Back in 1991, author Timothy Zahn released his first Star Wars book, Heir to the Empire, which not only kicked off the entire Expanded Universe of novels, comic books, short stories, and videogames, but also introduced the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn. The character has since gone down in Star Wars history as one of the saga’s most ruthless, original, and compelling villains.
Although many feared the character was lost when the Disney-owned Lucasfilm reset the EU to feature a brand new overarching narrative that would actually be canon, last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration contained a massive announcement: Thrawn would be popping up in both Star Wars: Rebels season 3 and in a new, in-continuity book.
Now, Zahn is speaking out on the recent developments. Chatting with StarWars.com, the author spoke about how “surreal” it was to see his most famous creation come to life on-screen before moving on to discuss the first details surrounding his new novel, aptly titled Star Wars: Thrawn:
"Over the years, I’ve written a lot of books and stories that featured [Thrawn], but with this book I’ll be visiting a part of his life that I never before had a chance to explore."
When asked to expound on this, Zahn followed up by saying:
"Thrawn will span several years of the Star Wars timeline, beginning with his first encounter with the Empire and ending just before the opening of Rebels, season three."
After discussing his plans for the character in the new novel, Zahn ended the interview with the promise that several “pre-established and familiar Star Wars characters” will pop up in the pages of Star Wars: Thrawn as well.
This isn’t the first time Rebels will tie into the greater Expanded Universe; a month before the television series debuted back in 2014, a number of its characters and other narrative elements were introduced in A New Dawn, written by John Jackson Miller – a volume which also, incidentally, marked the grand beginning of the canon books.
That Thrawn will return to the interstitial period in between the prequel and original trilogies is no accident, either. Within the first year-and-a-half of the new Expanded Universe, its various multimedia installments concentrated mostly on this era, with the occasional release (and the vast majority of the new Marvel Comics titles) moving forward to take place during Episodes IV through VI. Since last fall, however, the focus has shifted to the 30-year gap in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, helping set the stage for Disney’s sequel trilogy. Now, with the advent of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the EU is once again returning to the pre-A New Hope days, starting this fall with a new publishing program leading up to Rogue One’s December 18 release.
There are a few (perhaps small) gambles embedded in this move, however. As audiences will likely remain most interested in next year’s Episode VIII, there is the possibility that Thrawn could fall through the cracks, though its tie-in to Rebels (and, just possibly, Rogue One) will do much to alleviate this. And having the new novel not re-incorporate the classic storylines that made the grand admiral so famous to begin with 25 years ago – storylines that have been narratively erased and which, presumably, many of the new EU readership will be unfamiliar with – may limit the impact of the canon iteration of the character, as his grand ambitions for rebuilding the sinking Empire and his ability to out-maneuver his New Republic foes did much to illustrate Thrawn’s brilliance.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 premieres on Disney XD in fall 2016. Star Wars: Thrawn will be published in 2017.