Grand Admiral Thrawn

The Hand of Thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn is a fictional character and a major antagonist in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. He first appeared in ‘Heir to the Empire,’ part of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy published between 1992 and 1994. In these books, set five years after ‘Return of the Jedi,’ Thrawn has assumed command of the remaining forces of the Empire and is planning to battle the New Republic.

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

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’). 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.

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.’ He did not order the execution of a crewman responsible for operating the tractor beams when Luke Skywalker escaped a trap he set; but, only because he found, upon interviewing the crewman’s superior, that he had not been trained properly because that superior looked down on his conscript status. That same superior was then killed, as a statement by Thrawn, that all Imperial troops, no matter their origin, were to be given the same effort and attention by their superiors. Later, when Skywalker escaped a similar trap, the man running the tractor beams had tried an innovative solution in an attempt to capture him. Instead of having the man killed for failing to do so, Thrawn recognized the crewman’s initiative by promoting 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 somehow 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. Examples include the invasion of Ukio, where he determined that the defenders had a strong superstitious fear of the unknown and the unexplained. Therefore, his attack with cloaked vessels frightened them into submission when a more adventurous people might have continued to resist. 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. Unlike the Emperor, Thrawn preferred to use existing technologies in novel ways rather than spend billions of credits on super weapons that might or might not have worked (like the Death Star). Thrawn turned medium-sized capital ships into formidable weapons. Unlike many prominent imperial commanders, he had no Super-Star Destroyer under his command.

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.

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