Grand Admiral Thrawn: The Real Reason to Be Disappointed About Star Wars: Episode VII
Let me get this out of the way here before there is any confusion. I am nothing but ecstatic that Disney now has the rights to Star Wars. Yes, Disney makes some awful movies, and their live-action resume isn't without some truly glaring turds like John Carter or Race to Witch Mountain.
On the other hand... Pirates of the Caribbean and Avengers. Those are hard to argue against.
The upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII helmed by J.J. Abrams and with tentatively hopeful appearances by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher possibly in the works is almost certainly going to be good. Better than the original trilogy? It's conceivable. Better than the prequels? It kind of has to be. So let's not worry too much, but we should take a moment to mourn someone who will definitely not be appearing, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Before 1991 there weren't many Star Wars expanded universe novels aside from a few young adult titles. Alan Dean Foster was contracted to write a possible low-budget sequel novel that could be used as a less costly basis for a follow-up should Star Wars flop. The result is Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which is an amazing book that future films sadly have mostly exiled from canonicity. Now it's a sort of lost path of could-have-beens.
The same fate is almost certainly destined for the greatest of the expanded universe prose, the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn, and his devastatingly powerful main antagonist Grand Admiral Thrawn. It's been well-reported that the new film will not be based on any existing material, which means the loss of what can pretty legitimately be considered Episodes VII - IX.
The first book, Heir to the Empire, takes place five years after The Battle of Endor. The Alliance has become a republic, and the last vestiges of the Empire are being mopped up. As the young government begins to try and establish peace in the galaxy, the Empire resurrects under a new tactical genius in the form of Thrawn.
Thrawn was one of 13 Grand Admirals, the highest rank in the Imperial military after Palpatine and Vader. He was also the only non-human, being a blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss from the edges of known space. Thrawn's non-human status is used at great-length to establish an undercurrent of racism in the Empire, something that allows Zahn to give subtle nods towards fascism in their government. It may be a cheap trick, but it's an effective one.
It also helps illustrate how badass a soldier like Thrawn would have to be to rise in the ranks, and he without a doubt is badass. Culture and civilized, with none of the Dark Force junkie vibe that Vader and Palpatine gave off, he commands a broken armada into an unstoppable force with brilliance and charisma that wins him the loyalty of even the Imperial conscripts who were used to the fatal method of discipline.