The main antagonist for the third season of Star Wars Rebels has been Grand Admiral Thrawn. The character first appeared during the Expanded Universe (now dubbed Legends continuity) and grew to become the most popular character from that era. When #Disney purchased Lucasfilm, all the previous Expanded Universe continuity was thrown out and thus Thrawn's status was in limbo. However, when the character was revealed to be integrated into the new continuity and become the antagonist of the third season of Rebels, it was met with much acclaim. However, there is still the question of whether or not Thrawn will go past this season.
Rebels has always had a main antagonist for each season — The Grand Inquisitor for Season 1 and Darth Vader for Season 2. So, will this season buck the trend?
A Legendary Example: Introducing Thawn To Disney's Canon
As mentioned previously, Thrawn became popular in the Legends continuity. In that continuity, Thrawn came to prominence after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. He was pretty much the heir to the Empire and a major pain in the sides of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa and the rest of the Rebellion. This saga, involving the war with Thrawn, is considered the crown jewel of the Legends continuity. So, when Thrawn was reintroduced into the new continuity only a few years before the events of A New Hope, it raised some eyebrows.
The 30-plus years in between the time of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens has been left relatively untouched since the start of the new canon. We are only given stories set in the immediate aftermath (The Aftermath Trilogy) and set only a few years to shortly before The Force Awakens (The Poe Dameron comic, Bloodlines). There are pragmatic reasons for this, as it can be assumed that many of these major story beats will be covered in The Last Jedi and Episode IX. But, as with many things, there is still room to fit in other things.
At the end of Empire's End, we see the end of the Empire and the formation of the First Order. The formation of the First Order really begins when the faction retreats into the Unknown Regions. What is interesting about this is that Thrawn is specifically name-checked for knowing about the Regions. The way he is referred to leaves it ambiguous as to whether Thrawn is still alive or not.
In short, there have been many hints and visual cues in Rebels that Thrawn is researching the Unknown Regions.
Thrawn Is Too Good Not To Use Again
The one unique thing about Thrawn is that he is the only high-ranking alien in the strictly human Empire. How did he get to this position? That is surely to be explained in the Thrawn novel that will be released after the season finale of Rebels but is set years before the season. His appearances in Rebels highlight the fact that he is patient and methodical and willing to accept losses as long as he can gain something from them. This combination makes him a dangerous and formidable foe.
Though the Empire has ended and the First Order is off building itself up, that does not mean the galaxy is at peace. There is still a good 24-year gap of things we do not know. Who is that say that Thrawn did not survive the events of the Original Trilogy? In the Legends continuity, it was said that the Emperor had him working in the edges of the galaxy and that is why no one heard of him by the time he showed up after. In Empire's End, it is mentioned that the plan for the Unknown Regions was requested by Palapatine. So, who is not to say there will be subtle nods to his original Legends origin but more in tune to fit in the with new continuity?
It is rumored that #StarWarsRebels will end at Season 5, around the time of Episode IX. No doubt that Disney and Lucasfilm already have another show planned to replace it. What better show than to have one set during the 30-year gap between Jedi and Force Awakens with Thrawn as the antagonist? This will be a good way to adapt the Thrawn trilogy for a new audience.
This can be done be either linking the character to the heroes from the Original Trilogy and create a whole new mythology around their feud. Either way, Thrawn is too big and popular of a character to only last one season on Rebels. This is already been hinted at with his growing importance in the new continuity. Who knows where his character will go? Hopefully to interesting places.
What do you want to see happen to Grand Admiral Thrawn? Let me know in the comments.