Disney+’s Ahsoka has served as a re-introduction for one of the biggest non-Darth Vader villains in a galaxy far, far away. Grand Admiral Thrawn, who debuted in a series of novels only to then make the jump to animation in Star Wars Rebels, has served as the otherworldly villain for the series titular character and is poised to do the same for the galaxy at large going forward. But the issue of who Thrawn (short for Mitth’raw’nuruodo) is, and why he’s considered a villain worthy of the Heir to the Empire moniker cannot be understood without going into the character’s origins. From his introduction in the ’90s in Timothy Zahn’s novels to Filoni liking the character so much that he used him as an antagonist in Seasons 3 and 4 of Star Wars Rebels, Grand Admiral Thrawn has become one of Star Wars’ most iconic villains – and he’s done a lot to earn the distinction. Here’s why Ahsoka‘s Thrawn is called the Heir to the Empire in Star Wars.
Thrawn’s Heir to the Empire Moniker Comes from the Novels
The simple answer of why Thrawn is referred to as the Heir to the Empire comes from the series of novels that introduces the character, known as the Heir to the Empire trilogy. The trilogy sees Thrawn gather the remnants of the Imperial Fleet and face the New Republic – including Luke, Leia and Han. Thrawn being called Heir to the Empire is a nod to these novels and the character’s introduction, as in that series he essentially inherited the powerful group and attempted to resurrect it.
The novels, however, were made non-canon by Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, which means that what fans know about Thrawn from those novels isn’t necessarily true in the Star Wars continuity as of today. But Thrawn’s Star Wars Rebels history is. In the series, newly promoted Grand Admiral Thrawn is sent to deal with the rebel cell on the planet Lothal. In the show’s series finale, Ezra Bridger uses the Force to get the purrgil (really cool space creatures that can travel through hyperspace), to pull both him and Thrawn’s fleet to parts unknown.
But that’s not all we know about Thrawn’s past – not anymore. After his original Thrawn trilogy was made non-canon, Timothy Zahn came back to write two others: the Thrawn Trilogy and Thrawn Ascendency. Both trilogies serve as prequels to Thrawn’s appearance in Star Wars: Rebels and therefore are flexible enough to fit in with both the old and the new canon.
Heir to the Empire isn’t just the name of Timothy Zahn’s first Thrawn novel, it’s a phrase used to refer to Thrawn in the Ahsoka series. And considering the Grand Admiral isn’t just the villain during Ahsoka but likely Star Wars’s big bad going forward, we are probably going to phrase a lot more in the immediate future.
If you’re looking for more on the show, check out the devious Easter egg hidden on Baylan Skoll’s wrist in Ahsoka.