Why Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars: Rebels is the best thing

Thrawn’s induction into Star Wars canon marks a real turning point

Like a number of lucky souls, I was at Star Wars: Celebration this weekend, and the number of highlights were innumerable.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher somehow cementing their places in fans’ hearts even more with their respective live Q&As; every little tidbit of new trivia regarding Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, and of course that Rogue One panel – Gwendoline Christie, Gareth Edwards, Ben Mendolsohn in Krennic garb, cast and all.

Yet the standout for us wasn’t any of these. Nope; it came at during the panel for Season 3 of the brilliant – and criminally underseen – Star Wars: Rebels – during the trailer, to be precise.

There had already been quite a few moments to get us on board: Wedge Antilles! Sabine with a jetpack! More Mandalorians! Hondo Ohnaka’s back! So far, so good.

But then: a new player enters the scene – Tarkin and some other general talk about this new guy, who’s meant to be quite effective. They can’t be talking about Agent Kallus, right? Or Admiral Ozzel? Or General Piett? Not so much.

Then: the biggest cheer we heard all weekend for pretty much anything.

Grand Admiral Thrawn.grand-admiral-thrawn-12092015

That’s right, Grand Admiral Thrawn is now canon. Not the exact same story we first read about in Timothy Zahn’s (who gave his seal of approval via video link) Heir To The Empire, of course; that’s not possible. But this is more than good enough.

In what other franchise (as much as we hate that word) would the cameo of a character who technically never officially existed be met with such rapture? We can’t think of one, and it’s just one of the things that makes Star Wars so – well, magical.

While we’ve loved pretty much everything that has been released in the post-Lucas era of Star Wars, we’ll admit to being part of the group who felt saddened by the effective jettisoning of everything Expanded Universe-related.

Don’t get us wrong: it was probably the right decision. After all, there are a lot of novels, short stories, videogames, board games, RPGs, eBooks, novellas, comic books, manga and more to take in – reconciling this all with future films would have made what was already a daunting task even more so.

Besides, the ‘Legends’ imprint effectively designated it ‘alternate universe’ status. Which is fine with us: we can still enjoy them. But we couldn’t shake the feeling that the stories had basically been deemed of secondary importance.

Grand Admiral Thrawn’s presence in Rebels has changed all that.SWR S3 Thrawn (1)

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will see all of your favourite Expanded Universe characters returning (Dave Filoni spoke about the logistical difficulties of introducing, say, Mara Jade), it does mean something far more important: the Expanded Universe matters.

In Dave Filoni, we are lucky to have someone at the helm who is not only a brilliant creative mind; he is also a Star Wars super-fan. He understands what’s important for fans, because he is one.

The decision to include Thrawn is illustrative of this. Before, fans of the Expanded Universe could have been forgiven for feeling as if they didn’t matter. Now, with Thrawn’s prominence at the centre of Rebels Season 3, he has most conclusively proved that they do.

Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy weren’t just great Star Wars books; they were top-drawer science fiction novels in their own right, thanks in a large part due to characters like Thrawn. But he is just one of many characters in the Expanded Universe who are just as rich in on-screen potential.

Admiral Daala. Borsk Fey’lya. Gilad Pellaeon. Prince Xizor. Winter. Corran Horn. Kyp Durron.

Maybe some of them will return; maybe none of them will. But it doesn’t matter. Even if Thrawn is the first and last character to make the transition from non-canon to canon, the Expanded Universe has had a light shone on it at a time when it’s fire was in danger of burning out.

Now it’s more powerful than you could possibly imagine…