The Return of Thrawn, Palpatine…and Who?!

We all know the story.

The Chiss Mitth’raw’nuruodo, better known as Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn, had been in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy seeking out distant threats to the Empire when both the Emperor and Darth Vader fell to the Galactic Alliance at Endor. Nearly a decade later, and unbeknownst to just about everyone, he returned with a powerful fleet along with his command ship, the Chimaera, and wreaked absolute havoc on the New Republic, nearly toppling the fledgling government and its military.

That, of course, is just a story of Legends. Now though with the most recent trailer and images of Star Wars Episode IX, there may yet be a chance that we see Thrawn once more, and he may in fact be the one to herald the return of Emperor Palpatine.

When author Timothy Zahn first introduced Thrawn in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, this Chiss was everything we could possibly want from an Imperial officer – cold, calculating and downright menacing. While he showed he would do anything to win the battle, all of his tactics and methods were mission-oriented. Strangely however he also had a love for art. Impressively he would analyze the art of his enemy to gain uncanny strategic advantages that in most cases he foes would not realize until it was too late.

With Thrawn’s reintroduction in Star Wars Rebels as well as the complimentary novel trilogy – also by Timothy Zahn – all these traits seem to remain true. The current stories subtly illustrate another aspect of Thrawn’s leadership style: his willingness to listen to his subordinates and let them work in a manner that most works for them – an unusual trait for Imperial brass. His devout loyalty to those under his charge also builds a fierce loyalty within his crew. They will, and have, go to the Unknown Regions and back to support his cause.

One thing that never changed was his ability to connect the dots, and that is what we will now attempt to do to show how Thrawn, the Emperor, and one more crucial character will return for the last installment of the Skywalker saga. Before we take a look at the clues, let us take a look at the parallels between the Canon and Legends versions of his story.

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Both tales begin with a young Mitth’raw’nuruodo being introduced to Palpatine while the Clone Wars were still raging across the galaxy. Although the Empire’s general xenophobia precluded having many aliens in its ranks, in both cases Thrawn was able to use his talents to move up the ranks. In Legends, he was discovered and aided by Imperial officer Voss Parck; in Canon this role was filled by Lieutenant Eli Vanto. Thrawn was forced to go to the edges of known space to combat potential issues to the Empire, either for the Yuuzhan Vong (Legends) or the Grysk (Canon). Certain characters even appear in both “universes,” including the Chiss Admiral Ar’alani and the Noghri assassin/bodyguard Rukh. Thrawn came back after an extended absence in Legends, so doesn’t it just make sense that he would do the same in Canon? Let’s take a look at how that might happen. (And if you haven’t read the new Thrawn trilogy and finished Rebels – I’m not sure what you’re doing with your life – and you might want to stop here as there will be spoilers.)

This particular story begins on the planet Lothal in the Rebels story arc “Zero Hour.” Grand Admiral Thrawn has come to snuff out the small Rebel cell led by the pilot Hera Syndulla, the Jedi Kanan Jarrus and his apprentice Ezra bridger. The Empire is almost victorious when they encounter the Force creature Bendu. Puzzled, Thrawn asks “What are you?”

“I am the light. I am the dark. I am the Bendu.” This is eerily similar to the balance about which Luke spoke to Rey in The Last Jedi (“powerful light, powerful dark”). Still confident in his victory, Thrawn goes to finish Bendu with his blaster. Bendu calmly states, “You cannot see but I can.”

“What? What do you see?” Thrawn asks.

“I see your defeat, like many arms surrounding you in a cold embrace.” Have we witnessed this fate? Maybe. Maybe not.

While the Rebels would emerge somewhat victorious in that skirmish, they would soon suffer tragic casualties. Kanan sacrificed himself in order that his friends and loved ones could have a chance to live. Shortly thereafter, Ezra Bridger learns how to gain access into an ancient Jedi temple on Lothal. This led to a “world between worlds,” a nexus for all time and space in the Star Wars universe. There we finally learned the fate of ex-Jedi Ahsoka Tano as she battled her former master Anakin Skywalker who had since turned into Darth Vader. As she was about to perish, Ezra was able to pull her out of the conflict and into the nexus. Having saved Ahsoka, Ezra contemplates the idea of also saving Kanan from death. “If I can change your fate, I can change his.” Luckily Ahsoka talks him out of that idea, but they both come to understand that “the dead can influence the living.”

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Learning that Ezra has accessed the world between worlds, Palpatine instructs Thrawn to return to Lothal to capture Ezra. He further instructs his Admiral to construct a chamber in which to place the young Jedi. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to persuade him to join you,” Palpatine says with a smile.

Back on Lothal, Ezra has a vision that the Emperor is sending Thrawn back to his planet. This may suggest a strong Force connection between Ezra and the Emperor. Knowing this information, Ezra prepares for this inevitable conflict and knows exactly what he must do. Upon his arrival, Thrawn carries out his master’s wishes and threatens an orbital bombardment from the Chimaera unless he receives Ezra’s immediate and unconditional surrender.

Sneaking away to surrender in order to save his friends, Ezra whispers to Sabine Wren, “This is what I was meant to do.” Onboard the star destroyer, Thrawn and Ezra enter into a deep discussion on the Force and power. “What matters is who has power,” Thrawn says. “That’s something the Jedi won’t teach you so I’ll take you to someone who can.” This conversation is strongly reminiscent of the one had between Palpatine and Anakin when the Sith told the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise. In both instances, the topics were power, the use of the Force, and the ability to keep loved ones from dying. While Plagueis learned to do this through the influence of midichlorians, Ezra learned to do this through his ability to access to the world between worlds. Interestingly Palpatine himself was unable to do either himself and was desperate to learn how. (“To cheat death is an ability only one has achieved but together we can discover the secret.”)

Ezra is then escorted to a small fragment of the Jedi temple that was previously on Lothal. Is this the chamber about which Palpatine spoke to Thrawn? It would seem so. Here Ezra meets with Palpatine who appears as not much more than an apparition. Palpatine has disguised himself to look like the sweet old Senator that he was in The Phantom Menace. He convinces Bridger to access the world between worlds and tempts him to bring his parents back to life (much the same way he did with Anakin and Padme). “You must open the door,” Palpatine pleads.

Unlike Anakin who succumbs to the dark side, Ezra resists and says goodbye to his parents. Although they failed in this endeavor, Palpatine and Thrawn see this as a “temporary setback.” That is key because for someone who planned the fall of the Jedi and the Republic over a span of decades, waiting 2, 5 or even 30 years for the chance at immortality is nothing for the Dark Lord of the Sith.

As defeat seemed imminent for the Rebels, large mysterious space-traveling creatures known as purrgils emerged from hyperspace. Unknown to all but a few, Ezra had called out to them before the battle. With their long tentacles crashing through the windows of the Chimaera, Thrawn exclaims, “Whatever happens next happens to both of us!”

Ezra understands this and as he radios to his friends to say goodbye, he calmly says, “I have to see this through to the end.”

The purrgils wrap their tentacles around Thrawn, begin to glow, and then thrust the Chimaera into hyperspace on an unknown trajectory. Is this the fate of which Bendu foretold? While many signs point to “yes,” there are many other signs that indicate that we may not have seen the end of Thrawn…or Ezra.

What do we know about The Rise of Skywalker? We know that Palpatine returns, but we don’t know how. In the most recent trailer we also see a fleet of Imperial – not First Order – star destroyers. Is this Thrawn and an assembled fleet of his ships? How can this be?

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Thrawn’s untimely departure was most likely not part of Palpatine’s grand plan. He lost the chance to learn his master’s secret (according to him at least) when he murdered Plagueis. He lost the ability to enter and control the world between worlds when Ezra and Thrawn jumped into hyperspace. All he had to do then was find Thrawn and Ezra. How could he do this? His observatories. Many of the canon stories discuss the Emperor’s observatories that are scattered throughout the galaxy, two of which are located on the planets Pillio and Jakku. Their exact function is still a matter of some speculation, except that he was searching for the mysteries that lie beyond the reaches of known space. Could one of those mysteries be the location of Thrawn and Ezra? Ezra vowed to see this through to the end, but he may yet be the key to Palpatine’s return.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Well, at least some of you. That’s a great theory. Kind of “out there” but it’s somewhat plausible. But that’s waaay too much new information to introduce into the last movie of the series, especially to the general public.

Perhaps. Let me however point out a couple points to the contrary. Let us not forget that Maul made an appearance in Solo, even though the casual viewer thought he had been dead since 1999. Only those of us who watched Clone Wars religiously knew that he was alive. And until it was made into its own movie, the entire plot of Rogue One was explained in two sentences in the opening crawl of A New Hope. Two sentences. So never underestimate the power of the crawl.

WHILE THE RESISTANCE VALIANTLY FIGHTS AGAINST THE FIRST ORDER TO RESTORE PEACE AND FREEDOM, A MYSTERIOUS FORCE RETURNS FROM THE UNKNOWN REGIONS TO POSE AN EVEN GREATER THREAT TO THE GALAXY.

You heard it here first. (And might Kylo and Rey be the final representation of “the son” and “the daughter”???)

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