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Who Is Thrawn: Ahsoka's Big Bad & Why She Is Trying To Stop Him Explained

If you've been keeping up with "The Mandalorian" and "Ahsoka," odds are you've heard the name Grand Admiral Thrawn. That's because the iconic "Star Wars" villain is not only name-dropped throughout Seasons 2 and 3 of "The Mandalorian," but is also at the center of "Ahsoka" Season 1's story. The latter Disney+ series has picked up where "Star Wars Rebels" left off by following Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) as they try to locate both Thrawn and the man responsible for his galactic exile, Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi).

Neither "The Mandalorian" nor "Ahsoka" have done much to explain who Thrawn is to casual "Star Wars" fans, though. As a result, some viewers may not know much about the villain. With that in mind, the first thing fans should know is that Thrawn does, indeed, pose a very big threat to the New Republic. The character, a blue-skinned, red-eyed Imperial Grand Admiral, is one of the smartest and most ruthless tacticians that has ever been featured in the "Star Wars" franchise.

A well-respected Imperial official, Thrawn is known not only for his strategic insight but also for his belief that the only way to defeat his enemies is to understand the cultures and histories of their peoples. During his military career, he earned the trust, loyalty, and fear of all of his fellow Imperials and is said to have been viewed by Emperor Palpatine himself as one of his most valuable followers. For all these reasons and more, Thrawn represents a major threat to the stability of a post-Empire galaxy, which is why Ahsoka is so desperate to prevent his return.

Grand Admiral Thrawn was exiled by Ezra Bridger

While he was originally created in the 1990s as an Expanded Universe character by author Timothy Zahn, Grand Admiral Thrawn was not officially brought into the "Star Wars" universe until he made his debut in the Season 3 premiere of "Star Wars Rebels." The character went on to become one of the animated series' primary antagonists. In fact, the series finale of "Star Wars Rebels" revolves almost entirely around Ezra Bridger and his friends' efforts to finally best Thrawn once and for all.

Fortunately, Ezra succeeds in doing just that. He uses his unique bond with the galaxy's purrgil, a race of flying whales with hyperspace capabilities, to launch a devastating surprise attack on Thrawn's Imperial fleet. In a tense standoff on the bridge of Thrawn's ship, Ezra even manages to trap the Imperial Grand Admiral in the nearby purrgils' tentacles. The young Jedi then stands by and allows both himself and Thrawn to be transported to an unknown destination by the purrgil. In "Ahsoka" Episode 2, it's revealed that Ezra and Thrawn were taken to a neighboring galaxy known as Peridea by the purrgil and that they've both been stranded there ever since.

That means Thrawn wasn't present for the Empire's defeat above Endor in "Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi," nor has he been around to try and stamp out the New Republic's efforts to reorganize the galaxy. Nonetheless, "Ahsoka" and "The Mandalorian" have both revealed just how integral Thrawn is to the Imperial Remnant's post-Empire plans. Fans already know that Thrawn will make his live-action debut in "Ahsoka" Season 1 as well.

Ahsoka may not be able to stop Thrawn's return

In case the events of "Ahsoka" Episode 4 hadn't already made it clear, Grand Admiral Thrawn's return is likely just around the corner. Indeed, the character is literally shown in several of the Disney+ series' original trailers. As a result, fans not only know that Thrawn will appear on-screen sometime very soon, but that he will be played by Lars Mikkelsen, who also voiced the animated version of the character.

What role he will serve in future "Star Wars" titles is less certain, though, Ahsoka Tano's decision to refer to him recently as the "Heir to the Empire" suggests that he'll end up being at the head of the Imperial Remnant's not-so-secret plans to retake control of the galaxy. "The Mandalorian" Season 3's Shadow Council scene essentially confirmed that Thrawn's surviving followers intend for him to lead them again. That same scene also revealed that — should he return — Thrawn will have even more resources at his disposal than "Star Wars" fans previously expected.

Additionally, it's worth noting that it was announced earlier this year that Dave Filoni is going to direct a New Republic-era "Star Wars" film that will wrap up the overarching stories of "The Mandalorian," "The Book of Boba Fett," and "Ahsoka." Taking that into account, Thrawn's long-rumored return could very well serve as the central event of the New Republic arc that has been ongoing since "The Mandalorian" premiered in 2019. While that'd be bad news for Ahsoka, Sabine, Hera (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and the rest of their rebel friends, too, it'd likely come as a welcome development among all the "Star Wars" fans who have been hungry for more Thrawn-centric stories.