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The Untold Truth Of Grand Admiral Thrawn

For diehard Star Wars fans, Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the most recognizable bad guys in the entire franchise, with red eyes against blue skin and analytical skills setting him apart from your typical Star Wars villain. Thrawn originally started off as the main baddie in author Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy series of books in the '90s, squaring off against the likes of Luke, Leia, and Han in the aftermath of Emperor Palpatine's death. While the trilogy was deemed to be non-canon in the wake of Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, Thrawn clawed his way back from oblivion, making his first onscreen appearance in Star Wars: Rebels and returning to the official franchise canvas once again. 

Although Rebels details Thrawn's exploits against the early rebellion, it covers little else. Luckily for us, the trilogy of novels under the umbrella Star Wars: Thrawn (also written by Zahn) explains how he came to serve the Empire, where he's from, and what his ultimate goals were. These details can hopefully shed light on what Thrawn did after Rebels — and why Ahsoka Tano is hunting him in season two of The Mandalorian. With all that in mind, here's a look at the untold truth of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Spoilers follow!

The Chiss

Although Grand Admiral Thrawn is the main villain of Star Wars: Rebels for two of its four seasons, precious little is revealed in the show about Thrawn's origins. However, the Star Wars: Thrawn novels plug the gap nicely, revealing much about Thrawn's people, the Chiss. 

The Chiss are a race of people living in the unknown regions, an area which was filled with various space obstacles such as black holes, allowing them to largely remain hidden from outsiders. However, this isolation was a double-edged sword, as they lacked access to technologies such as navigation computers to traverse the dangers of the area in which they lived. Fortunately for the Chiss, some of their young can be gifted with a strong connection to the Force, giving them the ability to chart safe courses through the unknown regions. However, the Chiss rarely if ever ventured out of their home area because they were governed by the ruling body known as the Chiss Ascendancy, which further isolated them from the rest of the galaxy by enacting policies to prevent their discovery. 

Thrawn's birth name was actually Kivu'raw'nuru, but because of his distinguished service in the Chiss military, he had his name changed to "Mitth'raw'nuru" as a sign of respect, which is how he ended up with the shortened name Thrawn. Thrawn earning a new name from the Chiss military shows that, above all else, he is loyal to the Chiss Ascendancy and his people — a loyalty which would be tested in future battles.

The Grysk Hegemony

While the Chiss were one of the species living in the unknown regions, they were far from alone — and their biggest threat was the alien race known as the Grysk. 

Known for being warlike, the Grysk have the ability to employ a form of mind control against their enemies, compelling them to do their bidding. The Grysk are ruled by a Hegemony very similar to the Galactic Empire in makeup, with the biggest similarity between the two governments being their desire to expand their influence. However, where the Empire we see in the Star Wars saga lasts for a relatively brief period of time, and had to deal with the end and beginning of two civil wars, the Grysk were established early enough that they were able to monitor the Clone Wars, indicating their ambitions were planned out for some time. While the Grysk had plans for expansion, they had to go through their sworn enemies — the Chiss — to realize their goals. The Chiss Ascendancy realized this, and sought allies in order to fight the Grysk — a task eventually given to Captain Thrawn. He had his work cut out for him: With their mind control abilities and plans to eliminate the Chiss, the Grysk were clearly a force to be reckoned with

Working with Anakin Skywalker

Eventually, Thrawn was sent by the Chiss Ascendancy into the Outer Rim to determine if the Republic could be trusted to eventually fight with the Chiss against the Grysk Hegemony. His travels led him to the planet of Batuu, where he encountered Anakin Skywalker, who was searching for the missing Senator Amidala. Thrawn and Skywalker agreed to help each other, with Thrawn helping Skywalker on his mission and Skywalker informing Thrawn of the finer details of the Republic. While the two failed to locate the missing Senator, they did discover a Separatist factory creating droids with a rare metal known as cortosis. When Skywalker attempted to use his lightsaber to destroy them, it failed to cut through the droids — rather, their cortosis armor blocked his lightsaber, similar to the way the Mandalorian's beskar armor blocked Ahsoka's lightsabers. This surprising setback resulted in Thrawn's and Skywalker's capture.

Thrawn and Skywalker part ways

Luckily for the duo, Senator Amidala was conducting a separate infiltration mission, and managed to free them. Around the same time, Chiss reinforcements were sent to Batuu, along with orders for Thrawn to help them capture a shield generator. Thrawn, with his loyalty to the Chiss coming above all else, complied with the order, but sent his troops to help Skywalker destroy the droid factory after they captured the generator. 

With both their missions successful, Skywalker taught Thrawn more about how the Republic worked, fulfilling his end of their bargain. Although Thrawn had come to respect Skywalker, he deduced from what he learned that the Republic could not be trusted to fight the Grysk, and Skywalker and Thrawn both departed Batuu. This was the only time the two would meet prior to the rise of the Empire: when they next encountered each other, Thrawn was working for the Empire, and Skywalker had completed his fall to the dark side of the Force and become Darth Vader.

Working for the Empire

Thrawn's loyalty to the Chiss was above all else. So how and why did he come to serve the Empire? The why is surprisingly simple: the Chiss Ascendancy needed to determine whether the Empire could help them defeat the Grysk Hegemony, so they ordered Thrawn to join the Imperial military. Their plan was that he would either convince the Empire to stand with the Chiss against the Grysk, or manipulate events such that the Grysk would attack the Empire first, giving the Chiss more time to prepare.

The how is a bit more complicated. To help convince the Empire he had nowhere else to go, Thrawn faked his exile. Then he chose a world he knew the Empire would eventually explore and he waited. Once the Empire came to the planet, he slowly and methodically picked off their scouting party, eventually forcing their retreat. Thrawn took this opportunity to sneak aboard an Imperial ship and allowed himself to be captured. Once on board, he told his "story" to the ranking officers. Impressed with his tactical skills, they brought him before Emperor Palpatine. 

Thrawn was able to use his past experience with Skywalker to gain the Emperor's favor. Although Thrawn didn't receive any guarantees, Palpatine did agree to consider helping the Chiss if Thrawn served the Empire faithfully. Although Thrawn did ultimately swear allegiance to the Empire and Palpatine, every action he took to get to the Emperor proved that his loyalty to the Chiss remained undimmed.

Alliance with Arihnda Pryce

While Thrawn held up his end of the deal to serve the Empire faithfully, his methods put him at odds with some high-ranking Imperial officials. In order to protect himself from the threat of a court-martial, he attended several parties held by powerful members of the Empire. At one such party, Thrawn came into contact with Arihnda Pryce, an ambitious government employee. Although nothing significant occurred in their first meeting, their connection would prove to be mutually beneficial. When Pryce was blackmailed by a rival, Thrawn gave her valuable advice to turn the tables. This advice allowed her to thwart her blackmailer and become governor of the Lothal Sector.

Some time later, Pryce and Thrawn worked together on a military campaign to crush a small group of rebels on the planet Batonn. Pryce was responsible for a large amount of civilian casualties, which outraged Thrawn. He initially planned on reporting Pryce's misdeeds to the Imperial Security Bureau, but was convinced otherwise when Pryce offered to get Thrawn promoted to Grand Admiral — a ranking Thrawn understandably coveted, as it would allow him to better proceed with his primary mission for the Chiss. Pryce's offer was conditional upon Thrawn bringing his fleet to the Lothal system to deal with the rebel cell known as Phoenix Squadron, which Thrawn agreed to do. Although Thrawn allowed Pryce to walk free, he was able to continue his primary mission: convince the Empire to fight with the Chiss against the Grysk.

Hunting down Phoenix Squadron

Thrawn started his war against Phoenix Squadron almost immediately after receiving his promotion to Grand Admiral. Although he had an opportunity to destroy the rebel ship Ghost, along with the Jedi Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus, during a raid at Recklam station, Thrawn let them go in order to reel in a much larger prize: the location of Phoenix Squadron's hidden base. 

In order to better understand how the rebels operated, Thrawn spent much of his time analyzing their past and their strategies. Thrawn's almost religious study of all things Phoenix Squadron paid big dividends when he recognized some distinctive artwork on the helmet of a supposed "bounty hunter" Imperial Agent Kallus captured. After deducing the bounty hunter was in fact Ezra Bridger, Thrawn realized Kallus was a double agent. He allowed him to continue operating as one until he made his next transmission to the rebel base. Thrawn then tracked the transmission to the planet of Atollon and launched an all-out assault, defeating and scattering the rebels. His efforts to capture them, however, were thwarted by a creature known as the Bendu. After being shot down, the Bendu foretold Thrawn's ultimate defeat would be "like many arms, surrounding him in a cold embrace." Although Thrawn was victorious over Phoenix Squadron in the short term, the Bendu's words would come back to haunt him.

Grysk encounters

Shortly after defeating the rebels on Atollon, Thrawn was ordered by Palpatine to accompany Darth Vader to investigate a disturbance in the force on Batuu — the same planet on which Thrawn and Skywalker first met. The two located and captured a band of mysterious aliens, who turned out to be the mortal enemies of the Chiss — the Grysk. 

After ascertaining the location of their base, Thrawn and Vader led an assault and, after defeating the Grysk, located the source of the disturbance Palpatine felt: Force-sensitive Chiss children, whom the Grysk had captured in order to make them serve as navigators. Although Vader wanted the children eliminated, Thrawn assured Vader the Force-sensitive Chiss would pose no threat to him, since their connection to the Force grew weaker when they reached adulthood. After rooting out the remaining Grysk forces and rescuing more Chiss children, Thrawn was able to return them to the Chiss Ascendancy; however, he learned the Chiss were heading toward a civil war, with the Grysk backing one of the Chiss factions. Thrawn then reasoned that, since the Grysk were attempting to capture navigators, it was likely that they were preparing to eliminate the Chiss so they could expand into the Empire. While Thrawn continued to serve the Empire in the aftermath of the incident, the actions he took to rescue his people and eliminate the Grysk made it crystal clear where his true loyalties still were.

The TIE-Defender

In order to curry favor with Palpatine and convince him to help the Chiss against the Grysk, Thrawn decided to develop a weapon which could ensure the Empire's stability for years to come. He chose to improve the Imperial ship known as the TIE fighter by giving it more firepower, a hyperdrive, and a shield capable of absorbing regular starfighter projectiles. 

The Rebel Alliance viewed this new TIE fighter, dubbed the TIE Defender, as a threat, since none of their X-wing craft had the firepower to deal with its enhanced capabilities. As a result, a raid was authorized on Lothal, where the nuts and bolts of the project were located. The attack was an abject failure, with nearly every rebel pilot killed and their leader, Hera Syndulla, captured. With his factory safe, Thrawn was informed of a new threat to his TIE Defender project: Project Stardust, a.k.a. the Death Star. Although Thrawn's project had the Emperor's support, Stardust was much more expensive, leading Thrawn to meet with Palpatine personally on Coruscant. Unfortunately, Thrawn's journey to meet with Palpatine proved to be the end of his project, as Governor Pryce blew up all of the fuel for the TIE Defenders while killing the Jedi Kanan Jarrus. 

The end of the TIE Defender project had major implications, as it caused Palpatine to continue with the Death Star. It was also a massive blow for Thrawn, as his avenue of gaining favor with the Emperor was closed off to him. The loss of the TIE Defender not only affected the course of the Empire, but also Thrawn's goal of saving the Chiss.

Thrawn's defeat

Following the loss of the TIE Defender project, Thrawn was ordered by the Emperor to crush the rebellion on Lothal and capture the young Jedi Ezra Bridger. Thrawn, eager to regain favor with the Emperor to help save his people, brought the might of the Seventh Fleet to bear, threatening to blow up the capital city unless the Jedi surrendered. After ensuring Bridger was in the hands of the Emperor — holographically, at least — Thrawn returned to the bridge of his capital ship, the Chimaera, and ordered the fleet to bombard the planet. The shelling of the capital did nothing, however, as the rebels on the ground managed to raise a planetary shield. 

Although Thrawn had sent his bodyguard, Rukh, to keep the shield offline, the rebels managed to fight off the Imperial forces and ensure the planetary shield's functionality. Upon hearing of the death of Rukh, Bridger entered the bridge and demanded Thrawn's surrender. Although Thrawn was still planning on continuing the fight, he was forestalled by the arrival of Purgil — large space dolphins capable of lightspeed. The Purgil completely decimated the entirety of his fleet, with one Purgil smashing into the bridge of the Chimaera and wrapping its tendrils around Thrawn, fulfilling the Bendu's vision of Thrawn's defeat. The Purgil then jumped to lightspeed, flinging both Bridger and Thrawn to an unknown destination in space, and completely destroying any hope Thrawn had of bringing the Empire to save his people.

The Mandalorian

Prior to season two of the Mandalorian, it was presumed that both Thrawn and Bridger had perished when the Purgil jumped to lightspeed, as the windows of the ship's bridge were smashed in, exposing everyone on board to the typically fatal effects of being plunged into open space. Apparently, however, at least Thrawn managed to survive his encounter with the Purgil — in the Mandalorian episode titled "The Jedi," Ahsoka Tano is seen hunting the Grand Admiral, waging war against a cruel authoritarian figure known as the Magistrate in an effort to obtain information as to his whereabouts. 

Although the episode doesn't reveal Ahsoka's reasons for hunting Thrawn, it's at least possible that she's doing so in an effort to find Ezra Bridger. Bridger was last seen with Thrawn, after all, and the closing shot of Rebels shows Sabine Wren leaving with Ahsoka on a quest to find Ezra. When you consider that Star Wars: Rebels co-creator Dave Filoni is an executive producer on The Mandalorian — and also directed "The Jedi" — a connection between the two stories seems even more likely.