The Mandalorian season 2 may be over but the era of Star Wars on Disney+ is just beginning. Many new shows are coming to the streaming service in the next few years and there is at least a possibility that an all-timer of a classic story will be resurrected as part of those plans. Indeed, we may well be seeing a version of Heir to the Empire in the coming years that could position Grand Admiral Thrawn as the biggest threat to peace in the galaxy since Palpatine.
Warning: spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian season 2. For the moment, this falls squarely in the speculation category. I have no insider info. I am merely a fan who is connecting dots. That said, all of the pieces on the chessboard seem to be moving into place. Disney and Lucasfilm recently announced a slew of new TV projects taking place in a galaxy far, far away which were prompted by the success of The Mandalorian, the first live-action series in the history of the franchise. Many of these new shows will be taking place in the same timeline, a handful of years after the events of Return of the Jedi. And, given some of what we learned in The Mandalorian season 2, there is reason to believe Lucasfilm is building to an adaptation of one of the most cherished storylines in Star Wars history.
For those who may not be familiar, Heir to the Empire was a storyline taking place across a trilogy of novels written by Timothy Zahn. Originally published in 1991, the first book came at a time when there wasn’t much going in the Star Wars universe. Zahn delivered a story that not only served to entertain the fanbase at the time, but one that continues to influence the franchise to this day, even though the books are no longer considered canon. Once Lucasfilm reset the canon in 2012, they were designated as “Legends” tales. To help set the stage, here is a synopsis for Heir to the Empire.
“It’s five years after the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and drove the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy. Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting Jedi twins. And Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of Jedi Knights. But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor’s warlords, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to build.”
Thrawn, for those who perhaps haven’t encountered any of the material he’s associated with, is unlike any other major villain in Star Wars. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a member of the Chiss, a mysterious alien race with blue skin. His native name is Mitth’raw’nuruodo. Thrawn possesses an unparalleled intelligence that allowed him to ascend the ranks of the Imperial Navy. Thrawn uses art and other artifacts from a race’s culture to formulate strategies. He is not a Force user. He is not necessarily the biggest threat in a hand-to-hand fight. His greatest weapon is his mind.
The Heir to the Empire synopsis alone makes it clear that a fully faithful adaptation of this storyline is not possible. Han and Leia did not have twins. That had a son, Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, for example, who was the main villain of the sequel trilogy. But the meat of the story is what matters here. Thrawn was brought back into the canon via the Star Wars Rebels animated series. When last we saw the blue-skinned alien, he was blasting off into the unknown wilds of space with Ezra Bridger. His fate seemed uncertain. Then Ahsoka Tano, as portrayed by Rosario Dawson, uttered the name “Thrawn” in The Mandalorian episode The Jedi. It changed everything.
This means Thrawn is out there somewhere. This means that the brilliant strategist, one of the highest-ranking members of the Imperial military, is alive during the exact time period when Heir to the Empire takes place. And it just so happens that with Palpatine and Darth Vader dead, there is a major power vacuum that needs filling. We’ve been introduced to Imperial figureheads such as Moff Gideon, but who is truly pulling the strings at the top of the food chain in the remnants of the Empire? If it’s Thrawn, the stage is set.
The Mandalorian season 2 put many other key pieces in place as well. For one, Luke Skywalker appeared, in the flesh, in the finale. Luke, as one might expect, is a huge player in the Heir to the Empire storyline. That appearance paved the way for him to become a part of these future stories on Disney+. There is also the matter of the other shows announced by Lucasfilm. Ahsoka will follow Anakin Skywalker’s former apprentice in the same timeline. Presumably, this would be a great place to pick up the Thrawn thread. There is also Rangers of the New Republic, which the studio says will ” intersect with future stories and culminate into a climactic story event.” An Heir to the Empire adaptation would be one hell of a climax.
The Force Awakens, the first entry in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, takes place roughly 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. That means Lucasfilm, along with producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, who have been shaping these stories, have around 25 years to play with in the timeline. That is plenty of time to have Thrawn attempt to take the throne and revive the Empire, bending it to his will. It also offers the opportunity to give a younger Han Solo and Leia (who would certainly need to be recast), as well as other legacy characters, a chance to shine. Not to mention we could get other beloved characters introduced in the official canon. Namely Mara Jade, the popular Jedi who was married to Luke Skywalker in Timothy Zahn’s trilogy of novels.
Star Wars, as it exists, has endless opportunities as it moves away from the Skywalker saga and branches out on the small screen. But one thing that the franchise has always had is iconic villains. Thrawn, despite never appearing in live-action, is one of the most beloved villains in the history of the franchise. He could be that new iconic villain. He could be the big bad of this brave new era of Star Wars. Lucasfilm will surely be keeping any such lofty plans under wraps for as long as they can, but there is enough evidence currently in place to offer fans of this storyline hope. War may be coming. Brace yourselves.
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