Spoiler Warning: This article contains specific details about the Star Wars Rebels finale...
Did he or didn’t he?
That’s the question many have been asking since Rebels wrapped up the series the other night. Did Thrawn meet his end thanks to Ezra and his army of Purrgil? Or will the calculating and evil master tactician find his way out of this unusual situation?
The last time we saw Thrawn was aboard his Star Destroyer, the Chimaera, and least to say things weren’t looking too good for the Chiss male. He was facing off with Ezra on his bridge when the cavalry arrived in the form of a rather large pod of Purrgil’s, who wrapped up Thrawn and the ship with their seemingly malignant and autonomous tentacles.
As the rest of the Ghost crew watched, the Purrgil charged up and took off into hyperspace with the Chimaera in tow, and that includes Ezra and Thrawn. They presumably went into unknown space and gave us quite the ambiguous ending for both Thrawn and Ezra. Whether they can survive in the vacuum of space in an unpressurized vessel is for you to decide, but I would offer the suggestion that if you have a problem with that then maybe Star Wars isn’t the franchise for you. The physics of Star Wars is something we won’t touch on here, that’s for much more learned people than me, but in a show that also includes space whales I would say just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Those of us who remember Thrawn the from the original Timothy Zahn trilogy, starting with “Heir to the Empire” released in 1991, we already knew how great a villain he was and had our collective fingers crossed he would be salvaged from the Expanded Universe. When Dave Filoni and company started using bits and pieces from the now Legends Universe, we were hopeful the blue skinned Imperial wouldn’t be too far behind.
And so it was that on October 2016 in Season 3 of Rebels, in an episode titled “Steps into Shadow”, Thrawn was reintroduced, canonically this time, to the world in spectacular fashion. As first impressions go, this was a doozy, as this Thrawn much like the first, was calculated, cunning and deviously patient. He was also voiced to perfection by actor Lars Mikkelsen, who yes is the brother of Galen Erso himself, Mads Mikkelsen.
He has since appeared in a new canon era novel, again by creator Timothy Zahn, simply titled “Thrawn” which was released in April of 2017. This book, much like the trilogy, was received very well and drew upon some Legends material all the while introducing us to new meaningful characters such as Sy Bisti translator, Eli Vanto. This novel is also the first time we hear Thrawn’s birth name uttered, which we now know is Mitth'raw'nuruodo.
What’s important to understand about this character, specifically the differences between the Expanded Universe version of Thrawn and the new canon version, has to do with his death. In the original timeline Thrawn was killed (9 ABY) by his bodyguard, a Noghri named Rukh, while he sat on the bridge of his Star Destroyer, again the Chimaera. The reasons why are unimportant here but what is important is the fact that the same character, Rukh (Warwick Davis), also appears in Star Wars Rebels. He’s more of an assassin than bodyguard but is equally impressive with his skills and as fiercely loyal to Grand Admiral Thrawn. So we have Thrawn, we have Rukh and we have the Chimaera all appearing in Star Wars Rebels.
Makes sense then that Thrawn should meet his end the same way right? Nope. One big reason for this is Rukh was seemingly killed in the last episode, and before the events that occurred on the bridge of the Chimaera. He was electrocuted when Zeb Orrelios attached Rukh’s foot in the shield generator core wiring just when Kallus activated the core, with Rukh getting caught in the path of the current. From the point of view of Zeb, we can hear what sounds like Rukh getting electrocuted in the background, perhaps fatally.
So with Rukh not around to carry out Thrawn’s death and Thrawn now half away across the galaxy, they’ve clearly steered away from the expanded universe’s version of events. This still doesn’t answer the question of whether or not Thrawn is dead; it just means Rukh has nothing to do with it.
There are three reasons I believe Thrawn is still alive and none have to do with the new Thrawn novel coming out this year called “Thrawn: Alliances”, that novel takes place before the events in Rebels. One has to do with Thrawn himself and his effect on future events and the second has do with Ezra and his likelihood of survival, which is very high. The final reason we'll get to likely requires less convincing as it relies less on facts and more on conviction.
First, as we know from the EU, Thrawn spent many years quelling uprisings and charting the Unknown Regions of space. That fact has been relegated to the Legends category until very recently where in the book “Aftermath: Empire’s End” written by Chuck Wendig, we learn this tidbit of information…
“…Palpatine had one in the navy who knew something of the Unknown Regions: Admiral Thrawn, an alien with ice-blue skin who came from beyond the borders of the known galaxy. Palpatine only kept that one around because of what he knew of traversing those deadly interstices. Much of what Thrawn knew went into the computations of this machine.”
I’m sure you’ve picked up on the past tense but it doesn’t get specific beyond that, it doesn’t say when or if at all Thrawn is dead. It just implies that the Emperor had a specific use for Thrawn and that information helped with the Emperor’s exit strategy should he meet his demise. It seems unlikely that the over confident Emperor had this plan that far in advance. And there is nothing on record to indicate if Thrawn and Palpatine ever had this exchange of information prior to the events in Rebels, as noted in the “Thrawn” novel…
“As a start, I offer information. There are threats lurking in the Unknown Regions, threats that will someday find you’re Empire. I am Familiar with many of them.”
With nothing to indicate this conversation ever took place before the events in Rebels and knowing that Thrawn’s insight into the Unknown Region was absolutely used to shape future events, I’m left with no evidence to suggest Thrawn is dead. Also, the part that says, “…Palpatine only kept that one around…” implies it was Palpatine who either destroyed Thrawn or simply dismissed him from the rank and file. If this is the case, then it’s obviously after the events in Rebels and Thrawn’s death while maybe unavoidable, hasn’t occurred yet. Of course when “Thrawn: Alliances” comes out this could all be moot.
The other reason I believe Thrawn at least survives the Purrgil hyperspace trip is that I’m 100% sure that Ezra does. We know from The Last Jedi and Rebels that Jedi can survive in the vacuum of space perhaps a little longer than regular folk but certainly not long enough to survive a hyperspace trip to unknown space. So, if Ezra survived the trip, then so did Thrawn. How they manage that I can’t say, for now we’ll have to believe in Star Wars magic, at least until Dave Filoni tells us otherwise. But the reasons I believe Ezra is alive has to do with what I think the future of that character entails and the types of stories that Lucasfilm want to tell.
We won’t get into that here, it’s just important to understand the connectivity between Ezra’s survivability in this specific moment and time, and Thrawn’s. Strong evidence again of this, and this is vital, is that in the final moments of the finale just as the Purrgil have shown up, Thrawn recognizes the predicament he's in. He looks at Ezra and says, "Whatever happens next...happens to both of us." and Ezra's response is, "That's the idea." If you know anything from watching Filoni TV for 10 years, you know everything means something and if you truly believe Ezra survives this craziness, then you have to believe Thrawn does as well.
Not to rule anything out, there is the possibility that any injuries Thrawn occurred at the hands of the Purrgil’s tentacles could have killed him, but that wasn’t indicated in the last frame and he was very much alive when they took off into hyperspace. I think if that was the case and the true intentions of Filoni and the team, they would have just depicted that and not left it open to conjecture.
My final point has nothing to do with anything quantifiable; it simply has to do with faith. Not in a theological sense, but faith, or more to the point trust, that Dave Filoni cares as much for these characters as we do. He understands maybe more than most what they mean to us and the greater Star Wars universe. So to leave the fate of an enormously intriguing and popular character in such a dubious state, tells me he has some grand intention for the former Chiss Resident. Filoni has spoken quite fondly and with a deep respect for this character so even if I had no other information to go on, that would be enough to convince me that Thrawn is still alive and that his death, while inevitable, will be a decisively conspicuous event. Filoni has stated as much recently indicating there’s more story to tell for both Ezra and Thrawn, and I suppose that’s all the evidence we need.
Historically, in most TV series and movies, if you didn’t “see” the character die then chances are they didn’t, let’s hope that’s the case for our dear Mitth'raw'nuruodo. This is just my opinion but major characters, except in our beloved Leia Organa's case, typicaly don't and shouldn't die off screen and I expect Thrawn to be no different. But, as in all things Star Wars these days, time will have to tell. Time to play the waiting game again.
Till next time…MTFBWY.
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