old alien either, but an alien from the Unknown Regions no less - a far cry from the comfort and prosperity of the Core Worlds.
Everyone knows we love an underdog and there is something immensely satisfying about seeing Thrawn run rings around his bitter comrades. You also get a sense from Thrawn that everything he does is for the greater good - that he knows something we don’t - and whilst this does not make all of his actions excusable, it certainly makes them more understandable. He might be notorious to some, or at the very least grudgingly respected. But no matter whether your sympathies lie with the Rebels or the Empire, you cannot deny the tactical genius of this magnificent Grand Admiral.
When Thrawn was released and we got a glimpse at the cover, the first thing that struck me was that it was so elegant in it’s simplicity. Just Thrawn, on a white background (or black if you managed to get your hands on the Celebration copies), gazing out at you. I find myself pouring over that cover, drinking in every detail like a piece of art. He is such a magnetic character. The simplicity of the design is a reflection of his character. It’s not a busy cover with star destroyers, stormtroopers and laser bolts, it is an elegant and restrained portrait. It’s so very Thrawn.
One of the lines in Thrawn that I found particularly poignant was in one of the ‘diary entries’ which are inserted at the beginning of each chapter. It read: ‘...for if one is remembered by a friend, one is never truly gone...’. All these years Thrawn was never gone, not really. He was a legend, waiting to be brought back to life. I’m not sure whether we can call him a friend as such- but he is still beloved to me and many others because, good or ill, we love him as a character.
For that is what he is - a Legend of Star Wars.. There’s a reason why we all cheered and cried when we heard that he was going to be in Rebels, and that Zahn was writing his very own novel in the new canon. The dedication of the novel Thrawn particularly resonated with me whilst writing this article - ‘...for all those who have wished for more stories of Grand Admiral Thrawn...’. We did wish for more stories. We just are not done with the Grand Admiral. We weren’t done with him back in 1993 and we are not done with him now in 2017.
So here’s to Grand Admiral Thrawn, may there be many more stories...