Grand Admiral Thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn
Grand Admiral Thrawn
Star Wars character

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Portrayed by

Star Wars: Empire at War Played by Robin Atkin Downes, Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption Played by Robin Atkin Downes

Star Wars: TIE Fighter Played by Tris King, Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire audio drama, Tim Russell.
Fictional profile
Species Chiss
Gender Male
Position Imperial Grand Admiral, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet
Homeworld Csilla
Affiliation Chiss Ascendancy
Galactic Empire
Empire of the Hand

Grand Admiral Thrawn (full name: Mitth'raw'nuruodo) is a fictional character and major antagonist from the Star Wars galaxy. He first appeared in Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, published between 1992 and 1994. In these books, set five years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Thrawn has assumed command of the remaining Imperial forces and is planning to battle the New Republic. He has subsequently appeared in numerous other Expanded Universe works, including five more novels by Zahn.

Although Thrawn is portrayed as a villain due to his leadership of the Imperials, his command style was considerably different from Darth Vader and other typical Imperial commanders who were known to be megalomaniac and sadistic. Instead of punishing failure and dissent, Thrawn promoted creativity among his crew and would accept ideas from subordinates. He was a tactical genius, augmented by his tedious study of military intelligence and art, as well as one willing to retreat instead of making a stand in a losing battle. Thrawn was not egotistical or concerned with personal glory but instead with defeating the enemy and establishing order.

Thrawn was his "core" name, reminiscent of the English word "thrawn", meaning "twisted or crooked", an apt description of his intricate schemes; his full name was only known to a few select individuals of the Empire and the New Republic. Among the Chiss race however, using the core name would imply a certain familiarity while using his full name would show the proper respect.





Thrawn was a Chiss, a species of aliens from the Unknown Regions. He was a brilliant military strategist and commanded the remnants of the Imperial Fleet in a series of stunning victories against the New Republic. His study of his enemies' artwork gave him insight into their thought processes and cultures, allowing him to create highly effective tailor-made strategies.

Grand Admiral Thrawn is described as a tall, solidly built humanoid with blue skin and glowing red eyes. Because of the Empire's prejudice against non-humans, he was the only non-human to reach the Imperial Navy's highest rank – that of Grand Admiral. Not surprisingly, Thrawn's promotion was long kept secret by Emperor Palpatine, and as late as five years after the Battle of Endor the New Republic appeared to be entirely unaware of his identity, or even his existence. He was also the last Grand Admiral promoted by the Emperor; he earned the rank because of his instrumental role in stopping Grand Admiral Zaarin's attempted coup, receiving the late Zaarin's rank and position as a reward. As a Grand Admiral, he wore the white uniform befitting his rank. This is distinguished from the standard charcoal grey or olive colored uniforms that Imperial officers wore, as shown in the classic Star Wars trilogy.

Chiss Expansionary Fleet

Thrawn rose to the rank of Commander in the Chiss Expansionary Fleet. He became convinced that the Chiss were facing a threat from an unknown but powerful foe and also from a nomadic race of slavers, known as the Vagaari. Aware of the risk posed by fighting a war on two fronts he decided that it was necessary to launch a pre-emptive strike to destroy the Vagaari. Thrawn largely went against the Chiss rule of non-aggression, repeatedly baiting his enemies to commit an act of aggression against the forces under his command, but colluded with Admiral Ar'alani (who had commanded the task force that fought off an initial incursion from the Far Outsiders) to eliminate the Vagaari to prevent a two front war. Thrawn also ended up capturing a trio of smugglers, among them Jorj Car'das. His curiosity piqued, Thrawn kept them around in order to learn more about them, their culture and their language.

Outbound Flight Project

Palpatine was first alerted to Thrawn's tactical genius even before he assumed the title of Emperor. The Outbound Flight Project, a Jedi expedition into deep space, was to be intercepted and destroyed by Palpatine’s forces, but before this could occur, they themselves were ambushed and nearly annihilated by Thrawn's border patrol on the edge of the Unknown Regions. A formidable squadron of the Trade Federation’s most elite forces, a combination of Neimoidian and Techno Union combat vessels, arrived near Chiss space. Thrawn's significantly less numerous but technologically-formidable forces systematically exploited weaknesses in the droid fighter communications system and the Neimoidian commander's ineptitude. That such a typically capable force could be annihilated by a superficially inferior force, during a first-encounter situation, was a credit to Thrawn's spectacular strategic skills.

Kinman Doriana, one of Palpatine's most trusted advisors, was stunned by what had taken place before his eyes. He scrambled to discover a way to survive both this encounter and Darth Sidious's wrath over his failure. He decided to risk exposing his true name, agenda, and position with the Republic, in an attempt to convince Thrawn of the threat of the Jedi expedition and of a new alien species that Palpatine had sensed. Doriana put Thrawn in contact with Lord Sidious, and the two conversed over the situation with Sidious immediately noting Thrawn's capabilities. Thrawn knew of the new alien species of which Doriana and Sidious referred. Known as the Yuuzhan Vong, the Chiss had already encountered a small scout group of the aliens and defeated them. In fact it was his commanding officer, Admiral Ar'alani, who had intercepted them. Her forces noted the ferocity with which this alien species fought. Having the concern over this Yuuzhan Vong threat reinforced by these newly-met Republic aliens, and the arrogance of Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth with his single-minded determination to not veer from Chiss space, Thrawn chose to attack. He did, however, offer Outbound Flight the chance to leave Chiss space instead but C'baoth ignored his threat and offer.

To defeat the formidable Jedi forces aboard Outbound Flight, Thrawn knew that he would need a distraction. He masterfully maneuvered around investigations on his activities by superior officers, and conspired with his guest Jorj Car'das into lulling the Vagaari, a troubling pirate group near Chiss space, into a trap. Thrawn used a gravity well generator stolen from the Vagaari at a prior engagement to pull both the bulk of the Vagaari fleet and Outbound Flight out of hyperspace at the same point. Thrawn knew the Vagaari would not ignore such a large, tempting vessel and he was correct; they attempted to attack Outbound Flight. Thrawn's forces controlled the droid starfighters remaining from the earlier Trade Federation engagement and used them, combined with the Jedi mind-meld, to cripple the Vagaari fleet.

During the emotionally overwhelming distraction for the Jedi, caused by so many deaths of Vagaari and their prisoners, Thrawn moved his vessels into a maneuver inside Outbound Flight's shields and destroyed the Dreadnaught weapons pods, where almost all of the Jedi were manning turbolasers. He wiped out nearly the entire Jedi population of the vessel in this one swift maneuver. Jorus C'baoth, having succumbed to the dark side through his excessive pride and fury over the impending destruction of his expedition, tried to force choke Thrawn. Doriana, as a last ditch effort to save Thrawn, threw a toggle switch on Thrawn's command chair causing the droid fighters to stop attacking the Vagaari and instead perform suicide runs against the Outbound Flight and to drop a radiation weapon into the hulled Dreadnaught vessels. The weapon killed nearly the entire population, nearly 50,000 individuals. Only a small group of people deep within the storage core survived. Thrawn was horrified that it had come to this, as this had never been his plan. He had simply hoped to cripple the Outbound Flight while annihilating the Vagaari, but he had not foreseen Jedi Master C'baoth's long-distance reach. The radiation weapon had been planned for use against the Vagaari.


Thrawn was later exiled from Chiss society to an uninhabited planet. Many years later he was discovered by (then) Captain Parck. After seeing his unique tactical abilities, Captain Parck offered him a commission in the newly formed Imperial Navy, promising that in time he would be allowed to return with a force powerful enough to protect his people.

Thrawn and the Empire

Early Imperial career

Thrawn's early Imperial career has been described in several Star Wars stories. Thrawn was originally a Captain of the Victory-class Star Destroyer Stalwart and commanded several deep space expeditions. He was then promoted to Rear Admiral and Vice Admiral, respectively, and was in charge of a forward deployed fleet. He also played a hand in Research and Development.

In the Star Wars computer game TIE Fighter, an early campaign (Tour of Duty 3) showed how Thrawn established order in a "wild" system at the frontiers of the Empire. Thrawn foiled a coup attempt against the Emperor by the renegade Grand Admiral Zaarin with the aid of his top pilot Maarek Stele. Thrawn and Stele afterward helped to nullify Zaarin's TIE Defenders by developing the Missile Gunboat. As a result of his efforts, he was promoted to Grand Admiral. Although Thrawn and Zaarin were very much tactical equals, Thrawn eventually outsmarted and defeated his nemesis for good.

Opponents and Unknown Regions

Thrawn did have enemies within Imperial loyalist circles. Prince-Admiral Delak Krennel (who briefly collaborated with Ysanne Isard in X-Wing: Isard's Revenge) formerly served under Thrawn, but Krennel's career with the Imperial Navy was almost ruined after Thrawn dismissed him. Captain Dorja of the ISD Relentless was openly critical of Thrawn and Gilad Pellaeon, even when his Destroyer was part of Thrawn's personal squadron.

During the Dark Horse Star Wars comic, "The Making of Baron Fel", Baron Soontir Fel was an ace pilot with the 181st Imperial fighter division who distinguished himself during the ambush of a Rebel convoy. That operation was planned by Thrawn, although Darth Vader gave the orders. The Baron noted that "an alien (such as Thrawn) in such a high position of command was very unusual, given the Empire's extreme xenophobia. Perhaps due to xenophobia or the maneuvering of Isard, the Imperial intelligence director, Thrawn went unrewarded after the successful ambush."

Thrawn would become involved in Imperial court politics, as Mara Jade would later reminisce; all thought that his exile was due to his political defeat by Grand Admiral Rufaan Tigellinus. Actually, Palpatine and Thrawn together had planned his 'exile', with Palpatine quietly feeding him troops and ships to pacify the areas of the Unknown regions without anyone the wiser. After the Rebellion successfully dethroned the Empire at the Battle of Endor, Thrawn returned from the Unknown Regions. Thrawn assumed command of the Empire and took the Star Destroyer Chimaera as his command ship.

Heir to the Empire

Upon assuming command of the Empire, Thrawn immediately began to seek ways to destroy the Republic despite their numerical advantage. A data raid on Obroa-Skai provided the answer - Mt Tantiss, the Emperor's storehouse, which contained a massive array of Spaarti Cloning cylinders, as well as a working cloaking shield. He also discovered something else - Joruus C'baoth, the clone of the Jedi Master he had killed aboard Outbound Flight. With the promise of new Jedi to mold as he pleased, Thrawn convinced C'baoth to aid them, coordinating the Imperial fleet as the Emperor had originally done.

While this put Thrawn in a strong position, he was confronted by the Imperial Navy's lack of ships. To this end, he raided Sluis-Van with mole-miners stolen from Lando Calrissian, hoping to steal much of the unmanned Republic fleet. He was thwarted by Calrissian turning the mole miners against him. Despite this setback, he continued to prepare for the Mt Tantiss campaign, removing Ackbar, his most formidable opponent, via political intrigue. His dilemma over ships was soon solved when he discovered leads on the Katana fleet, a lost fleet of 200 Dreadnaught class Heavy Cruisers. While political intrigues on Coruscant delayed a Republic response, Thrawn seized all but 21 of the ships, and crewed them with his massive new army of clones.

Thrawn then launched his campaign. His tactical and strategic insight allowed him to score huge gains against the Republic (the New Essential Chrononlogy records that he added over a quarter of the galaxy to the Imperial's existing territory, allowing him control over half the galaxy). He would even blockade Coruscant with a subtle bluff that made them believe they were surrounded by invisible (cloaked) asteroids. However, Thrawn was at the same time being slowly undone. Princess Leia had managed to convince the Noghri, Thrawn's army of silent killers, of the Imperial treachery to keep them in servitude. At the same time he was engaged in a power struggle with C'baoth, who had declared himself the true ruler of the Empire, eventually consigning him to Mt Tantiss. The Republic sought to strike back by hitting the Imperial shipyards at Bilbringi, but Thrawn outguessed them and had his fleet waiting for them.

Thrawn was assassinated during the battle, at the end of The Last Command, the final novel in the Zahn trilogy. His bodyguard, Rukh, discovered the betrayal of the Noghri race by Darth Vader, the Emperor and Thrawn, and took vengeance against the only one he could, stabbing him aboard his flagship the Chimaera in the middle of the climactic Battle of Bilbringi. Thrawn's last words were simply: "But…it was so artistically done." With the cloning tanks at Mt Tantiss also destroyed, the Empire was left in full retreat once more.

About ten years later, Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade discovered that Thrawn had created a clone of himself, which would have awoken exactly a decade after Thrawn's defeat. While Skywalker and Jade debated the ethics of killing it, the fire of the security systems caused Jade to cut a hole in the wall bordering a lake, drowning the clone. It was later speculated by Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, after the events of Outbound Flight, that there was another Thrawn clone loose somewhere in the galaxy who had arranged the Vagaari attack in Chiss space at the remains of the Outbound Flight Project, so that the Chiss could be deliberately provoked into dealing with them once and for all. However, this theory remains unproven.

Thrawn and the Yuuzhan Vong

In the novel Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn, the Chiss knew of the Yuuzhan Vong long before the Republic or Empire. It was in fact then-Commander Thrawn's superior officer, Chiss Admiral Ar'alani, who had engaged a scout group of the species. This first encounter was concluded with a Chiss victory against the force, but Admiral Ar'alani noted that they had fought with an impressive ferocity.

During the Outbound Flight project, a Trade Federation task force dispatched by Darth Sidious to defeat Outbound Flight was intercepted and soundly defeated by Commander Thrawn. During the surrender of the remaining Republic forces, Thrawn was put in contact with Lord Sidious. Sidious had foreseen this new alien threat and saw it critical to prevent the large Jedi and Republic citizen populace from being captured and interrogated by the Vong. Such an occurrence would give the Vong a critical informational advantage over the Republic and the Chiss, perhaps throwing off chances of a successful defense against the alien species.

Thrawn was not oblivious to the threat this posed to his people. He required that Outbound Flight change course or be destroyed. Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth and the other Jedi aboard the Flight were oblivious to the threat known thus far only to the Chiss and the Sith. C'baoth at this time was also falling to the dark side, after assuming a dictatorial role over the Outbound Flight populace. He had become incredibly arrogant and was unable to see past his own pride and belief in his invincibility. C'baoth ignored Thrawn's peaceful request for them to simply leave the area and continue their journey on another course. And so Thrawn orchestrated Outbound Flight's defeat. This maintained the Chiss Ascendancy's protective isolation from both the Republic and Vong.

When Thrawn eventually returned to the Unknown Regions, having been made a Grand Admiral by Emperor Palpatine, he carved out a huge empire, going by the name Empire of the Hand. When Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker investigated Thrawn's personal fortress, they encountered the Imperial officer who had first brought Thrawn to the Empire - Admiral Voss Parck. Parck indicated that Thrawn's campaign against the Republic was not solely out of a personal desire to gain power, but to prepare the galaxy against a coming threat - likely the Vong. Later, after the rediscovery of the Outbound Flight remains, Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker speculated that part of the reason behind the Chiss desire for an excuse to wage war on the Vagaari was because the Vagaari had already made contact with the threat (probably the Yuuzhan Vong) and had allied with them.

Command style

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 (probably early scouts of the Yuuzhan Vong).

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 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 his claim that he had not been trained properly was not credible. 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 drove those that served him to both highly respect and fiercely stand by Thrawn.

Ironically, Thrawn was also personally responsible for one of the greatest setbacks to the Imperial cause. His ruthless persecution of smuggler Talon Karrde and estrangement of former Emperor's Hand Mara Jade led directly to her decision to aid the Rebel Alliance. Mara's support proved decisive in the campaign to destroy the Empire's cloning facilities at Mt. Tantiss: in the final confrontation with insane Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth, she landed the killing blow.

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. He was known as one of the most brilliant military commanders in the Star Wars universe and was superior to even geniuses such as General Garm Bel Iblis (who only later joined the New Republic due to personal issues with the Rebel Alliance's leader Mon Mothma) and Admiral Ackbar, who led the Rebellion to victory in many crucial battles.

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, Eye of Palpatine or even the Darksaber). Thrawn turned medium-sized capital ships like Carrack cruisers and Victory-class Star Destroyers into formidable weapons. Unlike many prominent imperial commanders, he had no Super-Star Destroyer under his command.


At the time of the Hand of Thrawn incident, the high-ranking Moff Disra employed a con artist known as Flim to impersonate Grand Admiral Thrawn. Flim was a talented mimic, able to imitate Thrawn's voice and mannerisms, and an excellent actor - he studied Thrawn's biography and career points so that he would not be caught out by questions for which he had not prepared.

Disra's intention in hiring Flim was to rebuild the Empire using Thrawn's reputation to frighten or impress worlds and systems into joining him. The New Republic would do nothing to stop this, as their members' charter allowed member worlds to exit at any time. However, Disra was being manipulated by his aide, Major Grodin Tierce, a cloned Royal Guardsman with all of Thrawn's tactical genius but lacking his political vision. Tierce also wanted revenge on the New Republic for the destruction of the Empire, and it was this desire that led to the triumvirate's downfall.

When General Garm Bel Iblis of the New Republic attacked the Ubiqtorate Base on Yaga Minor, Talon Karrde and Admiral Pellaeon – who wanted peace between the Empire and the New Republic – were able to foil Disra and Tierce's scheme by revealing Flim's identity, thanks to a datacard given to Karrde by Jorj Car'das. Once revealed to be an impostor, Flim surrendered to Admiral Pellaeon and was taken into custody. Flim's ultimate fate is not known.


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. Finally, both Thrawn's and Karrde's ability to piece together far-reaching (and accurate) conclusions from the merest shreds of evidence, thus increasing the value of that evidence, mirrored the real-world advent of the Information Age and its emphasis on knowledge as a key military asset.


Thrawn was played by Robin Atkin Downes in Star Wars: Empire at War. In the Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire audio drama, he is played by Tim Russell. In Star Wars: TIE Fighter he is played by Tris King. Robin Atkin Downes reprises his role as Thrawn in Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption. Like all characters, he is played by Denis Lawson in the Heir to the Empire Audio book and by Anthony Daniels in the audiobook for the Last Command novel.


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