I was shocked, pleased, excited, then flabbergasted watching the latest episode of The Mandalorian. This episode took what we’d guessed about the near-future of the series and the inclusion of certain actors playing some BIG NAME roles, and shook it all up. Before you go any further, note that this is your first and last SPOILER ALERT. Do not read this article until you’ve seen The Mandalorian Chapter 13, AKA The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 5!
What just happened?
Much like the vast majority of the episodes of The Mandalorian released thus far, this episode included some information vital to the future of the franchise. It is here that we see the long-awaited return of Ahsoka Tano. Surprise! She’s played by Rosario Dawson, just like it was reported back in March.
Dawson was amazing, the return of Ahsoka was engaging, entertaining, and exciting. Maybe too exciting, entertaining, and engaging. A few minutes before the end of the episode, I was SURE they were going to have Dawson join the crew, rolling with our hero and the child – but no!
Instead, they used Ahsoka Tano as a launching pad for another nary-expected but WELCOME mention of a long-lost character: Grand Admiral Thrawn. This is wild! The last we heard from this character, he’d apparently disappeared forever into the unknown reaches of space, right alongside the character Ezra Bridger.
The fact that Ahsoka Tano just mentioned Thrawn as potentially ANYWHERE near our main heroes in The Mandalorian opens up the the possibility that Ezra is also out there, somewhere. It also opens the door to the re-establishment of the first appearance of this character.
The “Thrawn Trilogy” of books, released before the purge, established Thrawn having only really come to prominence after the events of Return of the Jedi. These books were written by Timothy Zahn, the same author that’s written the first new (canon) book Thrawn.
Did Timothy Zahn just drop the mic?
In the Star Wars: Aftermath novel trilogy, it’s made clear that the knowledge of deep space, aka the Unkown Regions, allowed the remnants of The Empire to re-establish itself as The First Order.
Thanks in a big part to Empire hero Rae Sloane, The First Order is established. But it wasn’t as if Thrawn re-appeared at some point while we weren’t looking. The situation suggested that Thrawn’s knowledge was very much in play – but did not confirm nor deny the idea that Thrawn was still alive. From Aftermath: Empire’s End:
“…Palpatine had one in the navy who knew something of the Unknown Regions: Admiral Thrawn, an alien with ice-blue skin who came from beyond the borders of the known galaxy. Palpatine only kept that one around because of what he knew of traversing those deadly interstices. Much of what Thrawn knew went into the computations of this machine.”
Now, thanks to what we’ve learned from the newest episode of The Mandalorian, things are different! Apparently Thrawn DID come back at some point, somehow, some way!
We’ve not seen physical proof that Thrawn was anywhere near the bright center of the universe any time recently. Now we know Thrawn COULD be near.
Two possibilities or less
Grand Admiral Thrawn does not appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or The Last Jedi, or The Rise of Skywalker. Given the major impact Thrawn has every time he pops up in our main canon story, we’ve now got two possibilities, both just as shocking as the other.
1. In the 20+ years between the start of The Mandalorian and the start of The Force Awakens, we’ll see how Thrawn directly influences the regrouping of The Empire and re-establishment into The First Order.
In case 1, it’s highly likely we’ll see Thrawn rise and fall in relatively short order. We’ve seen the cloning tanks as prep work for the return of The Emperor in The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 4, aka Chapter 12. Thrawn could very well be the MAIN antagonist providing a pathway for the shock appearance of The Emperor in The Rise of Skywalker – but, again, that’ll mean he needs to die in advance of The Force Awakens.
2. We’ve skewed into an alternate timeline where we’re just about to drop head-first into the original Thrawn Trilogy. Cut to Thrawn on a quest to find a lost fleet of Dreadnaught-class heavy cruisers to replace the massive losses sustained by The Empire at the battle at Endor and related fallings-out.
ABOVE: A modified photo of Lars Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen voices Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars: Rebels. It’s no mistake that the Rebels iteration of Thrawn looks so very similar to the actor behind the mic.
The vast potential
Of course, even with case 2, the entire original Thrawn Trilogy could take place… at exactly the time we’re already viewing in The Mandalorian. The Mandalorian takes place at 9ABY (9 years after the Battle of Yavin) (aka 5 years after Return of the Jedi).
The original Thrawn Trilogy takes place… 9ABY. Did we just see Disney’s very direct teaser for a new episodic series centered on Thrawn? We’ve seen sources like DisInsider tease the possibility that Disney could be in the process of developing a Thrawn show for Disney+. It could be time to make it happen.
A Backdoor Pilot is an episode of a television show intended to be a proof-of-concept for a show that COULD be released if the episode is rated highly. Sometimes a show’s spin-off does well, like The Golden Girls episode “Empty Nests”, which spun off into the relatively successful show “Empty Nest.”
Sometimes a Backdoor Pilot doesn’t actually take hold at all, as was the case with The Office episode The Farm. Cross your fingers that the blockbuster appearance of Ahsoka Tano and the briefest of mentions of Grand Admiral Thrawn were enough to launch the next major live action Star Wars show on Disney+.
Given the popularity of The Mandalorian and the current state of streaming TV, I’d say the possibility we’re getting a new show dedicated to Thrawn are pretty much a lock.