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The Empire’s Heir: Why Star Wars Needs Grand Admiral Thrawn

The hearts of many filmgoers and Star Wars fans are aflutter with the impending December 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While this will be the first time where many people will learn about what happened after Return of the Jedi, savvy Star Wars fans that have followed the franchise for years have been able to experience an “alternate version” of the events that occurred after Episode VI. That alternative version is the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU), which contains hundreds of books, comics and video games that have explored the events that transpired after the inital final film in the saga and everything else in between. When Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney, the decision was made to rebrand the Star Wars EU as “Star Wars Legends,” effectively erasing hundreds of stories and characters from Star Wars canon in an effort to streamline the various assorted media. Though Lucasfilm and Disney no longer consider the EU canon, it has been stated by representatives of Lucasfilm that content and characters based on Legends works may appear in new Star Wars stories and media. Out of the countless characters that have appeared throughout the EU, no one is more deserving of be being incorporated into Star Wars canon and future films than Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Created by author Timothy Zahn, Thrawn first appeared as the principal antagonist in the novel Heir to the Empire. Along with the release of Heir’s sequels, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, Zahn’s novels, later dubbed the Thrawn Trilogy, were frequently credited by critics and readers alike for reinvigorating interest in the Star Wars franchise during the early 1990s. Though the books introduced popular EU characters like Mara Jade and Talon Karrade to the Star Wars universe, Thrawn remained the breakout star. Unlike the ruthless Darth Vader or the cackling Emperor Palpatine, Thrawn was a villain the Star Wars franchise was unfamiliar with. He wasn’t a mustache-twirling bad guy who reveled in being evil and doing evil things. He was created to subvert what fans had come to expect to see from Star Wars in terms of villains.

Just to provide a little context for the character, Thrawn was introduced as a member of the alien species known as the Chiss. A reclusive and intelligent race, the Chiss excelled in science, industry and warfare, and were able to keep their society self-sustaining without involving themselves in galactic politics or conflicts. While the Chiss kept the Old Republic and later the Empire at arms-length for many years, Thrawn was curious of the greater galaxy outside of his system. After being exiled from the Chiss Ascendancy for his unorthodox views, Thrawn was welcomed into the Empire and was quickly recognized by many Imperial leaders, most notably Emperor Palpatine, as an undeniably talented master strategist and soldier. Though the Empire maintained strict xenophobic views, Thrawn ascended to the top of the Imperial military hierarchy in only a few years, becoming the thirteenth Grand Admiral in the Imperial Navy.

“He’s a clever villain. People like reading about clever, interesting opponents to our heroes. People who are able to outthink, outmaneuver as well as outfight. Ultimately the heroism of the hero is measured by the villainy or power of the villain and with Thrawn I wanted something different than the Force using Vader or Palpatine. Somebody who doesn’t have Luke’s Force Powers, but can run him around in a maze whenever he wants to.”―Timothy Zahn

Though Thrawn believed in the Empire’s cause to establish order in the galaxy, he remained an outspoken critic of Palpatine’s xenophobic policies, Darth Vader’s “mistreatment” of military personnel and the Empire’s flamboyant spending (i.e. building not one, but two Death Stars). Eventually relegated to pacifying sectors of uncharted space just before the Battle of Endor, Thrawn would only hear about the Empire’s overwhelming defeat near the forest moon months later.

With the Emperor dead and remaining Imperial leadership scattered and in disarray, Thrawn remained in the uncharted regions of the galaxy, realizing that moving against the recently victorious Rebellion would take time, immeasurable resources and sufficient force. During his self-imposed exile, Thrawn invaded and conquered the Chiss Ascendancy and annexed other outlying galactic civilizations in his name, proclaiming himself to be new ruler of the Empire. Eventually returning five years after the Battle of Endor, Thrawn launched a massive military campaign against a relatively complacent Rebellion, now established as the New Republic. In addition to “coercing” remnants of the Imperial army to join his cause, Thrawn made significant strides in reestablishing the Empire’s dominion over the galaxy, managing to conquer strategically important planets and systems with relative ease.

Along with Thrawn’s fascinating backstory, strategic brilliance and consistently calm personality, what made him such an interesting and compelling character was the way in which he interacted with his soldiers and commanders throughout Zahn’s novels. While tyrants like Darth Vader executed Imperial officers for the most trivial of things, Thrawn understood that mistakes were bound to occur no matter what the circumstances may have been. Instead of crafting a punishment for a soldier’s blunder, Thrawn instilled a sense of continual fulfillment within his subordinates, encouraging his soldiers to learn from their mistakes and improve upon their past performances.

This alone would provide a significant contrast to what audiences have come to expect to see from characters in Star Wars, specifically those aligned with the Empire. Using Thrawn to show that the Imperial military is not just filled with boot-licking sycophants would go a long way in developing the franchise past a “good vs. evil” story, but a story about people with extremely disparate views of what is right and wrong. Yes, at the end of the day, Thrawn would still be considered the bad guy for what he’s doing, but if there is a single moment, whether it be in a movie, book, comic or videogame, that a person understands the reasons why a villain like Thrawn is making the choices that he’s making, then the Star Wars franchise will have become far richer and more sophisticated for it. Additionally, it would be refreshing to see a villain that’s not a Sith Lord or Sith Acolyte constantly muttering about “the power of the Dark Side.” Instead of having yet another plot involving the never ending conflict between the Jedi and the Sith, it would be a welcome change for Star Wars to have the central threat come from an individual like Thrawn who prides intelligence and strategy over the Force.

As it stands right now, Lucasfilm and Diseny are still in the early stages of reestablishing the Star Wars brand in terms of quality. However, in a very short amount of time, we’ve been privileged enough to have received shows like Star Wars: Rebels and books like Lost Stars that continue to prove that there are very smart and talented creators guiding the future of the franchise. It would be incredible if the same minds that brought all of those wonderful projects to life were somehow allowed to appropriately incorporate Thrawn into Star Wars canon. Not only would Thrawn’s return engender goodwill from EU fans, but it would also provide yet another compelling reason to pay attention to the future of Star Wars.

“But…it was so artistically done.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn

What about you reader? Would you like to see Grand Admiral Thrawn incorporated back into the Star Wars franchise? Are there any other Expanded Universe characters that you feel are just as deserving? Let us know in the comments below!

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