If you ask people who the most well-known Legends character is, you’ll probably get one of a few common answers: Mara Jade, Revan, Starkiller, Jacen or Jaina Solo. Probably the most well-known antagonist (if not the best antagonist) from the Legends universe is Grand Admiral Thrawn, aka Mitth’raw’nuruodo, created by Timothy Zahn for the first post-Return of the Jedi novel Heir to the Empire. Thrawn did not survive his eponymous trilogy, but his legacy lived on in other novels and games. Perhaps it’s because he was one of the first breakout Legends characters, perhaps it’s because he wasn’t a Force user, perhaps it’s because of his similarities to Sherlock Holmes — whatever the reason, Thrawn struck a chord with many readers. Even though he’s now a “Legend,” the Thrawn trilogy is still considered some of the best in the Expanded Universe. And many people have asked to see him make the jump to the new canon.
Spoilers for Aftermath: Life Debt under the cut.
When Aftermath was released last September, speculation ran rampant about the identity of the mysterious Fleet Admiral. Many people believed/hoped/assumed it was Thrawn. Now that Aftermath: Life Debt is out, we know that the Fleet Admiral is in fact not Thrawn, but a new character named Gallius Rax. I call Rax Not!Thrawn, because they share characteristics while having Rax be his own character. This is true of the entire new canon, really — there’s a lot of similarities with Legends while still allowing the new canon to be its own story.
I admit, I was one of the people hoping Thrawn was the Fleet Admiral. If only because I’m still a Legends fan at heart and miss my favorite characters, even while I love the new canon. Thrawn is one of the few Legends characters I think would make the jump to new canon seamlessly without bringing along a lot of baggage. (Tycho Celchu is another of those Legends characters I pray to see in canon someday.) But I understand why using Thrawn in Life Debt might not have been a good idea. It might have been too similar to the events of the Thrawn Trilogy, the best-known post-Jedi story.
However, there’s another place Thrawn could be effectively used — the animated series Star Wars Rebels. How awesome would it be for Thrawn to make the jump from Legends to canon in an entirely new medium? We could see him in action. Hear his voice. It makes sense for the story, too: the show is in need of new antagonists now that the Inquisitors have been dispatched. Agent Kallus seemed to be having a crisis of conscience last time we saw him. Other well-known antagonists, like Tarkin and Vader, are busy elsewhere. Who better to send against the Ghost crew and the fledgling Rebel Alliance than brilliant military tactician Grand Admiral Thrawn?
The Clone Wars was not shy about incorporating Legends material, and Rebels has followed in that trend. Dave Filoni is familiar with the Expanded Universe and using a beloved character like Thrawn seems like exactly something he would do. Let not forget the final Rebels Recon for Season 2 noted that Season 3 would be more military focused, with more recognizable elements from the Rebel Alliance, and then there are these comments from Filoni:
“Something big is gonna happen that I think people really really want, and I know that I’ve wanted it for awhile and we figured out a way to do it. It’s a very important moment in Star Wars and and a very important moment for Star Wars fans. Long-time, die-hard Star Wars fans. So that’s going to be something and you will definitely learn more about that at Celebration coming it, because I’m going to talk about it specifically.”
And, of course, there was his tweet heard ’round the internet, in which he reminded everyone that “there’s always a bit of truth in Legends” and included a picture of a Star Wars book spine.
— Dave Filoni (@dave_filoni) May 28, 2016
There’s other options besides Thrawn, of course. Filoni could be trolling everyone. Rebels could be using a different character, like Mara Jade or Revan. While I’d love to see Mara in the new canon, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. She has too much baggage as Luke’s wife and a future Jedi. Revan doesn’t have as much baggage, and I could see Filoni using him eventually (especially with the way “Twilight of the Apprentice” ended), but it doesn’t jive with the statements about Season 3’s military focus. The fact that Thrawn seems so obvious is probably points against it being him, but it’s not like Rebels hasn’t done the obvious before. (Cough Fulcrum Cough.)
Why use Thrawn instead of a new character? That’s a good question, especially in light of Aftermath‘s Fleet Admiral. Personally, I think it would be very cool to use Thrawn, although I know a lot of people would worry about him being “ruined”. I’d worry the same thing about Mara Jade. But to me it seems really hard to mess up someone like Thrawn. In all the books he appeared in, we never actually got inside his head. Zahn always wrote his scenes from another character’s perspective. All you really need is a brilliant military commander with a zen for art — and of course you have to make him Chiss. (Note that originally Kallus was supposed to be a Chiss.) He doesn’t even need to be a Grand Admiral at this point in the timeline (although I think it would be a plus). And he can analyze Sabine’s art! Imagine a conversation between the two of them!
Lucasfilm doesn’t owe Legends fans anything, of course, but there’s no denying that Legends kept the Star Wars universe alive when no other content was being produced. Many people who work at Lucasfilm, like Filoni, are fans of Legends. And using Thrawn in Rebels would be a neat goodwill gesture to fans of the Legends universe.
Hopefully, the Rebels panel at Celebration Europe this Saturday will reveal the answers we’ve been looking for. If not, I’ll continue to argue that Thrawn needs to be in Rebels — right alongside Wedge Antilles and Rae Sloane.