Who Is Grand Admiral Thrawn? The Ultimate Guide

Looking for a rundown of what The Mandalorian's season two name-drop means for the Star Wars universe? We've got you covered.

Be advised: the following article contains spoilers for the second season of The Mandalorian, the animated series Rebels, and several extended universe audiobooks.

Whether you've been tuning in week-to-week or are readying yourself for a binge-watch, it's hard to believe we've already reached the finale of the second season of the Disney+ series, The Mandalorian. Full of twists, callbacks, and faces both new and familiar, season two has been a wild ride. It's difficult to pick a standout episode among the eight (especially when we ran into fan favorites like Boba Fett along the way), but "The Jedi"—which first aired November 27th—was something of a dream for longtime Star Wars fans.

For one, we finally discovered the name of the ever-mysterious, always-adorable Child popularly known as “Baby Yoda” (it’s Grogu!). The episode also marked the arrival of Ahsoka Tano, portrayed in live action by Rosario Dawson. Ahsoka’s reveal was dramatic, to say the least, as her signature dual white sabers cut through the smoke and mist of Corvus in an attempt to reach the city gates of Calodan for an audience with Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth. But as exciting as her appearance may have been, it was her final question to Elsbeth that left us on the edge of our seats: “Where is your master? Where is Grand Admiral Thrawn?”

Whether you're a casual fan who was left asking, "Wait...who is Grand Admiral Thrawn?" or a certified fanatic overjoyed at the very mention of the big blue bad, it's never a bad time for a quick refresher. We’ve compiled the best listens featuring Thrawn that offer key information on one of the most chilling villains in the entire franchise and an idea of what might be coming next. (And with the recently announced Disney+ Ahsoka series set to drop sometime in the next few years, it's safe to say that it's bound to be something big.)

Wait...who is Ahsoka Tano?

Hardcore fans first met Ahsoka Tano in animation more than a decade ago, when she appeared in The Clone Wars feature film, followed by turns in The Clone Wars and Rebels television series. As Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan, she earned the nickname “Snips” from her Master, due in large part to her snarky quips and occasionally irritable attitude—but in time, the Togruta Jedi grew to be a masterful Force wielder with a strong moral compass. After being framed for an act of terrorism, a disillusioned Ahsoka left the Jedi Order and sought new avenues for bringing peace to the galaxy, from working as a rebel informant (establishing code name “Fulcrum”) to battling her own fallen master—now the Sith Lord known as Darth Vader—in the crumbling ruins of a Sith temple.

If you’re looking for more background on Ahsoka, E.K. Johnston’s impeccable extended universe (EU) audiobook Ahsoka is essential, especially because it’s narrated by Ashley Eckstein, the beloved voice actress who first brought Ahsoka Tano to life in animation. Fans of Tano were delighted to learn that Dawson will be elevating her guest spot to a title role in Ahsoka, an upcoming live-action series that will take place during the same timeline as The Mandalorian and perhaps further chronicle the character's search for Thrawn.

Who is Grand Admiral Thrawn?

Grand Admiral Thrawn is a major antagonist who was first introduced in an EU novel that has since been removed from the Star Wars canon. In 2014, following Lucasfilm’s acquisition by Disney and prior to the release of the new sequel trilogy, the Star Wars timeline was revised and all novels and comics published previously were rendered “Legends.” One such series also houses one of the most popular villains in the universe. In the early 1990s, author Timothy Zahn published his first Thrawn trilogy, containing Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn trilogy follows franchise mainstays Luke and Leia Skywalker and Han Solo as they face off against Thrawn, the sole remaining Imperial Great Admiral who is determined to curtail the New Republic’s attempt at reestablishing peace and order in a newly freed galaxy.

Thrawn immediately captured the attention of fans, and with his royal blue Chissian skin, unnerving red eyes, and unparalleled capacity for calculated cruelty, he left a lasting impression. But ultimately (spoiler!), the series ends with Thrawn’s death, his attempt at restoring the Empire thwarted. Luckily for fans, the normal bounds of life and death don’t necessarily apply in the Star Wars universe. (Just ask Darth Maul or Sheev Palpatine.) The Grand Admiral was brought back for two additional novels in Zahn’s The Hand of Thrawn duology, which debuted in 1997.

Naturally, many fans feared that Thrawn was lost to the confines of a forgotten EU when the Star Wars canon was reestablished more than 10 years after the Great Admiral was first introduced. But Lucasfilm stayed true to their word that some Legends would, indeed, return: in 2016’s third season of Rebels, Thrawn was brought back into the fold. This time, we met Thrawn not at the end of the Galactic Civil War but at its beginning, a few years before the opening of 1977’s A New Hope. With the Rebellion’s forces mounting, the Empire calls upon the Seventh Fleet, a heavily armed group of warships commanded by the newly promoted Grand Admiral Thrawn. Exquisitely voiced with slick, unaffected coolness by actor Lars Mikkelsen in the television series, Thrawn proved a most compelling villain. Respectable, smart, and tactical, Thrawn was unlike any villain we’d encountered before.

Following the Grand Admiral’s reintroduction, it was only natural that the new extended literary universe would welcome him with open arms. In 2017, the sci-fi writer Timothy Zahn returned with the first title in a new Thrawn trilogy, set before his appearance on Rebels. Thrawn offered a new perspective on the character, tracing the origins of his power back to his earliest days as an exile in uncharted space. This listen allows for an even more nuanced understanding of the character’s background and motivations while highlighting the boundless degree of his ruthlessness and cunning. Zahn next released Thrawn: Alliances (which follows the Emperor’s pairing of Thrawn and Vader) and Thrawn: Treason (in which Thrawn weighs the significance of his abilities as a tactician in the emergence of the Death Star, a weapon with the power to destroy entire planets in one blast). If you’d like to dive even deeper, begin with the prequel to the prequel. Zahn’s most recent Star Wars release, Thrawn: Ascendancy kicks off a new trilogy and seeks to answer long-pondered questions about Thrawn’s home world and the Nine Ruling Families of the Chiss Ascendancy.

What's coming next?

So where does that leave Ahsoka? And what, exactly, does she want from Thrawn? The answers lie within the last canonical appearance of Thrawn, from the 2018 series finale of Rebels. At the conclusion of the series, our rebel heroes—Jedi Padawan Ezra Bridger (who has recently lost his father figure, Jedi Master Kanan Jarrus), Twi’lek pilot General Hera Syndulla, artistic Mandalorian Sabine Wren, gruff Lasat Zeb Orrelios, and temperamental droid Chopper—find themselves in a perilous fight to liberate the planet of Lothal from the Empire’s grip. In one of the final scenes of the series, Ezra traps Thrawn in the clutches of a purrgil (think part whale, part squid, part giant alien with the ability to travel lightyears at a time) in the command center of the Seventh Fleet’s flagship. After an emotional goodbye to his companions, Ezra knows that, in order to allow for the Rebellion's attack to continue as planned and for Thrawn to be eliminated as a galactic threat, he must ride along with the purrgil as they jump into hyperspace.

Unable to bear the loss of their friend and rebel comrade, Sabine and Ahsoka conclude the series on a cliffhanger of an epilogue, setting out together after the conclusion of the war with the Empire to find Ezra and bring him home. For the past two years, we’ve been left to dwell on the possibilities of where their journey may have taken them and what they may have found along the way. But Ahsoka’s revelatory demand in her appearance in The Mandalorian leaves even more questions to be resolved: Does her crossing paths with Mando take place before or after the Rebels finale epilogue? If set after, where is Sabine Wren at this point in time? And if Thrawn has found his way back, where does that leave Ezra?

While we wait for those answers and bide our time until we might just (finally!) get a glimpse at a live action Thrawn, it’s the perfect time to revisit some of the excellent listens in the Star Wars universe—both canonical and legendary. Try one of the picks above or wade into our list of the 20 best Star Wars audiobooks of all time. Or, if all the buzz about Thrawn has you ready to watch (or rewatch!) Rebels in its entirety, be sure to check out A New Dawn, a prequel to the show written by John Jackson Miller (of Kenobi fandom fame) that, like all of the Thrawn series and much of the Star Wars audio universe, is expertly narrated by Marc Thompson.


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