– Warning: This article contains spoilers for Aftermath and Lost Stars –
Let me start this off by saying, without a doubt, this article is pure speculation. The Fleet Admiral character introduced in the final pages of Star Wars: Aftermath is without a name, species, or any other physically identifying details. He remains a mystery and will likely remain to do so until we’re much closer to the release of the second part of the Aftermath Trilogy sometime next year. But what we have been given is enough for myself and many, many, many others to speculate on the Admiral’s identity, with millions of fingers pointing at an all too familiar Grand Admiral who is synonymous with the original Expanded Universe. However, it’s as equally likely it’ll be someone else entirely or a brand new character as much as it could be the famous Admiral. But once I decided to make the assumption it could be the old staple of the Legends-verse, Thrawn, I started to wonder: how can the new unified canon make the Grand Admiral character fresh and unique while still honoring what came before in Legends? Can he really be so artistically done again? This article has my answers to those questions.
First, some quick background on Grand Admiral Thrawn (which you probably don’t need anyways, but just in case), a.k.a. Mitth’raw’nuruodo: A member of the Chiss species, Thrawn practically brought the New Republic to its knees some 5 years after the Battle of Endor thanks to his sharp tactical mind and intimate knowledge of his enemy’s cultural art style. And unlike the Sith Lords who ruled the Empire before, he didn’t kill his subordinates out of spite (instead only if they let an error become a mistake) and allowed them to speak their mind freely, helping foster good ideas and better thinking amongst those under his command. Just as he was winning his battle to restart the Empire anew, he was ironically* killed by a mistake from the old Empire’s past, uttering the final words, “But…it was so artistically done.” Which thanks to the author Timothy Zahn, it was. Besides a clone of Thrawn, he might have faded from galactic memory, but not from fan’s hearts and has been one of their forerunners for Legends characters to be brought into the new canon. Now, almost a year and a half since the Expanded Universe became Legends, it seems Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath Trilogy could be bringing the good Admiral Thrawn into the new canon in a (hopefully) brand new, but yet (hopefully) familiar way.
“…The final defeat of the Rebellion. The reestablishment of the glory that was once the Empire’s New Order.” -Thrawn, Heir to the Empire, page 51 (paperback edition) with emphasis being mine
“…The Empire became this…ugly, inelegant machine. Crude and inefficient. We needed to be broken into pieces…It’s time for something better. Something new. An Empire worthy of the galaxy it will rule.” -Fleet Admiral, Aftermath, page 365 with the emphasis being mine again
I think the biggest mistake the new canon could make with Thrawn is only letting him be part of a single trilogy. Yes, in Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy he was such a devastating enemy that keeping him alive would’ve surely meant ruin for the heroes and thus he was meant to die (let’s ignore the whole clone thing because he was never “born”). But with Aftermath making Thrawn a big, manipulative background character, orchestrating events to test the loyalty and skills of possible allies in his task of rebuilding the Empire, he feels like he’s being saved for an even bigger moment some years later in this pre-TFA era. It’s obvious this new Thrawn is as much of a master tactician as the Legends one, moving and shaking events on both sides, but he isn’t foolish enough to try to win a battle against the New Republic with what remnants of the Empire they have left. He admits as much in his brief appearance, talking about how the galaxy is no longer in their hands (followed by the quote above) which makes me believe he isn’t just going to try to win a war, but the heart of the galaxy as well. Admiral Rae Sloane, who seems to be his right hand lady, certainly realizes the populace’s loyalty is as important a part of the Empire retaking the galaxy as military might is, but choosing to try to win that will take much more time than a military victory. And that time means more books in my mind.
In a way, and hate me for saying this if you want, but a decision to try to win the populace and the military victory makes new Thrawn smarter than old Thrawn, who had set his sights too short and thought the people of the galaxy would welcome back the iron order of the Empire. New Thrawn sees that isn’t possible anymore, noting they need to become something new in hopes of being accepted again by the galaxy at large. Sloane embodies this ideology in a way during her time in Aftermath, constantly giving us her perspective on the antiquated and misguided ideas of the old way she wants to forget, a lot of which comes off as humor towards some of the crazier schemes hatched by the Empire in Legends in some rather delightful meta-moments. It’s as much a signal to Rae and new Thrawn that the Empire must adapt and change to this new galaxy as it is to readers, and who better to help readers accept change than Thrawn? Making him a larger threat in the long run, making him just as much of a deadly force to be reckoned with in the battlefield as on a psychological level, puts Thrawn in the unique position to change preconceived notions on this time frame by changing how he returns to the Empire to its might. I mean, obviously the First Order is doing something right if so many people are joining it to carry out some unfinished business of the Empire, while (it seems) the demilitarized New Republic has an army in a scrappy band of allied armies called the Resistance (or they are all that’s left of the New Republic). To get the galaxy from New Republic victory to First Order rising, the Story Group wouldn’t let someone like Thrawn be used up like a quick, but very bright and impressive, firework. Instead, he’d be part of the show leading up the Grand Finale…or even cause the Finale to start himself.
Sure, our motley crew of newly minted heroes, Norra, Jas, Sinjir, Temmin, Mister Bones, and Jom might end up running into Fleet Admiral Thrawn due to their mission of hunting down Imperial war criminals, and sure they could defeat him, but where’s the fun in that? My biggest hope would be a trilogy following Aftermath‘s, written by none other than Timothy Zahn, who would finish off new Thrawn’s story in canon. Such an idea and trilogy is just too far off into deep speculation territory and the ever expanding new canon for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine a lot of events and ideas, even if they are less baseless speculation than what I’ve already written. But after my recent reading of Lost Stars, one of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” books, we might just get our first hint of new Thrawn’s moves. Its ending reveals a giant remnant of the Imperial Fleet amassing together after what looked like a defeat over a backwater world of Jakku (the book even explains the crashed Star Destroyer in the famous opening scene of the second teaser!). I say what looked like a defeat because the character who’s POV we get describing the Imperial Fleet amassing knows the battle was a feint and such an action sounds like something new Thrawn might do to cull the last dredges of the old Empire and gain the advantage of surprise by making the New Republic complacent/believe the Empire’s defeated (some 1 and a half years after the Battle of Endor, to boot). If anything, this sounds like it could be part of the Aftermath Trilogy‘s second book, but it certainly adds more credence to new Thrawn’s desire to be patient, possibly leading to the motley crew of heroes I mentioned earlier only finding out about him by the end of the Aftermath Trilogy. And by then it could be too late.
“I have no qualms about accepting a useful idea merely because it wasn’t my own.” -Thrawn, HttE, pg. 90; “We cannot afford the luxury of men whose minds are so limited they cannot adapt to unexpected situations.” – Thrawn, HttE, pg. 186
“You may always speak frankly with me.” -Fleet Admiral, Aftermath, pg. 364; “It’s like the others…Sick animals that had be culled from the herd…We needed to get rid of those who want to see that old machine turning ineluctably forward.” -Fleet Admiral, Aftermath, pg. 365
Here are a few other things:
- *: I say ironically because, as Thrawn so famously says, “Anyone can make an error… But that error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” The error the Empire made was thinking they could indefinitely trick the Noghri people into believing they were their saviors, which became a mistake once Leia’s presence and subsequent awakening of the truth wasn’t corrected. I actually, all these years later, just made the connection and I’m sure I was the last to do so, but interesting point nonetheless.
- In my notes for this article, at one point I tried spelling Thrawn’s Chiss name and here’s what I came up with (obviously giving up halfway through): Mit’thhatg’wwadsfda. Try it yourself.
- Rereading bits and pieces of Heir to the Empire, I did notice a lot of narration from Pellaeon describing how Thrawn’s eyes could bore right through a person or instantly size one up, something which Rae points out about the Fleet Admiral in Aftermath‘s epilogue
- Nebula’s in bloom: In Aftermath, the Fleet Admiral is hiding his forces in the Volpinus Nebula while in Lost Stars (about a year later, in-universe) the Imperial Starfleet is hiding in the Queluhan Nebula, which would make me think the Fleet Admiral character is present in Lost Stars‘ finale.
- I’ve seen some speculation the Fleet Admiral ends up being a character in The Force Awakens, up to and including the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke. I doubt it would be Snoke, and I don’t imagine this Fleet Admiral will survive the next 30 in-universe years, but I like the idea.
- If Aftermath: Life Debt would reveal the fleet admiral is Thrawn, it might not be the first time in July where we’d see him (again) in canon. Star Wars Celebration Europe runs from July 15-17 and it’s possible they’ll show the Star Wars Rebels Season 3 opening film there, much like they did for S2’s at Celebration Anaheim 2015. Why does this matter to the question of Thrawn’s canonicity? MakingStarWars has a rumor that Thrawn will be making an appearance in S3 of Rebels (!), and if he’s in the premiere film and it’s shown at SWCE 2016, then it would only be a few days before Life Debt’s July 19threlease. It would be a perfect way to build excitement for the book and for the book to build excitement for his reappearance in S3 (especially if he’ll be in the show for the rest of the season). I’m not too concerned with how he’d be portrayed in the series, as Dave Filoni and team have proven they can handle Legacy characters rather well, but I’m more interested in how his voice will sound…and who they’ll find to voice him. But those concerns depend on this all being true and only time will tell if it’s so. (UPDATE 6/4/2016): Filoni has teased a Legends character coming to Rebels S3 and we’ll know who it is by 7/16 at the S3 panel/premiere at Celebration Europe 2016.
- UPDATE 7/26/2016: The truth is out there: the Fleet Admiral is a whole new character as revealed in Life Debt (more on him in my review!), while Thrawn has come to canon…but in Star Wars Rebels S3! Read my review of the S3 premiere and check out my impressions from the panel about the details surrounding his return (and upcoming novel!). It was fun to speculate while the mystery lasted! But now it’s strange to have two super smart Admirals whose focuses and goals depending on the long game and being steps ahead of your enemy.
Thrawn or not, the Fleet Admiral has gotten the fandom’s imaginations whirling again, which in of itself is exciting to see. Knowing the Story Group is made up of people who are just as much of Star Wars fans as the rest of us (if not more so) makes me just a little more certain they’d not only bring back Thrawn in a bigger, better way at some point, but have him last just a little longer than before. And while my thoughts on how they can do that might never come true, the actions of the character will certainly be interesting to follow as we get further in the new pre-The Force Awakens era.
Movie Review: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Canon Novel Review: Aftermath
Canon Young Adult Novel Review: Lost Stars
The Great Reboot of 2100: Just How Evergreen is Star Wars?
Preserving the Mystery of In-Universe History
Star Wars Ring Theory: An Interview with the Author, Mike Klimo, and Why You Should Read It
Chutes, Shafts, and Sinkholes: Star Wars and the Descent into the Underworld Mytheme
With New Eyes: The EU Reboot Changed How I View Ep. VI
EU and Gaming: Thoughts on Their Relationship
Choice Isn’t an Option: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 1)
Always On The Move: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 2)
A Good Blaster At Your Side: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 3)
Star Wars Netflix Hopes: The Rule of Two