Warning: this is the way towards major spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2, episode 5 – stop here if you haven't seen the episode!
With the apparent death of Emperor Palpatine and the actual death of Darth Vader, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Empire was finished come the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. However, The Mandalorian has revealed that the Imperial legacy survived – through both Moff Gideon and, as it turns out, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Towards the end of Chapter 13, we found out that Ahsoka Tano is on the hunt for the Imperial, last seen in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. While we didn’t get to find out where the Grand Admiral is, we do at least know he’s still out there – and probably coming back.
Who is Grand Admiral Thrawn?
The blue-skinned character made his first appearance in the old Legends continuity of Star Wars, which was made non-canon after Disney bought LucasFilm and started their own continuity. However, Thrawn wasn’t gone long, soon making a reappearance in novels written by his original creator Timothy Zahn.
Real name Mitth'raw'nuruodo, Thrawn was in charge of taking out the Rebels in Lothal. He personally met the Emperor and worked with Darth Vader – and, before that, he clashed with Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. He's famous for his strategic brilliance and is a calm and surprisingly polite villain.
When have we seen Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars before?
Thrawn’s entrance to the new Star Wars canon was in Zahn’s trilogy of novels, starting in 2017. They charted the Grand Admiral’s past, including how he was found in the Outer Rim, and his rise to power through the ranks of the Imperial Navy.
The character then reappeared in the animated Rebels series, going up against the young Jedi Ezra Bridger and his friends. Eventually, Ezra was able to stop Thrawn by sending the two of them into hyperspace. The pair of them were on board the Chimera ship and took a bunch of Purrgil – a giant, space-whale style race of creatures – with them. Their eventual location is still unknown.
Before that, Thrawn has a history with Mandalore as he was involved in suppressing an uprising caused by Sabine Wren – though via hologram only. A Beskar-destroying weapon Sabine created was being used against her own Clan in the battle, and Thrawn encouraged the Governor of Mandalore to kidnap Sabine to better understand exactly how it worked.
In the Legends continuity, which is no longer part of the Star Wars lore, Thrawn had the same tactical skill as his canon counterpart. Interestingly, he had a plan to return after his death through a clone, just like Palpatine in the Sequel trilogy – though the Grand Admiral's double was destroyed.
How is Grand Admiral Thrawn connected to Ezra Bridger?
Rebels ended with Ahsoka Tano and Sabine heading off together to track down Ezra. Since Ahsoka is now on the hunt for Thrawn, it’s possible that her path to the Grand Admiral could also lead to the missing Jedi making his own appearance in The Mandalorian.
In fact, Ahsoka was once rescued from a fight with Darth Vader by Ezra reaching her from the future, and he told her to find him when she returned. Ashoka slipped into another dimension, explaining how she missed the events of the original trilogy, but eventually made her way back by the end of Return of the Jedi – which is when she sets off with Sabine to track down her Jedi friend.
Considering Ezra is missing somewhere unknown, there's a chance he’ll be one of the Jedi that Ahsoka is hoping will hear Baby Yoda (aka Grogu) through the Force from the planet Tython. Other possibilities include Luke Skywalker, Cal Kestis, or another character we haven’t yet met.
In the meantime, check out our The Mandalorian season 2 release schedule to make sure you don’t miss the next episode, where more of this mystery will hopefully be unravelled.