ByJames Buxton, writer at
Professional Nerf Herder. Twitter: @JayDBux
James Buxton

Star Wars Celebration Europe has been truly magical this year. Vader is in Rogue One, Ahsoka Tano is coming back and Grand Admiral Thrawn is finally canon once again.

For many fans, Thrawn represented the franchise and its Expanded Universe more than any other character. From his role as a genius tactician to his tendency to only ever address people "sardonically," Thrawn is often celebrated as one of the greatest villains in pop culture, despite never actually appearing on screen.

That is, until now. At Star Wars Celebration on Saturday during the Rebels panel, the trailer for the third season of the show was revealed to the public, and with it an old friend that had many a fan in tears following his appearance. Thrawn is back, baby, and this time, he's back for good.

When Thrawn first stepped into the light, I'll admit to you now I had a little breakdown. Seeing and hearing the character on screen for the first time was a little overwhelming and took many fans by surprise. Following the reveal, Star Wars Show host Andi Gutierrez tweeted:

So the return of Thrawn is a pretty big deal for some, but other have been left somewhat confused by the response. How can a character who's never appeared in any of the movies or TV shows have such a strong following? Why is he so beloved by so many? How has he managed to top Star Wars best villain lists for so long despite not even being canon?

Let me take you back to 1991. Parachute pants were popular, Bucky Barnes was making a habit of murdering billionaires, and people had largely stopped caring about Star Wars. The last movie had been released eight years ago and the lack of supplementary material had caused the franchise to fade from public view. Star Wars was still great, but its time had passed.

And that's when Timothy Zahn stepped in. That year, he released Heir to the Empire, the first tie-in novel in years. In the book, our favorite heroes: Luke, Han, Leia etc., are pitted against a new enemy leading the Imperial Remnant: Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Thrawn was unlike anything seen before in the Star Wars universe. He was cunning and manipulative, choosing brain over brawn in every situation. Unlike his predecessors, Darth Vader and the Emperor, he ruled through smart thinking rather than fear. Thrawn went on to star in several more books and video games during the nineties and is credited with single handedly reviving the Star Wars saga and ushering in a new era of novels, comics and movies.

Thrawn and (maybe) Gilad Pellaeon, minus the tache.
Thrawn and (maybe) Gilad Pellaeon, minus the tache.

Thrawn was supposedly based off Sherlock Holmes, with Captain Gilad Pellaeon as his Watson. While the man behind Thrawn in the above image has not yet been confirmed to be Pellaeon, it's highly likely he'll be introduced alongside his counterpart. Pellaeon was originally older in the Expanded Universe, but making him a young man would make a lot of sense as he later becomes a key player in the Imperial Remnant during the rise of the New Republic.

The appeal of Thrawn's character came not just from his actions but from his personality too. He was intelligent and pragmatic and always several steps ahead of anyone else in the room. He knew never to underestimate his enemy, regardless of their apparent strength, and was fascinated by the concept of the Force and the Jedi. He also had a penchant for fine art, collecting many a piece for his personal quarters from planets he'd conquered.

Of all his traits, Thrawn is best known for his tactical prowess and mercy towards his own crew. While Vader would have choked the life out of an officer who made an honest mistake, Thrawn would take them aside, ask what happened and find a way to deal with the situation. As a result, he was considerably more popular than Vader and had the absolute loyalty of his crew at all times, even when the Empire was clearly faltering.

Thrawn was also the original architect behind the Marg Sabl maneuver, a defensive measure that uses the hull of a capital ship to protect the exiting starfighters from attack before they launch their assault. In the new canon, the move was coined by Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, but producer Dave Filoni admitted that he absolutely borrowed it from Thrawn first.

Thrawn's abilities and raw talent were revered throughout the galaxy. Despite the Empire's often xenophobic sanctions, Thrawn rose through the ranks to Grand Admiral and, following the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, essentially became the new leader of the Empire. From his flagship, the Chimaera, Thrawn lead his assault on the New Republic with swift and cruel efficiency, frequently crossing paths with our heroes from the original trilogy. Under his command, the Empire came close to wiping out the New Republic once and for all, a challenge even the Emperor himself had failed to accomplish. Oh, and did I mention he did so with no Force powers whatsoever?

So, aside from being an absolute fan favorite and being the greatest Star Wars villain ever devised, why is Thrawn's presence in Rebels so important? Well, in a nutshell, it shows the Lucasfilm Story Group is listening to the fans. Wiping the Expanded Universe in 2014 left a sour taste in many fans' mouths, but bringing back Thrawn (along with several Old Republic features) shows they truly care about the old continuity and the fanbase.

But Thrawn is just the first step. The fans have a list as long as my arm of characters that deserve to be brought back into canon, from Dash Rendar, to Mara Jade, to Revan himself. The introduction of Thrawn opens up so many opportunities for old characters to return in the future.

And, just in case you didn't have enough Thrawn on your plate, Timothy Zahn, author of the original Thrawn trilogy, has confirmed he'll be writing a brand new novel centered on the character for 2017. The novel, simply titled "Thrawn" is already being super hyped by the fans and is bound to be a huge hit worldwide.

The front cover of Timothy Zahn's upcoming novel
The front cover of Timothy Zahn's upcoming novel

Grand Admiral Thrawn is being voiced by Lars Mikkelsen and is set to appear in season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels later this year.

Which other Expanded Universe character would you like to see appear on screen next?


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