Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of those Star Wars characters that most fans have never heard of. Despite never appearing in the movies, he is one of the most prolific non-Sith villains the galaxy has ever known. Now that Star Wars is moving into a new phase after the "Skywalker Saga," perhaps it's time to dive deeper into a canonical character with so much non-canon backstory to pull from.
A Thrawn movie appearance has long been speculated. Just in the run-up to The Rise of Skywalker, Matt Smith and Richard E. Grant were both suggested as possibly playing Thrawn. That of course didn't pan out, but the question remains: Why hasn't there been a Thrawn movie appearance? Why hasn't there been a Thrawn movie?
For the uninitiated, Mitth'raw'nuruodo, commonly known as Thrawn, was a Chiss Imperial official best known for being a terrifying military strategist. He was a creation of Timothy Zahn, who wrote an entire trilogy of Thrawn novels, now rendered "Legends" and therefore non-canon.
Luckily, Dave Filoni, master of incorporating Legends characters into the official storyline, introduced Thrawn as a major antagonist of Star Wars: Rebels, the animated series set in between the events of the prequels and the original trilogy. Zahn was also brought back to write a new, in-canon novel trilogy, simply called Thrawn.
In Rebels, Thrawn served as a villain throughout the third and fourth season, and in the series finale he and the show's hero, young Jedi Ezra Bridger, were tossed into hyperspace clutched in the grip of a purrgil (giant space whales that travel at hyperspeed). This seems like a death sentence for both him and Ezra, but Filoni later said in a behind-the-scenes YouTube video they survived the trip somehow, so Thrawn remains to loom over the Rebellion in the future.
As a Chiss (a near-human alien from the planet Csilla), Thrawn can't be Force-sensitive: that power, known as the Sight, only appears in female Chiss. Instead, his success in the Empire is entirely due to his knowledge of military strategy. Thrawn was meticulous about researching and understanding the enemy in order to defeat them. He even collected the art of Rebel fighter Sabine Wren, believing her to be a talented artist — despite being his enemy.
In battle he led his battalions with almost surgical precision, using the knowledge of his enemies to predict their next move and stay one step ahead. There's no trick to it, he simply does the hard work and learns how his enemies tick, which is perhaps even scarier than Force lightning.
Legends purists may say we should be happy with the canon inclusion we've been given, but there's so much untapped potential. A supergenius but not Force-sensitive villain in a major Star Wars movie would turn what has always been a very Sith vs. Jedi story at its core into something far more complex, a political sci-fi thriller.
Sure, one could argue he's just Palpatine's foot soldier, but he's more than intimidating in his own right, from his blue skin and piercing red eyes to his appreciation for the finer things, especially art. He's much like a successor to the Empire leaders before him: genius, posh, and very scary.
When would this movie take place? Well, in the Star Wars movie timeline, there's a glaring gap in the story of the Empire: how they evolved from Galactic Empire to New Order in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin. The Mandalorian covers a bit of this, showing Empire Moffs 5 years after the Battle of Yavin, but the specifics of the power structure of the post-Darth Vader Star Wars galaxy are woefully unexplored.
Yes, Thrawn was incorporated into Rebels, but what's the point canonizing a character if you're not going to fully incorporate their rich story? Especially when that story comes from some of the most beloved Legends novels. Even if a hypothetical movie isn't a direct adaptation, Star Wars has a ready-made supervillain ready to go, all that's needed is a dip into the archives.