ith his iconic blue skin, glowing red eyes, and heart of gold (mostly), Mitth'raw'nuruodo is perhaps the most transcendent character in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Thrawn is unique in that his story spans nearly all Star Wars media—Legends and Canon, full-length novels, short stories, comics, and even animated television! This is especially rare for a character who originated in the Expanded Universe rather than in the films themselves! The sheer dearth of Thrawn-centric content can make it a bit daunting to select a proper starting place. Don’t worry—helping readers get started with Star Wars books is our speciality.
Thrawn is well on his way to headlining three trilogies of full-length adult novels: the Original Thrawn Trilogy (Legends), the Imperial Thrawn Trilogy, and the more recent Ascendency Trilogy. Perhaps more than any other Expanded Universe character, there are a number of jumping-on points in Big Blue’s story, all of which are valid and interesting in their own right. We’re here to help you make the decision that sounds the most interesting to you!
Option 1: Blast from the Past
Start with Heir to the Empire
It was a tall order for Timothy Zahn to craft a villain in 1991’s Heir to the Empire. One who could stand alongside the likes of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine in the minds of Star Wars fans as an imposing figure capable of engineering the destruction of our beloved heroes of the Original Trilogy.
With Thrawn, he did exactly that. Starting with Heir to the Empire in your journey with the Grand Admiral may be non-canonical, but this is where Zahn himself began. If you put yourself in the decade following the release of Return of the Jedi, Thrawn is introduced as one of the first formidable forces for Luke, Han, and Leia to face as they seek to restore freedom to the galaxy.
In the opening chapters, he’s meticulous, calculating, art-appreciating, and patiently instructing his second-in-command, Gilad Pellaeon. There is perhaps no better starting place than Thrawn’s initial introduction from way back in ‘91.
Why we recommend Heir to the Empire
Heir to the Empire is as OG as it gets in the EU. Why does the Thrawn Funko Pop regularly sell for $100 on the aftermarket? Why does he have not one but two Canon trilogies of character-centric novels? It all started here.
Option 2: From the Page to the Screen (Back to the Page)
Start with Rebels Season 3 and/or the Imperial Thrawn Trilogy
Star Wars fans went into an absolute frenzy when Dave Filoni reintroduced Thrawn into Canon with these words “there’s always some truth in Legends.”
Portrayed with the iconic and understated voice acting from Lars Mickelson, Thrawn made his on-screen debut in the Star Wars Rebels Season Three trailer that debuted at Star Wars Celebration 2016 with these words, “To defeat an enemy you must know them,” which perfectly captured Thrawn’s MO when it comes to his tactical brilliance.
Rebels’ masterful condensation of Thrawn’s brilliance as an art-loving military mind who always thinks one step ahead serves as an excellent starting place for fans wanting to gain an appreciation for the character.
Announced in tandem with Thrawn’s introduction in Rebels was a brand-new Thrawn book from Zahn himself that would serve as both an origin story and an introduction to his appearance in Rebels. The self-titled novel, Thrawn, is the story of how Mitth'raw'nuruodo became an Imperial Admiral. And for the first time, Thrawn is the protagonist! It is here where we find his flawed character much more on display than it was in Legends continuity.
Although this trilogy as a whole is not quite as beloved or critically acclaimed as some of Zahn’s other works, Thrawn is certainly an excellent introduction to the character and a standout novel.
Why we recommend Rebels and Thrawn
Thrawn’s on-screen debut in Rebels and his first Canon novel appearance are incredibly strong distillations of what makes the character lovable and loathable, propelling him into stardom in Star Wars Canon.
Option 3: Into the Unknown
Start with Chaos Rising
Thrawn’s story, though largely consistent, has evolved tremendously over the years. In the Thrawn Trilogy of Legends, he sentences an entire planet to be burned to ash, has a gunner on the bridge of one of his ships executed, and willingly hands over Leia’s unborn children into the hands of a deranged Dark Jedi.
Zahn has progressively revealed more of the depth of Thrawn’s character, however. Perhaps the biggest leap happened when he wrote his first Thrawn prequel: Outbound Flight. In it, Thrawn has his own agenda; what appeared to be a power-hungry warlord has now become an honorable and misunderstood military man...and art consumer.
This conception of Thrawn and the decision to place the story early in the Star Wars timeline and outside known space is exactly what the new Ascendency trilogy is all about. Herein, Thrawn is a promising young cadet whose potential benefit and danger are recognized by the higher-ups in the Chiss Ascendency. They leverage him as a weapon in their political agendas—some defend and elevate him while others unite across family lines in an attempt to take him down. All the while, Thrawn makes allies, navigates complicated political landscapes, bends the rules, and unearths a manaichal plot that threatens to upend not only the Chiss civilization...but also the entire Chaos itself.
Why we recommend Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
Thrawn’s new trilogy sees Zahn firing on all cylinders, fleshing out characters he created decades ago, crafting all-new ones who stand toe-to-toe with the very best of the Expanded Universe, and chartering a brand-new neighborhood “beyond a galaxy far, far away.”
With so much Thrawn content in the galaxy, knowing where to start can be a bit daunting. However, these three options represent excellent jumping-on points for getting to know our favorite blue Chiss.
Which one will you pick?
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