An Abridged Biography of Grand Admiral Thrawn

In Star Wars, there was once a man everyone respected and feared. A man who came close to undoing everything that the heroes of the Rebellion fought to build. This man was such a badass that the mere thought of a clone of him running around was enough to make Luke Skywalker worry. He brought the New Republic to its knees while being outnumbered and outgunned the whole time, and he wasn’t even Force-Sensitive. That man was Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Hannibal of Star Wars.

Debuting in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy of novels back in 1991, Thrawn is an absolute menace. Besides being a connoisseur of art, he had an almost superhuman talent for strategy. Thrawn could figure out an opponent’s next moves just by looking at their artwork and then psychologically picking them apart. Needless to say, he was one of the best characters not found in the films, and him returning to canon in Star Wars: Rebels was like a dream come true for fans. With his live-action debut now imminent, now’s the best time to catch up on why Thrawn is a man to be feared. Instead of the Disney Canon, though, we’re looking at the original Expanded Universe and learning why Thrawn has black air force energy.

Listen to this as you read for dramatic effect.

A Legend is Born

The first thing one needs to know about Thrawn is also the most obvious: he’s not human. He’s part of a humanoid species of red-eyed, blue-skinned aliens called the Chiss. They hail from the Unknown Regions in the western part of the Galaxy, a notorious place that’s hard to navigate. The Chiss carved out a sizable empire in that part of space and became one of the few bastions of civilization in the region. It was into this society that Mitth’raw’nuruodo was born. 

Yes, that’s his actual name. Thrawn is the core part of his name for people who can’t pronounce it. 

Despite being born into commoners, Thrawn and his brother, Thrass, joined the Chiss Military, whereupon Thrawn began to display his near-superhuman talent in the art of outwitting others. As a result, he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a decorated officer and commander. Unfortunately, his philosophy on war led to him conducting pre-emptive strikes against enemies, something that went against the Chiss policy of only striking when struck at. But Thrawn was convinced that this would not save them from the great threats in the Unknown Regions. Eventually, though, he would end up meeting someone who would fully appreciate his genius: Darth Sidious.

Meeting the Sith and Outbound Flight Project

Star Wars-Thrawn Meets with Darth Sidious
Source-Star Wars, Wookiepedia

In the year 27 BBY, Thawn was commanding a small patrol force on the Chiss frontier when a fleet of Trade Federation ships jumped out of hyperspace in front of him. Despite trying to talk things out, the Trade Federation refused to leave, saying they were there on a secret mission. In the battle that followed, Thrawn managed to destroy the enemy fleet without losing a single one of his ships. He took on a fleet of several capital ships and thousands of Droid Starfighters, and he whooped all their butts! And this got the attention of someone very, very powerful.

It turns out this fleet was on a mission for an agent of the Big Man himself, Darth Sidious. And saying that the Dark Lord was impressed would be an understatement. His agent called the boss up, and Sidious spoke to Thrawn directly and told him, “You, my man, have to be one of the most badass people I’ve ever seen. I need people like you for my plans!” Sidious and his agent then explained that the reason they were there is because of the Outbound Flight Project. Outbound Flight was this ambitious plan by a group of Jedi to lead this expedition into the Unknown Regions before trying to find a route outside the Galaxy. Sidious didn’t want that. One, because he hated the Jedi, but there was also another reason: they would run into something.

Meet the Yuuzhan Vong, a race of warlike, technophobic warriors from another Galaxy. After their Galaxy was destroyed, they fled to find a new home, and the Star Wars Galaxy was their chosen target. If the Galaxy fought the Vong as they were now, they’d lose. Thus, Sidious was making plans to build an Empire that could keep the Galaxy “safe,” and Outbound Flight would ruin all of them. 

Destroying Outbound Flight

Star Wars-Thrawn around 27 BBY
Source-Star Wars, Wookiepedia

Even though all this was an excuse for Sidious to justify what he does, Thrawn knew he was right. The Chiss fought a Vong scouting party, and even though they won, their losses were staggering.

So, Thrawn went on board with all this. Say what you want, but that man did what he thought would keep his people safe. With that, Thrawn got ready to confront Outbound Flight

Sure enough, Outbound Flight showed up like Sidious said, led by the Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth. Thrawn gave them the chance to either turn back or take another route, but C’Baoth arrogantly refused. Both sides threw hands, plus this group of nomadic pirates, and Thrawn inevitably won. Almost everyone on Outbound Flight died while the rest got stranded on a remote planet. Problem solved!

Too bad it got him exiled.

Joining the Empire

Star Wars-Thrawn Finds His Way to the Empire
Source-Star Wars, Wookiepedia

While Thrawn did what he thought would benefit his people in the long term, the Chiss weren’t happy. His decision to be the attacker rather than the defender went against his people’s morals. As a result, they chose to exile him to a jungle world. However, being Thrawn, this is what he wanted. He started doing this stuff on purpose so they’d cut ties with him, leaving him free to take Sidious up on his offer to work for him. 

It ended up working. Around a week or so after Darth Sidious declared the founding of the Galactic Empire, an Imperial ship commanded by a Voss Parck went hunting for a notorious smuggler. That chase led them to the planet where Thrawn lived in exile. Being Thrawn, he managed to dupe the Imperials and sneak aboard their ship with little effort. Parck then looked at him, saw what he did, and decided he needed to get this alien to join the Empire. Thrawn accepted the offer, and Parck took him back to Coruscant.

A key thing to know about the Galactic Empire is that it’s racist and human-centric. It’s why they treat aliens like dirt or outright enslave them, so when Sidious’ inner circle saw Thrawn, they wanted to throw him out. However, Sidious saw him and said, “I remember you. You’re the genius who handled Outbound Flight for me. I need people like you working for me! How’d you like a job?”

Thus, Thrawn began to work for the Empire, something he’d do for the rest of his life.

Rising to Become a Grand Admiral

Star Wars-The Sith and Grand Admiral Thrawn
Source-Star Wars, Wookiepedia

Thrawn fought an uphill battle in the Empire’s ranks as an alien in an Empire that looked down on aliens. Many fellow Imperials kept trying to prevent his rise through the ranks or give the worst commands possible. However, since he’s Thrawn, that didn’t stop him; it only inconvenienced him. By the time of the Battle of Yavin, Thrawn had become an Imperial Captain of his own task force. With it, he operated mainly on the borders of known space, fighting against threats from the Unknown Regions, the great western frontier of the Galaxy. Thrawn didn’t stop there, though, as he just kept climbing the ranks. Eventually, he reached the absolute pinnacle of the Imperial Navy. Darth Sidious personally appointed him to the rank of Grand Admiral.

The rank of Grand Admiral’s more than just a flashy title. Only twelve existed at any given time, and they represented the supposedly best minds in the Imperial Navy. The only ones that outranked them in the Empire were the Sith themselves; even the Grand Moffs were beneath them. While some of them had questionable credentials, the resources they had at their disposal made all of them dangerous. And Thrawn was the most dangerous of them all. 

Fortuntately for the Rebellion, Thrawn’s role in the initial Civil War wasn’t as great as it should’ve been. The Emperor had Thrawn either hunting down Imperial traitors or warding off threats in the Unknown Regions. As a result, he wasn’t there at the Battle of Endor, where everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Empire did. Had he’d been there…the Alliance would’ve lost. 

Coming Back to Take Care of Business

Four years after the Battle of Endor, the Empire was falling apart at the seams. They kept getting pushed back by the New Republic, multiple warlords splintered them even further, and the other Grand Admirals were either dead or retired. It looked like it was all over for the Empire.

Then, Thrawn returned from pacifying the Unknown Regions, took one look at how bad things were, and decided, “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” So the last Grand Admiral stepped in and got ready to take care of business. He almost brought the New Republic to its knees.

Much like the Rebellion, Thrawn was fighting an uphill battle. He only had a handful of ships and men. In addition, despite several Imperial Warlords voicing their support, it was in name only. None of them expected him to succeed.

What others would call an impossible job, though, Thrawn called a fair fight, especially since he had a few secret weapons.

From Nothing to An Army

As a Grand Admiral and one of Sidious’ closest allies, Thrawn knew a few secrets that the Emperor had in his closet. For example, he knew the location of Emperor’s secret storehouse on Wayland, a planet that wasn’t on any maps due to a clerical error. In that storehouse were Spaarti cloning cylinders. Unlike the Kaminoan’s tech, the Spaarti cylinders could grow a full clone in less than a year, but the clones would be mentally unstable and prone to madness. Thrawn, though, found a way around this. 

On the planet of Mykr, there was a species of lizard called the Ysalamiri. To defend themselves from their natural predators, which evolved to hunt them through the Force, the Ysalamiri evolved with a unique ability: they could suppress the Force. Thrawn learned that by doing this with the clones, he not only eliminated the clone madness, but could grow them in less than a month

That wasn’t even the worst part, though. In the Emperor’s storehouse, Thrawn found the face of a man long dead: Joruus C’baoth, an insane clone of the Jedi Master he killed all those years ago. Thrawn talked him into joining forces with him by promising him students to mold into his own version of the Jedi. He promised Luke, Leia, and Leia’s unborn twins. With the clone on his side, Thrawn’s forces grew stronger still.

Gaining a Fleet and Employing the Noghri

Thrawn wasn’t done yet, though. He still needed a fleet, and while he could steal ships from the New Republic, that would take too long. However, he already had an alternative solution.

In the years before the Clone Wars, the Republic built a fleet of 200 warships called the Katana Fleet. They were meant to help restore the Republic Navy after centuries, but the captains went insane and jumped into hyperspace, destination unknown. Everyone thought the fleet was lost, but Thrawn and the New Republic both tracked down people who found it. Unfortunately for the New Republic, Thrawn beat them to it and got almost all the ships. Now, he had an army and a fleet.

As for the Skywalkers, he had another tool in his arsenal: the Noghri. An alien race of powerful warriors from a ruined planet, the Noghri served the late Darth Vader, who promised to help restore their dying world. Thrawn had them serve as his assassins and spies, hunting Leia throughout the Galaxy. 

With everything in place, Thrawn began to make his move. And the New Republic…got its butt handed to it.

Almost Succeeding…Until his Death

Despite still being outnumbered and outgunned, Thrawn proved more than a match for the New Republic. At almost every turn, he managed to outsmart them, outfight them, or out-bluff his way to victory. He managed to hold Coruscant hostage using cloaking technology and asteroids to blockade the planet! It looked like nothing could stop him. The Grand Admiral knew what his enemies would do before they did!

Alas, like all the greats, Thrawn died before his time, and due to things that not even he could predict. Firstly, Luke Skywalker and his friends and family found the Emperor’s Storehouse on Wayland. Storming the place, they slew the insane C’baoth, an insane clone of Luke himself, and destroyed the cloning cylinders. 

Secondly, the Noghri turned on him. They found out that Luke and Leia were Vader’s children, which even Thrawn didn’t know, so they swore allegiance to Leia. In addition, Leia proved that the Empire had been actively hindering attempts to rebuild their planet. It didn’t take much for them to defect. And while Thrawn fought the New Republic in what could be a decisive battle, his Noghri bodyguard made his move. He ran the Chiss through the chest before anyone could react, then fled (he didn’t make it), leaving the mortally wounded man bleeding out. 

Star Wars-Thrawn's Assassination
Source-Star Wars, Wookiepedia

His last words were, “But… it was so artistically done.” 

So ended Grand Admiral Thrawn. Last of the Grand Admirals, one of the greatest military leaders in Galactic History, and the Hannibal of Star Wars

Or did it?

Not Even Death Can Stop Thrawn

Even though Thrawn was gone, his legacy endured, both in the Empire and the Unknown Regions that he came from. 

All those years that he’d been on the frontier of the Galaxy, Thrawn hadn’t just been fighting enemies in the Unknown Regions. He had been building his own faction, an alliance of like-minded Imperials, Chiss supporters, and alien civilizations who pledged their support. This was the Empire of the Hand; all the strengths of the Empire, but without the racism, barbarism, and xenophobia to hold it back. This Empire would survive long after Thrawn’s passing, serving as a first-line of defense against threats to the wider Galaxy. 

Even death wasn’t the end of Thrawn. Ten years after his death, Luke and his wife, Mara Jade, journeyed to the Empire of the Hand and discovered the survivors of the Outbound Flight. More importantly, they found a fully-grown clone of the Chiss waiting to be let out. Despite the threat he could’ve posed, Luke and Mara chose to spare the clone’s life…only for it to die anyway due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

Ultimately, the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion of the Galaxy came to pass, as Thrawn feared. The resulting war almost tore the Galaxy apart, but then, it united its people like never before, with the Empire of the Hand and the Chiss both playing their part. In the end, at great sacrifice, the Galaxy defeated the Vong, the enemy Thrawn devoted his whole life to preparing for. 

This is Why Fans Wanted Him Back

Now that you’ve heard about his story in the pre-Disney Star Wars, hopefully, you will understand why fans wanted him back so badly. Grand Admiral Thrawn is, in no uncertain terms, an absolute badass. With no connection to the Force whatsoever, he managed to almost undo everything Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, Chewie, and all their friends and allies had worked to build. The only reason he didn’t win is due to factors that were either outside his control or things he didn’t anticipate. Hence why there’s so much pressure on his role in Ashoka succeeding. Depending on how well the show uses him and the others, it could determine the future of the Star Wars franchise itself. In other words, a lot is riding on Thrawn being the badass fans know him for being.

If you want to learn more about Thrawn as he was in the Old Expanded Universe, then go read the “Thrawn Trilogy” by Timothy Zahn. It’s one of the best stories in Star Wars history, and well worth the money. Until then, though, here’s hoping that his live-action debut lives up to the legend.