The most recent episode of Disney+’s Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, entitled “The Jedi”, marked the first live-action appearance of a beloved character from the franchise’s animated shows: Ahsoka Tano, played here by Rosario Dawson. And as if it wasn’t enough for fans to finally see an in-the-flesh Ahsoka wielding her twin lightsabers, going head to head with a Mandalorian, and providing greater insight into the whole deal with Baby Yoda, she also dropped a pretty huge name which is certain to have some serious consequences throughout the rest of the show.
In her final scene of the episode, Tano reveals that the bad guy she’s been hunting—who many viewers may have assumed to be Giancarlo Esposito’s Gideon—is none other than Grand Admiral Thrawn. This name may have drawn some blank looks from viewers who are only familiar with live-action Star Wars, but to fans of the animated shows and comic books, it’s a very big deal.
Thrawn is a member of a blue-skinned, red-eyed alien race known as the Chiss, who has proved a highly dangerous enemy, having worked alongside Darth Vader himself. Notable for being one of very few alien officers in the Imperial Fleet (which, unlike the Rebel Alliance, isn’t exactly known for its diversity), Thrawn was around for the formation of the Galactic Empire, and helped to found the First Order. In addition to a keen tactical mind, Thrawn stands apart from his peers due to his willingness to actually learn about his enemies in order to better understand them; for instance, he has studied the history of the Jedi and the Mandalorians.
Thrawn was first introduced way back in 1991, in the spinoff novel Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, it followed Thrawn’s plans to use the remaining Imperial forces to retaliate against the Rebels. He continued to serve as a major villain in the books Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future.
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While the continuity of these novels is no longer official Star Wars canon, Thrawn more recently made his appearance in the franchise’s small-screen universe as an antagonist in Star Wars Rebels, as well as tie-in comics and a new set of books by Zahn. He has a slightly different backstory in these narratives, and it is likely this is the version of the character audiences can expect to see in The Mandalorian, following this week’s cameo by Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who originated in the animated show The Clone Wars and also appeared in Rebels.
However, with multiple additional spinoff shows planned focusing on other characters like Ahsoka and Obi-Wan, it’s possible that this mention of Thrawn was a mere Easter egg for Mandalorian viewers, and that he may not make an in-person appearance until much later on in the increasingly sprawling Star Wars TV universe. But when he eventually does, you’d better believe it will be memorable.
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