My Ambivalence to Thrawn in Rebels

My Ambivalence to Thrawn in Rebels


Some of the biggest news coming out of Celebration Europe concerned Rebels. Dave Filoni, Tiya Sicar, and Sam Witwer took the stage at Celebration to discuss many of the developments for the upcoming season of the Disney XD show. Sabine, Tiya Sicar’s character, is armed with many new gadgets. Chief among them is a jetpack. Darth Maul, voiced by Sam Witwer, continues to pursue Ezra Bridger as he searches for direction in the galaxy. Many other developments were revealed, but perhaps the biggest announcement was saved for the season three trailer. Grand Admiral Thrawn is coming to Rebels. Everyone is excited. Well, almost everyone. I’m ambivalent. Let me explain why.

If you are unfamiliar with Thrawn, or you haven’t seen the season three trailer, let me introduce you to him. Thrawn is a Chiss, which is a race of blue skinned beings with glowing red eyes. He was originally introduced to the Star Wars universe in Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire. Thrawn commanded the Imperial Fleets against the forces of the New Republic after the events of Return of the Jedi in the Legends timeline. He drove the New Republic to the brink of collapse before being defeated himself. His cunning, developed through studying his enemy’s art and philosophy, allowed him to conquer his enemies. He was very impressive, and a really cool villain.

So, why then am I not really excited to see him in Rebels?


There are a couple of reasons why I have mixed feeling about Thrawn’s inclusion in Rebels. First, Thrawn was introduced at a time when Star Wars did not have a rich expanded universe. He was the enemy that filled the void of Star Wars content in the early nineties. The trilogy in which he was introduced was the sequel to Return of the Jedi. He had emerged from the “Unknown Regions” to combat the Republic and its heroes, Luke, Han, and Leia. He was the new face of the Empire for a short time. So, his addition to Rebels makes him a man out of time.

That alone isn’t such a terrible thing. A good villain is a good thing in any time period. That brings me to my second point. I am a little concerned that Thrawn in the pre-original trilogy era will diminish other characters. So far, the Rebels have combated the Grand Inquisitor. They have withstood the traps laid for them by Grand Moff Tarkin. They have even survived the onslaught from Darth Vader. Governor Pryce, who will also be debuting next season, requests from Tarkin that she be given assistance in dealing with the Rebels. That request suggests to me that Tarkin and Darth Vader were inadequate for the task. However, Thrawn is now supposed to handle these Rebels? Does this not suggest that his abilities are to be considered superior to Tarkin and Vader’s?

Thrawn’s brilliance was not an issue in his own trilogy. Vader, Tarkin, and the Emperor were all dead at that point. He couldn’t upstage them. Furthermore, his brilliance was somewhat hampered by the fact that he led a diminished Empire. In Legends, one of his initial goals was to acquire more soldiers and a larger fleet. Thrawn in the Rebels time period potentially has the full weight of the Empire behind him. The crew of the Ghost should have an incredibly difficult challenge on their hands.


Approaching this from another angle brings me to my third point. As fond as I am of the crew of the Ghost, and as much as I admire their skills, I don’t believe they match up favorably with the skills of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca. These are the heroes that defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor. Rebels has already demonstrated that Ezra and Kanan were no match for Lord Vader. Thrawn and his schemes, plus the aid of some allies, were nearly all that Luke and his friends could handle. Therefore, Thrawn seems a little out of the crew of the Ghost’s league.

Villains like Darth Vader, the Emperor, Grand Moff Tarkin, the Grand Inquisitor, and Thrawn comprise an elite club of Star Wars villains. Furthermore, the more of these elite villains with that swell the ranks of the Empire, the less likely and believable it is the Rebellion could have actually defeated the Empire. The heroes that make up the crew of the Ghost are not untalented. However, they aren’t armies unto themselves either.

I don’t mean to be a downer about this. Like many others, I suspected Thrawn was headed to Rebels when Dave Filoni teased audiences with a portion of a Legends book cover on Twitter. However, I don’t think we will be seeing the same Thrawn that so many of us came to enjoy in Heir to the Empire. Be prepared for changes. I have great faith in Dave Filoni, the Lucasfilm story group, and the other creators of Rebels. I cannot imagine that they would bring Thrawn into Rebels carelessly. Therefore, while I suspect we will be seeing a character that looks and acts like Thrawn, I doubt we will see a character that is the exact same guy from Legends. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Thanks for reading. Contact me at or on Twitter@DJKver2.


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  1. Jay Krebs
    July 23, 2016 at 09:46 Reply

    Very well thought-out, Dennis, and you’ve definitely made some great points here! I honestly LOVED this piece!!

    You’re not being a downer at all – it’s great (and extremely important) to examine all aspects of what we’re being “fed”! This is the part (well, one of the many) of being a SW fan that I absolutely love…discussing and debating the possibilities!

    While I do agree with the premise of eveything you said, one thing I think we all have to keep in mind:

    The Thrawn we see in Rebels will NOT necessarily be the Thrawn we know (and love), and that’s okay for many reasons…

    First, we’re starting to see A LOT of new worlds being explored in the SW universe. We just got Jakku, Ach To, Takodana, the Ilenium system and Hosnian Prime in TFA. In Rogue One, we’re setting Jedha and Scarif (and who knows what else). It makes sense in the new canon and storytelling coninuityto introduce a character from a world we’ve not yet heard of, even at the time of Rebels.

    The fact that Thrawn is being introduced now does not make him a man out of time – he’s right ON time, IMO. The Empire was obviously getting nervous. All these Inquisitors and admirals make up the “sinister agents” of the Empire from the opening crawl of ANH. It does not upstage Vader and/or the Emperor, it solidifies that one line in SW history and continuity all the more. We may even be seeing the emergence of Starkiller in Rebels, but that’s another topic, and one of speculation, so I won’t delve into that here!

    Third. While we know in our hearts (unfortunately) that the Ghost crew is ultimately doomed – and as you said, not an army unto itself – their presence at this point IS powerful. You’re looking at two Jedi, a Mandalorian of House Vizla origin, an ace pilot (dare I say a rival of Han Solo himself), and a guy who can give Chewbacca a run for his money, even on his worst day. They actually have a better skill set than our beloved trio (look at me, being the heretic now lol!! 🙂 )! If anyone is going to take down the insanely gifted strategic Admiral Thrawn, it’s the crew of the Ghost.

    Wow – you’ve made the wheels in my head go crazy! Bravo!!! 🙂

  2. Martin Beddoes
    August 14, 2016 at 11:39 Reply

    Great piece. Also, great reply by Jay Krebs. I too have my reservations about Thrawn coming into Rebels, or to be more acurate, what changes will be made to his character. I hope it goes beyond surface recognition. Thrawn was a commander that was cool, calm, calculated, and yet, well loved and respected by the people serving beneath him. I HOPE this continues in Rebels, and the man doesn’t become a one-note villain for the canon.

  3. The Achievements of 2017 Star Wars Storytelling - Coffee With Kenobi
    December 23, 2017 at 08:00 Reply

    […] brought Star Wars fans the conclusion to season three of Rebels and the beginning of season four. Grand Admiral Thrawn continued his quest to extinguish the spark of Rebellion lit by the crew of the Ghost. […]

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