The Mandalorian season 2 episode 5 was chock full of references, in-jokes, and returning characters. While fans had been expecting one of them, when a beloved character mentioned Grand Admiral Thrawn, just about everyone was surprised.
In case you aren’t caught up on the wider, non-movie Star Wars canon, here’s a brief introduction to Thrawn, and everything you need to know about one of Star Wars’ most beloved villains.
[Ed. note: this post contains spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2 episode 5, as well as Star Wars: Rebels and the Thrawn novels]
Grand Admiral Thrawn is an Imperial officer who was first introduced to the Star Wars universe in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire. The novel and its two sequels which — later known as the Thrawn trilogy — took place shortly after Return of the Jedi. Zahn’s books filled readers in on what happened to the Galactic Empire in the years after the death of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine — sort of. As it turns out, Thrawn happened.
While that original trilogy of novels was decanonized when Disney bought the Star Wars franchise, Thrawn was reintroduced in Star Wars: Rebels, and given a series of new novels also penned by Zahn. These new novels reintroduce the blue-skinned Chiss as a brilliant tactician and a worthy, more strategically adept successor to Emperor Palpatine.
Rather than treading the same ground as his original trilogy, which took place in a period that is now covered by Disney’s sequel trilogy, Zahn’s latest Thrawn books tell the story of how Thrawn came to join the Empire and his meteoric rise through its ranks.
Though Thrawn’s Imperial career is impressive, it’s the time after his days as a cadet that is most important for this latest mention in The Mandalorian. Thrawn’s first official post-Disney reintroduction came in Star Wars: Rebels, where he became one of the show’s primary antagonists for its last two seasons, attempting to quell the rebellion in its infancy.
In the show’s finale, Thrawn faces off with Rebels protagonist Ezra Bridger. While on-board Thrawn’s command ship the Chimaera, Ezra catches Thrawn off guard by attacking his fleet of ships with purrgil, giant tentacled creatures capable of hyperspace travel. In the final moments of the show, Thrawn and Bridger are both aboard the Chimaera when the purrgil whisk it off into deep space. Though apparently both of them survive the journey, which is exactly how we get to Thrawn’s mention in The Mandalorian.
In the latest episode, called “The Jedi,” Mando and The Child (who has a real name now), head to the planet of Corvus and meet former Jedi Ahsoka Tano. The last time we saw Tano in any Star Wars series was in the end of Rebels, when she and Mandalorian warrior Sabine Wren were setting off on a quest to find Ezra after his purrgil-aided jump to hyperspace.
It seems that quest is still ongoing because Tano’s target is someone named Morgan Elsbeth, who turns out to have been taken under the wing of Thrawn himself. Elsbeth was apparently an important figure in building the Imperial Navy fleet during the days of the Galactic Empire, which would certainly explain why Thrawn was fond of her. Tano and Elsbeth face off at the end of the episode, and when Tano wins, her only question is on the whereabouts of Grand Admiral Thrawn.
While this doesn’t exactly reveal what Thrawn’s been up to since we last saw him, it does seem that he’s alive, and possibly an important part of the Empire in its waning days. What’s more, given the post-Return of the Jedi time period of The Mandalorian, it certainly seems possible that if Thrawn’s still active, he could have been a key figure in transitioning the Empire into the First Order.
No matter what he’s involved in, there’s no doubt that it’s important. And based on The Mandalorian’s recent history of mentioning characters only for them to show up a couple of episodes later, it seems possible that Grand Admiral Thrawn could soon be making his live-action debut, and returning to the Star Wars universe.