A Beloved Star Wars Book May Reveal the Next Big Villain's Shocking Scheme

The expanded universe strikes back.

The Katana Fleet in the 'Heir to the Empire' comics adaptation.
Lucasfilm/Dark Horse Comics/Marvel

What is Grand Admiral Thrawn planning? In the upcoming Star Wars series Ahsoka, it looks like we’ll focus on figuring out the machinations of the stoic, art-loving Imperial baddie. In the trailer for the Disney+ series, a new Dark Jedi-ish character, Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), wonders, “What happens when we find Thrawn?” But what if we already know?

A quick look back to the Expanded Universe Star Wars books of the 1990s could hold the key to what Thrawn is up to in Ahsoka. And, once you look at the specifics, it might solve the show’s mysteries.

In the current Star Wars canon, the last chronological sighting of Thrawn before Ahsoka was at the end of Rebels, shortly before the events of Rogue One and A New Hope. At that point, he was a major player in the Empire, waging multiple campaigns against the fledgling Rebel Alliance with his unique, cold, Holmesian approach to military tactics. But then, thanks to Ezra Bridger and the space whales known as Purrgil, Thrawn and his ship were sucked away via hyperspace, lost in the galaxy's Outer Regions.

As far back as Mandalorian Season 2, fan theories have conflated Ahsoka’s search for Thrawn with her and Sabine’s search for Ezra Bridger, which was set up in the Rebels series finale. But in Ahsoka, it seems that other people — notably mysterious orange lightsaber-wielding folks Shin and Baylan are also looking for Thrawn. And, of course, Ahsoka has said in all the trailers that Thrawn is hoping to come back as “heir to the Empire,” a nod to the Timothy Zahn Star Wars novel of the same name that’s now non-canonical. Furthermore, Mandalorian Season 3 made it clear that the person secretly herding all the Imperial Warlords wasn’t Moff Gideon, but Thrawn.

Thrawn’s plan explained

If Thrawn is trying to stage a big Imperial comeback roughly five or six years after the Empire’s defeat in Return of the Jedi, how will he do it? In the Thrawn Trilogy of novels — Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command — Thrawn’s approach to knocking the New Republic out of power was threefold. First, he needed at least one Dark Jedi to help even the odds during big space battles. Back then, “Sith” wasn’t in mainstream canon, so Dark Jedi was used instead. To that end, Thrawn had an insane clone Jedi named Joruus C'baoth. Thrawn also surrounded himself with force-dampening creatures called Ysalamiri, which were made canon in Rebels.

Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) is ready to issue commands.


Finally, and most crucially, Thrawn needed a lot of ships. Remember how Palpatine suddenly and nonsensically had a whole bunch of Star Destroyers and tons of people to operate them in The Rise of Skywalker? Dark Force Rising took a different approach. In it, we learned of the Katana Fleet, an armada of dreadnaughts that could largely be operated remotely. No crew, no problem.

If the Empire is on the ropes in the Ahsoka timeframe, and Thrawn is planning a comeback, the Katana Fleet could be his ace in the hole, just like it was in Zahn’s books. In the trailer, Baylan (Ray Stevenson) says finding Thrawn will lead to “Power. Such as you never dreamed.”

As fans have pointed out, trailer imagery makes it seem like Baylan and other characters are accessing the time-skipping “World Between Worlds,” which would make sense since Ahsoka is alive because of that realm. But what if the trailer is being sneaky? Sure, the World Between Worlds will likely still appear in Ahsoka, but what if Baylan and Shin are talking about the ghostly Katana Fleet? And if you substitute Baylan and Shin for Joruus C’baoth, you’ve already got part of Thrawn’s equation. Now all we need is for him to show up with some anti-force lizards on his shoulder and a robot fleet as his command.

Star Wars: Ahsoka hits Disney+ on August 23, 2023.

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