Grand Admiral Thrawn: The Real Reason to Be Disappointed About Star Wars: Episode VII

Categories: Film and TV

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.

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Thanks for bringing attention to one of the best characters in the history of Star Wars.  I liked the movies, but it was Timothy Zahn's writing and especially his brilliant Grand Admiral that really made me a Star Wars fan.  The magic of the Force and its users just never captivated me in the way that this realistic, nuanced antagonist did.  I love how Thrawn used his brain to outthink superpowered people, and came closer to defeating Luke and co. than any other threat, including Vader and Palpatine.  It's kind of like how Doloras Umbridge makes for a more frightening villain than Voldemort in Harry Potter -- what's scarier, the super-powered boogeyman or the antagonist who could *actually* exist?  The kind of person who can and does exist in real life?

I understand why Disney made the decision it did about the direction it wants to take with the post Return of the Jedi Star Wars movies, but at the same time, why did it have to forbid new releases in the old EU/Star Wars "Legends" continuality?  The Marvel comicbook stories weren't simply stopped being written after the Avengers' release, after all?  Why couldn't more stories in the EU I loved be written alongside the new "canon"?  To just disregard that living, breathing universe is to show the utmost disrespect to the writers and editors that made it happen. 


The Thrawn trilogy was the only EU stuff that wasn't utter crap. I am not, at all, disappointed at a fresh take of things post Ep VI.


Which is part of the reason I won't care for the new movies. Ford, Hamill, and Fisher, great as they are, are too old for any next in line movie. If they skip into their later years, they will ignore everything from the EU canon, which is already established and which a great deal of has more appeal to me, Thrawn, Mara Jade, etc. We have more or less depending on how you really feel, have accepted new James Bond's, Dr. Who's, and A second Spock, Kirk and crew, we could accept new actors for Solo, Skywalker, and Organa, and used writing and direction from the writers who have contributed to the EU and make a better movie. Ford and them should have made a new trilogy twenty years ago, and it would have been better off, besides, I think Ford just wants his chance at having Solo killed off as he originally did.

David Clarke
David Clarke

Nope... The article made me interested though.

Paul Gasca
Paul Gasca

That article does a good job of explaining why Thrawn is one of the best Star Wars characters but contains spoilers. Have you read any of Heir of the Empire?

MadMac topcommenter

Agreed. Admiral Thrawn was a GREAT antagonist and Timothy Zahn one of the better writers in the EU. I'd hoped Disney would strip mines Star Wars. There is great material, from the Young Jedi Order, (TV series?) to Karen Traviss' EXCELLENT Mandolorian/Clone Trooper books.    

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