Probably the biggest news to come out of Star Wars Celebration in London this past weekend was the confirmation that Grand Admiral Thrawn will make his return to canon.
The trailer for season 3 of the animated TV show Rebels was a great teaser all around, but was more importantly a cause for delight among fans of the old EU. The (re)introduction of Thrawn is something that had been long rumored to happen in Rebels, and it stands as a potential cornerstone in the development of the new Expanded Universe under Disney’s revitalization of the franchise.
There was a huge amount of uproar and controversy when Disney announced the creation of the new Story Group and the de-canonization of the old EU—now known as “Legends”—and a fair amount of that criticism was deserved. Their desire to create new stories for the sequel trilogy is of course understandable, but the insistence on a clean slate hit hard for millions of Star Wars fans who grew up with Jacen and Jaina, Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, Corran Horn and Mirax Terrik. But perhaps the biggest hit was the loss of Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Created by Timothy Zahn as the chief antagonist in his bestselling Thrawn Trilogy, Thrawn was exactly the kind of nemesis that Star Wars needed after the indelible mark left by Darth Vader. With such an iconic villain already established, Star Wars simply could not coast by with a lackluster enemy—and Thrawn is anything but. Cold, intelligent, calculating, chillingly precise…the last Grand Admiral struck a chord with readers worldwide. He represented a new side of the Empire, a terrifyingly competent leader and strategist who drew his greatest victories from a thorough understanding of those he fought. Thrawn was deeply interested in the cultures, politics, philosophies, and especially art of the myriad species comprising the New Republic. It was new and refreshing.
And then he was gone…until now.
The effect Thrawn has on the Star Wars canon and the new story goes far beyond nostalgia, however. He represents a unique opportunity for building the new EU by providing a link to the past, and his specific interests and methods—thankfully kept intact—are the perfect window through which to introduce new cultures and aliens. His emphasis on strategy provides a chance for more details about ships and space combat to sift through. And, if done well, his importance in the hierarchy of the Empire itself can be an important platform to discuss segregation, prejudice, and stereotyping at a time when these topics are foremost in the social consciousness of the audience.
In short, the decision to resurrect Grand Admiral Thrawn has the potential to be the biggest grand slam Star Wars has hit since Disney acquired the franchise.