Ahsoka continues to please Star Wars fans. Getting close to the end, the show finally introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn, an imperial remnant and military leader who was a crucial villain in Rebels and now has a live-action version by Lars Mikkelsen, an actor fit to the task of representing a magnanimous bad guy. After thrilling suspense and an evil search crew behind his whereabouts, the Admiral made a dazzling appearance in episode six, “Far, Far Away,” and he’s obviously set to weigh in heavily in the last two parts of the series, embodying the cruelest aspect of the Galactic Empire.
Star Wars is popular for many things, and great villains are one of them. The saga that gave us the unbeatable Darth Vader and his even darker master Palpatine (who would actually be afraid of the Ahsoka villains), has a high standard for anyone who confronts the forces of good. For better or for worse, not every enemy has lived up to the standards of those who preceded them, with many easily falling into oblivion. Yet, Thrawn deserves his spot on this galaxy’s podium, with the potential to expand the idea of what it means to be evil in this franchise. What makes Grand Admiral Thrawn such an interesting foe, and why could upcoming villains learn a thing or two from him to be remembered? Here are some thoughts.
The High Star Wars Villain Bar
Anyone making a list of the best villains of all time should at least include Darth Vader. His evil nature is amazingly constructed through multiple elements. From starters, his black robotic menace appearance is hard not to fear. His James Earl Jones voice brings the terror to a whole new level, especially when speaking such eloquent lines with a mystic twist, the typical Jedi/Sith speech. Last but not least, he is almost a monster, given his strength and dark-force-wielding power, almost as if he were a character in a horror film.
Palpatine was the perfect master for such a villain. Not only can he match his apprentice’s skills, but he also controls the art of political plotting. Whereas the original trilogy gave him a more occult place as a spiritual evil, the prequel trilogy developed his puppet master role, showing a new direction for bad in the galaxy far, far away. The fact that they worked as a tandem and that one “created” the other only enhanced this brilliant construction of evil.
Aside from these two, there are notable villains that ultimately didn’t get much development. Darth Maul managed to reproduce the visual impact of evil but did not have much screen time. Jabba The Hutt suffered a similar fate while adding the mafia-like dimension of evildoing. Closer to this new streaming era, Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati bring gray areas between Jedi and Sith while still clearly siding against the new Republic as mercenaries, an intelligent development for a complex franchise such as Star Wars.
The point is that every new villain in the brand shouldn’t try to top Darth Vader, but it is important that they don’t live in his shadow. That was probably Kylo Ren’s (and Snoke in the case of Palpatine) main issue: Ben Solo tried to reinforce the idea of humanity in evil by showing an angry nature, authority problems, and a quick redemption, something that Anakin Skywalker had already shown in more screen time and nuances. The lesson learned is still the same: Darth Vader should inspire new villains but not model them.
How Grand Admiral Thrawn Fits in Star Wars Tradition of Evil
Grand Admiral Thrawn’s appearance is brutally imposing. A blue skin tone that separates him from humans with fiery reptilian eyes and white military attire conveys the authority of an army commander who can orchestrate a coup d’etat against the New Republic.
Thrawn’s allegiance is not toward Palpatine or the Empire per se but what it stood for in terms of galactic order and his powerful role in it. That’s why he looks at Jedi rebels (and the homonymous series properly showcases) as a threat to his position. Now a rebel himself but with an army to launch a guerrilla against the republican reign, Thrawn will stop at anything to restore an Imperial society with him on top of it.
The characteristics behind Thrawn’s power quest make him an ambitious villain. His calm manner and subtle ways contrast perfectly with this lust for power, making him unpredictable in terms of personality. His troubled experience with Jedi and treacherous style make him suspicious of Skoll and Hati, sending spies to watch over them and kill them if they must, and his alliance with Morgan Elsbeth and the other Nightsisters is clearly an alignment of in interests that could fall apart at any second if he believes they pose a threat to his dominance.
All of this can be deduced by a less-than-10-minute appearance of Mikkelse’s masterfully played Thrawn. In other words, this villain brings back a multidimensional yet economical portrayal of evil that gives reasons and humanity to an enemy without redeeming him. Long after the more Manichean origins of good vs. evil in the form of Jedi vs. Sith, characters like this bring Star Wars a new depth, even if they become one-offs or don’t live on to make new appearances. A mix of tradition and subtle innovation makes viewers love (and fear) these kinds of villains and keeps them coming to see more of the galaxy’s brutal wars that make the franchise such a classic.