Grand Admiral Thrawn

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Grand Admiral Thrawn
Star Wars character
Portrayed by

Robin Atkin Downes (Star Wars: Empire at War, Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption)
Tris King (Star Wars: TIE Fighter)

Tim Russell ("Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire"--audio drama)
Marc Thompson (voice actor) (Heir to the Empire--20th Anniversary Edition Unabridged audiobook)
Fictional profile
Species Chiss
Gender Male
Position Imperial Grand Admiral, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet
Homeworld Csilla
Affiliation Chiss Ascendancy
Galactic Empire
Empire of the Hand

Grand Admiral Thrawn (full name: Mitth'raw'nuruodo) is a fictional character and a major antagonist in the Star Wars universe. He first appeared in Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogyHeir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command — published between 1991 and 1993. In these books, set five years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Thrawn has assumed command of the remaining forces of the Empire and is planning to battle the New Republic. He has subsequently appeared in numerous other Expanded Universe works, including five more novels by Zahn.

Depiction[edit]

Grand Admiral Thrawn is described as a tall, solidly built humanoid with blue skin and glowing red eyes. Because of the Empire's policy of discrimination against non-humans, he is the only non-human to reach the Imperial Navy's highest rank – that of Grand Admiral. Thrawn's promotion is long kept secret by Emperor Palpatine, and at the beginning of the Thrawn series the New Republic appears to be entirely unaware of his identity, or even his existence. He is also the last Grand Admiral promoted by the Emperor; he earns the rank because of his instrumental role in stopping Grand Admiral Zaarin's attempted coup, receiving the late Zaarin's rank and position as a reward. As a Grand Admiral, he wears the white uniform befitting his rank. This is distinguished from the standard charcoal grey or olive colored uniforms that Imperial officers wore, as shown in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Zahn describes Thrawn's command style as considerably different from that of Darth Vader and other typical Imperial commanders; instead of punishing failure and dissent, Thrawn promotes creativity among his crew and accepts ideas from subordinates. He is a tactical genius who has made extensive study of military intelligence and art, and is willing to retreat instead of making a stand in a losing battle.

He is a brilliant military strategist and commands the remnants of the Imperial Fleet in a series of stunning victories against the New Republic. His study of his enemies' artwork gives him insight into their thought processes and cultures, allowing him to create highly effective tailor-made strategies.

Thrawn is his "core" name, reminiscent of the Scots word "thrawn", meaning "twisted or crooked". His full name is only known to a few select individuals of the Empire and the New Republic.

Pre-empire[edit]

Origin[edit]

Thrawn is a Chiss, a species of aliens from the Unknown Regions.

Chiss Expansionary Fleet[edit]

Thrawn rises to the rank of Commander in the Chiss Expansionary Fleet. He becomes convinced that the Chiss were facing a threat from an unknown but powerful foe and also from a nomadic race of slavers, known as the Vagaari. Aware of the risk posed by fighting a war on two fronts, he decides that it is necessary to launch a pre-emptive strike to destroy the Vagaari. Thrawn largely goes against the Chiss rule of non-aggression, repeatedly baiting his enemies to commit an act of aggression against the forces under his command, but colludes with Admiral Ar'alani (who had commanded the task force that fought off an initial incursion from the Far Outsiders) to eliminate the Vagaari to prevent a two-front war. Thrawn also captures a trio of smugglers, among them Jorj Car'das. His curiosity piqued, Thrawn keeps them around in order to learn more about them, including their culture and their language.

Outbound Flight Project[edit]

Palpatine was first alerted to Thrawn's tactical genius before the rise of the Empire, when the Sith Lord was still the Chancellor of the Republic. The Outbound Flight Project, a Jedi expedition into deep space, was to be intercepted and destroyed by Special Task Force One — a formidable squadron of Neimoidian and Techno Union combat vessels — under the direction of Darth Sidious; however, before this could occur, these elite Trade Federation forces were themselves ambushed and nearly annihilated by Thrawn's defense forces. Thrawn's smaller force exploited weaknesses in the communications system of the Task Force's droid fighters and deployed conner nets against the fighters and the Techno Union ships' missiles, turning fighters and missiles into weapons against their own host Task Force.

Sidious was represented on the scene by his trusted advisor Kinman Doriana, using the alias Commander Stratis. Doriana/Stratis was "secretly" serving both Sidious and Palpatine, himself unaware that they were one and the same. Stunned by Thrawn's victory and scrambling to survive both this encounter and the Sith Lord's wrath over his failure, Doriana decided to risk exposing his true name, agenda, and position within the Republic. He met privately with Thrawn, introducing him to Sidious via HoloNet in an attempt to convince Thrawn that the Jedi expedition could expose the Republic to a new alien threat Sidious had sensed at the edge of the galaxy. Thrawn knew of the alien species to which Doriana and Sidious referred, the Chiss having already encountered a small scout group of these "Far Outsiders" (the Yuuzhan Vong, though their identity is not revealed) and defeated them. With this new alien threat reinforced by Palpatine and Doriana, Thrawn agreed that allowing Outbound Flight to proceed as planned posed a danger, possibly to the Chiss as well as the Republic. Thrawn confronted Jedi Master and Outbound Flight Leader Jorus C'baoth and entreated him to avoid Chiss space and leave the galaxy in a different direction. C'baoth refused.

To defeat the formidable Jedi forces aboard Outbound Flight, Thrawn maneuvered around investigations of his activities by superior officers, and he conspired with his guest Jorj Car'das into luring the Vagaari, an aggressive nomadic species operating near Chiss space, into a double trap, for Outbound Flight and the Vagaari. Thrawn used a Vagaari gravity well generator (a weapon unknown in Chiss and Republic space until stolen by Thrawn from the Vagaari earlier in the book) to pull both the Vagaari fleet and Outbound Flight out of hyperspace at a point within the patrol area of Thrawn's Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet. Thrawn thought the Vagaari would find such a large, tempting vessel irresistible, and he was correct; the Vagaari immediately attempted to attack Outbound Flight. Thrawn's forces controlled the droid fighters remaining from the earlier Trade Federation engagement and used them to cripple the Vagaari fleet while that fleet also struggled against C'baoth's Jedi mind-meld attack.

Thrawn later maneuvered his vessels to a point within Outbound Flight's shields and destroyed the Dreadnaughts' weapons pods, where almost all of the Jedi were manning turbolasers. He wiped out nearly the entire Jedi population of the vessel in this one attack. Jorus C'baoth, having succumbed to the dark side, attacked Thrawn with the Force. Doriana, in a last-ditch effort to save Thrawn, threw a toggle switch on Thrawn's command chair, causing the droid fighters to stop attacking the Vagaari and instead perform suicide runs against Outbound Flight, and causing other fighters to penetrate the hulls of the Dreadnaught vessels with a lethal radiation weapon. These attacks weapons, which Thrawn had hoped to avoid using, killed almost the entire Outbound Flight population, nearly 50,000 individuals. Only a small group of people deep within the storage core survived. Thrawn was deeply saddened, as mass murder had never been part of his plan.

Exile[edit]

Thrawn was later exiled from Chiss society to an uninhabited planet. Many years later he was discovered by (then) Captain Parck. After seeing his unique tactical abilities, Captain Parck offered him a commission in the newly formed Imperial Navy, promising that in time Thrawn would be allowed to return with a force powerful enough to protect his people.

Thrawn and the Empire[edit]

Early Imperial career[edit]

Thrawn's early Imperial career has been described in several Star Wars stories. Thrawn was originally a Captain of the Victory-class Star Destroyer Stalwart and commanded several deep space expeditions. He was then promoted to Rear Admiral and Vice Admiral, respectively, and was in charge of a forward deployed fleet. He also played a hand in Research and Development.

In the Star Wars computer game TIE Fighter, an early campaign (Tour of Duty 3) showed how Thrawn established order in a "wild" system at the frontiers of the Empire. Thrawn foiled a coup attempt against the Emperor by the renegade Grand Admiral Zaarin with the aid of his top pilot Maarek Stele. Thrawn and Stele afterward helped to nullify Zaarin's TIE Defenders by developing the Missile Gunboat. As a result of his efforts, he was promoted to Grand Admiral. Although Thrawn and Zaarin were very much tactical equals, Thrawn eventually outsmarted and defeated his nemesis for good.

Opponents and Unknown Regions[edit]

Thrawn did have enemies within Imperial loyalist circles. Prince-Admiral Delak Krennel (who briefly collaborated with Ysanne Isard in X-Wing: Isard's Revenge) formerly served under Thrawn, but Krennel's career with the Imperial Navy was almost ruined after Thrawn dismissed him. Captain Dorja of the ISD Relentless was openly critical of Thrawn and Gilad Pellaeon, even when his Destroyer was part of Thrawn's personal squadron.

During the Dark Horse Star Wars comic, "The Making of Baron Fel", Baron Soontir Fel was an ace pilot with the 181st Imperial fighter division who distinguished himself during the ambush of a Rebel convoy. That operation was planned by Thrawn, although Darth Vader gave the orders. The Baron noted that "an alien (such as Thrawn) in such a high position of command was very unusual, given the Empire's extreme xenophobia. Perhaps due to xenophobia or the maneuvering of Isard, the Imperial intelligence director, Thrawn went unrewarded after the successful ambush."

Thrawn would become involved in Imperial court politics, as Mara Jade would later reminisce; all thought that his exile was due to his political defeat by Grand Admiral Rufaan Tigellinus. Actually, Palpatine and Thrawn together had planned his 'exile', with Palpatine quietly feeding him troops and ships to pacify the areas of the Unknown regions without anyone the wiser. After the Rebellion successfully dethroned the Empire at the Battle of Endor, Thrawn returned from the Unknown Regions. Thrawn assumed command of the Empire and took the Star Destroyer Chimaera as his command ship.

Heir to the Empire[edit]

Upon assuming command of the Empire, Thrawn immediately began to seek ways to destroy the Republic despite their numerical advantage. A data raid on Obroa-Skai provided the answer - Mount Tantiss, the late Emperor's storehouse, which contained a massive array of Spaarti Cloning cylinders, as well as a working cloaking shield. He also discovered something else - Joruus C'baoth, the clone of the Jedi Master he had killed aboard Outbound Flight. With the promise of new Jedi to mold as he pleased, Thrawn convinced C'baoth to aid them, coordinating the Imperial fleet as the Emperor had originally done.

While this put Thrawn in a strong position, he was confronted by the Imperial Navy's lack of ships. To this end, he raided the shipyards at Sluis Van with mole-miners stolen from Lando Calrissian, hoping to steal an array of unmanned warships docked in the system. He was thwarted by Calrissian who turned the mole miners against him. Despite this setback, he continued to prepare for the Mt Tantiss campaign, removing Ackbar, his most formidable opponent, via political intrigue. His dilemma over ships was soon solved when he discovered leads on the Katana fleet, a lost fleet of 200 Dreadnaught class Heavy Cruisers. While political intrigues on Coruscant delayed a Republic response, Thrawn seized all but 21 of the ships, and crewed them with his massive new army of clones.

Thrawn then launched his campaign. His tactical and strategic insight allowed him to score huge gains against the Republic (the New Essential Chrononlogy records that he added over a quarter of the galaxy to the Imperial's existing territory, allowing him control over half the galaxy). He would even blockade Coruscant with a subtle bluff that made them believe they were surrounded by invisible (cloaked) asteroids. However, Thrawn was at the same time being slowly undone. Princess Leia had managed to convince the Noghri, Thrawn's army of silent killers, of the Imperial treachery to keep them in servitude. At the same time he was engaged in a power struggle with C'baoth, who had declared himself the true ruler of the Empire, eventually consigning him to Mt Tantiss. The Republic sought to strike back by hitting the Imperial shipyards at Bilbringi, but Thrawn outguessed them and had his fleet waiting for them.

Thrawn was assassinated during the battle, at the end of The Last Command, the final novel in the Zahn trilogy. His bodyguard, Rukh, discovered the betrayal of the Noghri race by Darth Vader, the Emperor and Thrawn, and took vengeance against the only one he could, stabbing him aboard his flagship the Chimaera in the middle of the climactic Battle of Bilbringi. Thrawn's last words were simply: "But…it was so artistically done." With the cloning tanks at Mt Tantiss also destroyed, the Empire was left in full retreat once more.

About ten years later, Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade discovered that Thrawn had created a clone of himself, which would have awoken exactly a decade after Thrawn's defeat. While Skywalker and Jade debated the ethics of killing it, the fire of the security systems caused Jade to cut a hole in the wall bordering a lake, drowning the clone. It was later speculated by Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, after the events of Outbound Flight, that there was another Thrawn clone loose somewhere in the galaxy who had arranged the Vagaari attack in Chiss space at the remains of the Outbound Flight Project, so that the Chiss could be deliberately provoked into dealing with them once and for all. However, this theory remains unproven.

Thrawn and the Yuuzhan Vong[edit]

In the novel Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn, the Chiss knew of the Yuuzhan Vong long before the Republic or Empire. It was in fact then-Commander Thrawn's superior officer, Chiss Admiral Ar'alani, who had engaged a scout group of the species. This first encounter was concluded with a Chiss victory against the force, but Admiral Ar'alani noted that they had fought with an impressive ferocity.

During the Outbound Flight project, a Trade Federation task force dispatched by Darth Sidious to defeat Outbound Flight was intercepted and soundly defeated by Commander Thrawn. During the surrender of the remaining Republic forces, Thrawn was put in contact with Lord Sidious. Sidious had foreseen this new alien threat and saw it critical to prevent the large Jedi and Republic citizen populace from being captured and interrogated by the Vong. Such an occurrence would give the Vong a critical informational advantage over the Republic and the Chiss, perhaps throwing off chances of a successful defense against the alien species.

Thrawn was not oblivious to the threat this posed to his people. He required that Outbound Flight change course or be destroyed. Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth and the other Jedi aboard the Flight were oblivious to the threat known thus far only to the Chiss and the Sith. C'baoth at this time was also falling to the dark side, after assuming a dictatorial role over the Outbound Flight populace. He had become incredibly arrogant and was unable to see past his own pride and belief in his invincibility. C'baoth ignored Thrawn's peaceful request for them to simply leave the area and continue their journey on another course. And so Thrawn orchestrated Outbound Flight's defeat. This maintained the Chiss Ascendancy's protective isolation from both the Republic and Vong.

When Thrawn eventually returned to the Unknown Regions, having been made a Grand Admiral by Emperor Palpatine, he carved out a huge empire, going by the name Empire of the Hand. When Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker investigated Thrawn's personal fortress, they encountered the Imperial officer who had first brought Thrawn to the Empire - Admiral Voss Parck. Parck indicated that Thrawn's campaign against the Republic was not solely out of a personal desire to gain power, but to prepare the galaxy against a coming threat - likely the Vong. Later, after the rediscovery of the Outbound Flight remains, Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker speculated that part of the reason behind the Chiss desire for an excuse to wage war on the Vagaari was because the Vagaari had already made contact with the threat (probably the Yuuzhan Vong) and had allied with them.

Command style[edit]

Thrawn was considered a true warrior by those who served under him. If a battle Thrawn planned could not be won, Thrawn preferred not to waste troops and equipment in futile displays of power; he would withdraw and adjust his plans. He also encouraged Captain Gilad Pellaeon to voice his ideas, because, unlike many egotistical Imperial commanders, Thrawn could accept valid ideas even if they were not his own. Thrawn was not concerned with his own personal glory, only with winning the fight against the New Republic (which he refused to acknowledge as such, instead constantly referring to it as "the Rebellion").

Thrawn was more tolerant of the failures of those under his command than other Imperial officials, who were known for their lethal reaction to minor failures. Unlike Darth Vader in particular, Thrawn would not regularly terminate individuals under his command for "errors." Two examples of his command style involved tractor beam operators onboard his flagship Chimaera, in separate attempts to capture Luke Skywalker. In the first, tractor beam operator Cris Pieterson - an enlisted conscript - refused to accept responsibility for failing to capture Skywalker and referred Thrawn to his superior, Ensign Colclazure. In response, Thrawn had Pieterson executed while sparing the ensign, instructing him to train a replacement. Later, when Skywalker escaped a similar trap, an ensign named Mithel had tried an innovative solution in an attempt to capture him. Instead of having the man killed for failure, Thrawn recognized Mithel's initiative and promoted him to Lieutenant. This attitude further drove those that served him to both highly respect and fiercely stand by Thrawn.

Thrawn is known for a supremely unique command style. He would view the native art of a given species or planet to understand them better as a race or planet, and so too, gain insight into their military style. He believed the study of this art would give him an advantage in battle, since it provided him with information on the psyche of his opponents and informed him of their psychological blind spots. His immediate subordinate, Pellaeon, voices the opinion that Thrawn's analysis of art was merely a cover for his true military analyses, which he would want to keep secret to stymie enemy spies. One of Thrawn's notable victories was the capture of the food producing planet Ukio. The typical Imperial doctrine of a bombardment and siege would have been costly to both sides and left the planet in ruins. Thrawn determined that the defenders had a strong superstitious fear of the unknown and used cloaked vessels to frighten them into submission, forcing the submission of the planet with minimum casualties.

He was known as one of the most brilliant military commanders in the Star Wars universe and was superior to even geniuses such as General Garm Bel Iblis (who only later joined the New Republic due to personal issues with the Rebel Alliance's leader Mon Mothma) and Admiral Ackbar, who led the Rebellion to victory in many crucial battles.

While the Emperor and many high-ranking officials spent billions of credits on super weapons and grandiose warships (like the Death Star, Eye of Palpatine, and Super Star Destroyers Executor and Eclipse), that may have been powerful intimidating symbols of might but less practical for military purposes, Thrawn preferred to use existing technologies in novel ways in part due to his resource constraints. He turned medium-sized capital ships like Carrack cruisers and Victory-class Star Destroyers into formidable weapons, and he used Interdictor cruisers (whose gravity wells were originally intended to stop enemy ships from escaping to hyperspace) to vector in the timely arrival of his reinforcements (a tactic dubbed the "Thrawn Pincer").

Ironically, Thrawn was also personally responsible for one of the greatest setbacks to the Imperial cause. His ruthless persecution of smuggler Talon Karrde and estrangement of former Emperor's Hand Mara Jade led directly to her decision to aid the Rebel Alliance. Mara's support proved decisive in the campaign to destroy the Empire's cloning facilities at Mt. Tantiss: in the final confrontation with insane Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth, she landed the killing blow.

It was later postulated that Thrawn did not support the Empire per se, but rather wanted to establish order in the known galaxy in preparation to combat as-yet unknown threats he had discovered during his time in the Outer Rim (probably early scouts of the Yuuzhan Vong).

Impostors[edit]

At the time of the Hand of Thrawn incident, the high-ranking Moff Disra employed a con artist known as Flim to impersonate Grand Admiral Thrawn. Flim was a talented mimic, able to imitate Thrawn's voice and mannerisms, and an excellent actor - he studied Thrawn's biography and career points so that he would not be caught out by questions for which he had not prepared.

Disra's intention in hiring Flim was to motivate Imperial forces into fighting instead of giving up. However, Major Grodin Tierce (or rather his clone with Thrawn's own genius - the experimental warlord, created 2 months before Thrawn's death on Bilbringi) created a new strategy - to use Flim as a commercial for other planets to join Empire, and to scare the New Republic. The New Republic would do nothing to stop this, as their members' charter allowed member worlds to exit at any time. Tierce also wanted revenge on the New Republic for the destruction of the Empire, and it was this desire that led to the triumvirate's downfall.

When General Garm Bel Iblis of the New Republic attacked the Ubiqtorate Base on Yaga Minor, Talon Karrde and Admiral Pellaeon – who wanted peace between the Empire and the New Republic – were able to foil Disra and Tierce's scheme by revealing Flim's identity, thanks to a datacard given to Karrde by Jorj Car'das. Once revealed to be an impostor, Flim surrendered to Admiral Pellaeon and was taken into custody. Flim's ultimate fate is not known.

Impact[edit]

Zahn's trilogy marked a revival in the fortunes of the Star Wars franchise, bringing it widespread attention for the first time in years; all three Thrawn-trilogy novels made the New York Times best-seller lists, and set the stage and tone for most of the franchise's Expanded-Universe content. While many of Zahn's characters have been embraced by franchise writers and readers, some still appearing in novels written seventeen years later, Thrawn has been particularly influential, representing a very different threat than Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine. Cultured, humane and deeply civilized, Thrawn has been praised by both readers and in-universe characters as a paragon of military and Imperial leadership. Increasing his mystique, not a single word was ever published from Thrawn's point of view, despite Zahn's wide variety of narrators (Luke, Han, Leia, Lando, Karrde, Mara Jade, and even minor characters like General Covell and Niles Ferrier); instead, he is only observed by other characters, occasionally New Republic personnel but mostly his loyal second-in-command Captain Gilad Pellaeon.

Portrayal[edit]

Thrawn was played by Robin Atkin Downes in Star Wars: Empire at War. In the audio drama Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire, he is played by Tim Russell. In Star Wars: TIE Fighter he is played by Tris King. Robin Atkin Downes reprises his role as Thrawn in Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption. Like all the characters therein, he is played by Denis Lawson in the abridged Heir to the Empire audiobook and by Anthony Daniels in the abridged audiobooks for Dark Force Rising and The Last Command. In the unabridged 20th Anniversary editions of the Thrawn Trilogy audiobooks, Grand Admiral Thrawn is portrayed by voice artist Marc Thompson. This portrayal has since set the bar for all others.

References[edit]

External links[edit]