Who is Grand Admiral Thrawn?

Grand Admiral Thrawn, a humanoid with striking blue skin, short dark hair and red eyes, looks extremely menacing as he sits in his chair flanked by two guards.
(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

The third season of The Mandalorian is now behind us, and season 1 of Ahsoka is right around the corner, so many casual Star Wars fans and newcomers are wondering about Grand Admiral Thrawn and his role within the Empire before the events unfolding right now in the “Mando era” Disney Plus Star Wars shows. If you haven’t read Timothy Zahn’s canon novels and/or haven’t watched Rebels, this article is for you.

The Ahsoka series will essentially act as a direct continuation of Star Wars Rebels while also tying into The Mandalorian and the overarching post-Return of the Jedi narrative that will culminate in a theatrical event movie written and directed by Dave Filoni, the creator of the Togruta Jedi and Jon Favreau’s partner in shepherding this corner of Star Wars television.

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

If you need quick refreshers on more key Star Wars characters making the jump from animation to live-action, check out our pieces on Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan Kryze. After the Ahsoka series, we’re looking forward to Skeleton Crew as well. As for ranked lists, we’ve got it all with our Star Wars movies and Star Wars T.V. shows ranked lists, plus the top 10 best Star Wars video games of all time.

Who is Thrawn?

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Mitth’raw’nuruodo, also known as Thrawn (core name), was a Chiss male officer of the Chiss Ascendancy – an aristocratic oligarchical nation of humanoids located inside the Unknown Regions – and later a high-ranking member of the Imperial Navy, eventually gaining the title of Grand Admiral due to his brilliant and ruthless strategies. Thrawn’s strongest belief was that one must know their enemy in order to achieve victory in war. As such, he spent much of his time studying and understanding the art, philosophy, and culture of his opponents.

After serving with the Expansionary Defense Fleet of the Chiss Ascendancy and facing the Nikardun Destiny and the Grysk Hegemony (both major enemy factions lurking in the Unknown Regions), Thrawn searched for allies outside that hidden corner of the galaxy. This led to him establishing contact with and joining the Empire, ultimately looking to form an alliance beneficial to his people.

Thrawn: Early history

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Widely known for his striking blue skin and red eyes, Thrawn was created by Star Wars author Timothy Zahn as a major antagonist for the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, the first book of the original Thrawn Trilogy, which was set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The character remained hugely popular for years, which prompted Dave Filoni and his team at Lucasfilm to recover him from the old Legends continuity to serve as the ultimate villain of Star Wars Rebels. This also led to two new trilogies part of the new canon which chronicle Thrawn’s origins and his fast rise to power as a remarkable Imperial leader.

Thrawn was a native of planet Rentor, located in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, a massive area of space that can’t be accessed by those outside through regular means. He served in the Chiss Ascendancy military and led anti-piracy operations. This was before the end of the Clone Wars, a conflict which had engulfed the rest of the galaxy. At this point, the Grysk Hegemony began a plot to completely destroy the Ascendancy, training the Nikardun general Yiv, leader of the (also dangerous) Nikardun Destiny, to conquer and intimidate nations neighboring the Ascendancy to encircle the Chiss.

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

These events pushed Thrawn to leave the treacherous Unknown Regions and search for allies in known space. He unwittingly came across Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and senator Padmé Amidala. Keeping his true mission close to his chest, he helped them thwart Separatist plans on Mokivj in exchange for information that could prove useful in the fight against the Grysk and the Nikardun. Shortly after his excursion, Thrawn played a key role in defeating Yiv’s fleet and eradicating the Nikardun Destiny.

Later, the Grysk agent Jixtus dispatched a group of telepathic Agbui to manipulate Chiss officials and kickstart a Chiss civil war. This plot failed, but the Grysk’s armada superior firepower still proved difficult to overcome. Ultimately, Thrawn and his allies arranged for several nations to unite and defeat Jixtus’ fleet in a climactic battle.

Thrawn during the Age of the Empire

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

After the Galactic Republic was reorganized into the Galactic Empire, Thrawn offered his allegiance to Emperor Palpatine. His personal goal was to make himself so useful and influential within the mighty Empire that Palpatine would have to accept a formal alliance with the Ascendancy in order to vanquish the Grysk threat, a menace that could eventually find its way into known space too.

Thrawn quickly became fluent in Galactic Basic Standard (the most common language in the galaxy) and graduated from the Royal Imperial Academy on Coruscant, rapidly earning a number of promotions within the Navy and eventually receiving the rank of Grand Admiral from the Emperor himself.

A few years after the start of the Galactic Civil War, when Rebel cells started to rise up and organize, Thrawn was deployed to the Lothal sector in order to bring order and take down the evasive cell of freedom fighters led by the Twi’lek captain Hera Syndulla. His time leading the 7th Fleet gave birth to the TIE Defender, a new starfighter-bomber that could put a serious dent in Rebel operations.

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

After an unexpected defeat on Atollon, where the Rebels were aided by the mysterious Bendu being (strong in the Force and neutral to the galactic conflict), Thrawn undertook a mission with Darth Vader, the Sith Lord he once met as Anakin Skywalker. Together, they rescued Force-sensitive Chiss women held captive by Grysk that had made it into Imperial space for reasons unknown. Later, Thrawn also uncovered a Grysk plot to try to conquer Imperial space and maybe even control the Death Star.

After earning two major victories, he resumed his hunt for Syndulla and her group of Rebels. It all culminated with a major battle on Lothal, when the freedom fighters and the people of Lothal confronted the Empire in order to end the occupation of the system. The battle was won by the Rebels when a flock of purrgil (space whales that can travel through hyperspace) responded to the call of Jedi Padawan Ezra Bridger and inflicted heavy damage on the 7th Fleet before surrounding Thrawn’s command ship and taking both the Chiss leader and Bridger into the unknown.

Thrawn after the fall of the Empire

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

During Thrawn’s absence, the Empire fell after the death of the Emperor and Vader at the Battle of Endor. Years later, the dwindling Empire was completely defeated at the Battle of Jakku. Still, some Imperial remnants refused to surrender and retreated into the Outer Rim.

As for Thrawn, rumors of his return started to circulate, and he somehow established a line of communication (and maybe even supplies) with Morgan Elsbeth of Corvus. His knowledge of the Unknown Regions proved essential to the regeneration of surviving Imperial remnants and the eventual creation years later of the nefarious First Order, a major part of the Emperor’s Contingency plan.

However, there’s a huge gap between the early years of the New Republic and the rise of the First Order. It remains to be seen what Thrawn’s ultimate plan for the Imperial remnants was, where he and Ezra Bridger ended up, and how he tried to strike back at the New Republic. All that will be revealed across the upcoming Ahsoka series, more episodes of The Mandalorian, maybe other shows, and the aforementioned event movie that will unite all of this era’s plot threads and bring beloved T.V. characters to the big screen.

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Fran Ruiz

Fran Ruiz is our resident Star Wars guy. His hunger for movies and TV series is only matched by his love for video games. He got a BA of English Studies, focusing on English Literature, from the University of Malaga, in Spain, as well as a Master's Degree in English Studies, Multilingual and Intercultural Communication. On top of writing features and other longform articles for Space.com since 2021, he is a frequent collaborator of VG247 and other gaming sites. He also serves as associate editor over at Star Wars News Net and its sister site, Movie News Net.