Star Wars: Ahsoka’s final episode leaves Thrawn’s fate in the air a little. But that wasn’t the case with his original Star Wars Expanded Universe appearance, which spanned a whole trilogy of books. If you’re wondering what happened to Thrawn in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, I’ve got the answer.
Where Grand Admiral Thrawn Originally Appeared
The character of Grand Admiral Thrawn was created by Timothy Zahn for his Heir to the Empire trilogy, which was published between 1992 and 1993. The trilogy, set some time after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, was declared non-canon after Disney bought Star Wars and relegated it, like the rest of the Expanded Universe, to Legends status. But the three books, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command were highly acclaimed — and rightly so.
Thrawn was eventually brought into Disney’s Star Wars universe, through Star Wars: Rebels though he wasn’t quite the same in that series. And Zahn wrote two new Thrawn trilogies, which are now Star Wars canon. But what made Thrawn such a great character, and what happened to him? If you’re planning on reading the original Thrawn trilogy, still available under the Legends banner, be warned, I’m going to get into spoilers here.
What Happened to Thrawn in the Star Wars Expanded Universe
Around five years after the death(ish) of Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Grand Admiral Thrawn returns from an expedition into the Unknown Regions. He takes control of the remaining Imperial forces, using his mastery of tactics to take on the New Republic. Apart from being a brilliant strategist, superior to even the Emperor, he’s able to cultivate loyalty instead of just fear. For example, when Luke Skywalker flies his X-Wing out of an exploding freighter, Thrawn promotes the subordinate who very nearly caught him. You know, instead of force-choking him. He’s building a different (though still evil) Empire.
Over the course of the trilogy, he allies himself with C’baoth, the clone of a Jedi master. He, in turn, commands a clone of Luke Skywalker called Luuke Skywalker. No, I’m not making this up. As great as the Heir to the Empire trilogy was, it had its issues. And it did introduce Force-sensitive badass Mara Jade who, after trying to kill him, would eventually marry Luke Skywalker.
Thrawn uses a fleet of clone-crewed Old Republic cruisers to conquer planet after planet. However, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Mara Jade strike back. They and the New Republic attack Thrawn’s shipyard and also succeed in crippling his cloning facilities. Luuke and C’baoth are killed.
Then, after learning that Thrawn had been instrumental in an attack on his people, Thrawn’s bodyguard Rukh kills him. Lacking Thrawn’s strategic genius, his second in command, Captain Pellaeon, orders the Imperial fleet to retreat.
And that’s what happened to Thrawn in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. He all but conquered the New Republic but was assassinated by the bodyguard he betrayed. Could that be his fate in Star Wars: Ahsoka? It’s possible, but I doubt he’s going to rise to the lofty heights of his Expanded Universe counterpart — not with a Disney+ budget.