Star Wars Rebels: Thrawn triumphant going into Season 4

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As if there was ever any doubt, Grand Admiral Thrawn has achieved arch-villain status in the Star Wars universe — only now it’s official, on screen, this time.

Grand Admiral Thrawn applies his appreciation of art toward the defeat of the Empire's enemies.
Grand Admiral Thrawn applies his appreciation of art toward the defeat of the Empire’s enemies.

The character, lifted from Timothy Zahn’s popular “Expanded Universe” tie-in novels and reintroduced in Season 3 of Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels, set out to crush the Rebellion — and according to executive producer and supervising director Dave Filoni, the Imperial master strategist, performed by Lars Mikkelsen, is fully confident he’s on track to do just that.

“Thrawn in Season 4 is operating from a position of victory. He in his mind has really set back … the Rebel fleet with a pretty crushing blow,” Filoni said April 15 at a press conference following the Rebels panel at Star Wars Celebration Orlando. “He’s also tempered their aggressive tendency, which you can see the after effects of all the way into Rogue One, where they’re incredibly hesitant to actually fight on a larger scale.”

Filoni clearly relishes being a part of this TV-movie dynamic, and driving the story of the desperate Rebel Alliance of Rogue One and A New Hope.

Star Wars Rebels executive producer and supervising director Dave Filoni addresses the press at Star Wars Celebration Orlando 2017.
Star Wars Rebels executive producer and supervising director Dave Filoni

“It takes a lot to draw them out because they lost so big,” he said. “So I think it’s interesting to see the effects of Thrawn. Which is what you want; you want him to be a really important character and to be a villain that is affecting everything. So he’s operating from a position of having total control of Lothal now, and the Rebels in some ways are being deconstructed. They’re trying amass all of these ships, they’re trying to amass all of these starfighters, and one has to start to wonder what’s going to be the point of that. Are they ever going to have as much hardware as Thrawn to fight with and let alone his tactical genius?”

But the third season’s finale also showed us that Thrawn is not all-knowing: Even as the Rebels retreated in defeat, the grand admiral was mystified by the elusive dark-light Force presence of the Bendu (Tom Baker), whose intervention prevented the Rebels’ total destruction at Thrawn’s hands.

The Bendu of Atollon (Lucasfilm)
The Bendu with Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus

“The Bendu represents to Thrawn somewhat of an enigma. He doesn’t really understand it. I think he’d even admit as much — he doesn’t really have secrets like that. But he’s trying to understand it and I think it’s what drives his study of art. He’s like someone who so badly wants to understand this greater thing and he can’t for whatever reason.”

In Zahn’s books, we saw Thrawn pretty clearly understanding elements of the Force, and stymieing them with Force-negating creatures called ysalamiri — with that approach ruled out already before the character’s on-screen debut, and not much of Star Wars’ mystical side explored in Zahn’s recent new canon novel Thrawn, it will be interesting to see what he makes of the Rebel Jedi who escaped him.

“He delves into the art, he tactically understands it, but his … whatever connects emotionally, passionately — perhaps what makes him a good tactician seems to not be there. It will be interesting to see where we go with that,” Filoni said. “But he is a very difficult villain to beat. It will seemingly take a lot to do it. Which I think is very fun.”

The Noghri warrior Rukh
The Noghri warrior Rukh

“He’s the first kind of arch-villain to survive the season.”

Every arch-villain needs a solid henchman. So, another element of Zahn’s earlier books, Thrawn’s Noghri bodyguard Rukh, is set to debut in Season 4, performed by Warwick Davis. Part of what made the Noghri so interesting was their honor-bound connection to Darth Vader in the now-purged (?) EU lore, but Lucasfilm’s integrated Story Group has shown it’s willing to mine the older canon for whatever material it seems fit to reintroduce … so, will the Noghri be a mere henchman of Thrawn, or will there be more to their story? Time will tell, but one thing is clear: Thrawn remains a formidable foe for the chaotic Alliance.

“He’s the first kind of arch-villain to survive the season,” Filoni mused. “Vader came and went (in Season 2) — he’s like ‘I’m out the door,’ which is Vader … but Thrawn is still there and he knows they’re a threat but he really kicked their butt.”

And that’s menacing, because in Filoni’s remarks on the decision to end Rebels as a series with Season 4, he seems to hint that there may be no gray area when it comes to where, if anywhere, many of these characters will end up after the series finale.

Star Wars Rebels will be the complete journey that it was meant to be from the very beginning,” he announced. “We all felt that the time was right, and that the characters were at a point where their story, and their destinies, should finally be revealed. We deeply appreciate all our fans who have journeyed with the Ghost crew, and I promise Season Four will be like no other.”

Images courtesy Lucasfilm

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