Tuesday 26 September 2023


The search for a live-action Thrawn concludes after 32 years in Ahsoka on Disney+.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, journeys to a galaxy far, far away and finds an exiled Heir to the Empire...

Guest post by Nick Smith

To hear author Timothy Zahn talk about his creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is like listening to the proud father of a Machiavellian prodigy. He obviously loves the character he introduced in his 1991 novel Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, a blue-skinned, red-eyed master planner who gets under the skin of his enemies by researching their culture, behaviour and mindset.

Zahn’s original trilogy of novels (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) featuring Thrawn helped to revitalise Star Wars in a way that’s underestimated today, not just because of the fascinating, carefully crafted main bad guy but also thanks to the peripheral villains - the Imperial Remnants - that threatened Luke Skywalker and his chums.

You can’t keep a wily Grand Admiral down, judging by his mesmerizing appearance in Ahsoka on Disney+. While he lacks the imposing big-ol’-lump-of-evil presence of Darth Vader, he poses a formidable threat to feisty protagonist Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo).

Thrawn honours an agreement to allow Sabine to search for her lost friend Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfani), while ensuring his own victory by sending mercenaries after her. Even if she survives the bandits and creatures of Peridea, she has to face Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno).

In a single episode, Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen, who voiced the character in Star Wars Rebels) is established as the kind of chess player who will let you go first but wire up your pieces to electrocute you before you can say checkmate.

The best characters are developed through the reactions of others, and Thrawn is no exception, spoken of with reverence by Morgan Elspeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). The very possibility of his return vexes Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson). Only the Republic scoffs at the prospect of a phantom menace, and that tactic worked out really well for the Jedi during the Clone Wars. When will they learn that somehow, dark things can return?

As with previous episodes, showrunner and writer Dave Filoni takes us back to Star Wars basics with an unfriendly alien planet, an imposing, seemingly undefeatable enemy, sinister mysticism in the form of the Nightsisters, and beasts that resemble earth creatures with an alien twist (in this case, a Howler mount). A bandit attack is reminiscent of Luke’s struggle with the Tusken Raiders in Star Wars: A New Hope; the bandits look like they have banzai’d out of a Japanese samurai epic.

Just when I was thinking, ‘all that’s missing is a bunch of cute little aliens making distinct, easily imitable noises,’ it was as if Ben Burtt was recording my thoughts and the crab-like Noti rocked up.

The only arguable flaw in an otherwise perfect episode is Peridea itself, a missed opportunity to let imagination fly to create a weird world distinct from anything we’ve seen before. The characters have travelled to another galaxy, far, far away, yet the terrain looks like it could be right next door to Ahch-To or even a part of Earth. Could it be…?

Filoni continues to set a high benchmark of quality with Ahsoka, which features subtle acting, a canny understanding of Thrawn’s character, idiosyncratic new looks for the Grand Admiral’s Stormtroopers and crowd-pleasing touches such as the sheer spectacle of the Purgill and the inclusion of the ever-entertaining David Tennant, voicing Huyang.

Although episode 6’s ending leaves Sabine and her new allies in a perilous position, she remains optimistic and she has a chance to get home.

Meanwhile, Star Wars fans following this series are right where they want to be, watching a new, authentic slice of their favourite saga unfold.

New episodes of Ahsoka drop every Tuesday exclusively on Disney+.

Are you watching Ahsoka on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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