Thrawn’s Return Can Make Star Wars’ Biggest Missing Character Canon


Grand Admiral Thrawn is returning to Star Wars by way of The Mandalorian. That opens the door for more Expanded Universe icons to become canon.

Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Mandalorian season 2, episode 5, “Chapter 13: The Jedi.”

The return of Grand Admiral Thrawn to a post-Return of the Jedi era in The Mandalorian could be very good news for Mara Jade. The Chriss mastermind was revealed the be the focus of Ahsoka Tano’s mission in The Mandalorian season 2, episode 5, “Chapter 13: The Jedi” and proved to almost overshadow reveals about Baby Yoda’s name and origin.

There’s a lot of canon implications from the Thrawn namedrop. He was last seen being hyperspaced away into unknown space in the Star Wars Rebels series finale along with Jedi Ezra Bridger, so Ahsoka’s confrontation with his apprentice indicates he’s back in a position of power, raising questions about the animated show finale’s lingering questions.

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Related: Why Ahsoka Is Searching For Grand Admiral Thrawn In The Mandalorian

But given that The Mandalorian season 2 has already begun to re-canonise aspects from the now-defunct Expanded Universe (Boba Fett survived the Sarlaac and Moff Gideon has an army of potentially-Force powered Dark Troopers), there’s even more seismic ramifications than that. Thrawn has been a character at the heart of Star Wars for nearly 30 years, and carries with him a lot of related characters and ideas. And none have been as deserving of coming over to Disney canon than Mara Jade.

Mara Jade’s Origin Was Linked To Thrawn In Star Wars Legends

Mara Jade and Stormtroopers in Star Wars

If there was a face of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it was Mara Jade. Former Dark Jedi, wife to Luke Skywalker and mother to Ben, she grew to become a key figure in the post-Return of the Jedi galaxy, as important as any of the core trio; perhaps moreso, given there was less sacrosanct movie characterization to worry about. When Legacy of the Force needed Jacen Solo to kill a loved one to ascend to the Sith mantle – a role filled by father Han in the Disney movies – it was Mara Jade who was selected, underpinning the sheer scale of her role.

And it all began with Thrawn. Mara debuted in Heir to the Empire, the first entry in Timothy Zahn’s EU-defining Thrawn trilogy, as a former Emperor’s Hand, dark Force users who served Palpatine directly, now working as a smuggler with a bitter hatred of Luke Skywalker. Thrawn’s methodical campaign drew her into galactic events again and provided a greater evil for her to team up with Skywalker against. In the backdrop of Mara becoming a Jedi Master, Thrawn was really a catalyst to her greater story, rather than a defining figure. And yet he could wind up being key to her future.

From a 2020 perspective, there’s numerous issues with Mara Jade coming into canon. In the sequel trilogy, Luke Skywalker was a hermit who never married, meaning her potential lasting impact on the galaxy has been removed. To her origin, the Emperor’s Hands were roundly replaced by the Jedi-hunting Inquisitors. Similar to EU fan favorite Kyle Katarn, there simply isn’t much space for Mara Jade in Star Wars canon. A red-headed Force user with the name alone wouldn’t suffice.

Related: The Mandalorian Season 2: Biggest Unanswered Questions After Episode 2

How Thrawn In The Mandalorian Can Bring Mara Jade To Star Wars Canon

That’s why The Mandalorian namedropping Thrawn is so impactful. When he was brought into canon in Star Wars Rebels season 3, it was with some key consolation: the timeline had changed from post-Jedi to the inter-trilogy dark times; his foes were the Ghost crew, not the Millennium Falcon gang; the Force-stopping Ysalamiri were art pieces and Noghri bodyguard Rukh became a simple assassin. Character and method returned, but story was replaced.

Now, though, there’s scope for Heir to the Empire to be reworked into canon. When the Expanded Universe became the de-canonized Legends, it was ostensibly to give J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan a clean slate for what became Star Wars: The Force Awakens; to be able to tell a new story without being lumbered with decades of continuity, where the previous de facto Episodes VII-IX (Heir and its sequels, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command) were set when the core cast was much younger. But that was a time when the only recognizable characters in a post-Jedi world were Han, Luke and Leia. The building blocks are there to be plundered with a new set of heroes.

An approximation of Heir to the Empire, with Ahsoka Tano, Bo-Katan, Din Djarin and Grogu at the fore, would be a suitable endgame for The Mandalorian. Several story elements are already present in some form: a struggling New Republic; an embittered Imperial Remnant; Force clones. Bringing in Mara Jade adds an extra gamepiece with a direct link to the Emperor (something already possibly begun with the creatures injected with Baby Yoda’s blood) and unique outlook on the galaxy compared to Mandalorians, Hunters, Heiresses and Jedi.

Put more plainly, a plot like Heir to the Empire is one of the best ways Mara Jade can still have an impact on Star Wars canon without losing everything that made her character so great. With so much lost, the best way to reset her up and allow for fresh adventures is to return to the core idea – the darkest of the Emperor’s servants done good – which The Mandalorian is keyed to do.

From the creation of Legends, Lucasfilm’s stance was always that it would be using the plethora of books and games for inspiration. However, at least in the mainline movies, this failed to materialize. It’s not that Expanded Universe story details are intrinsically genius; to the contrary, many are contrived or generic. But in light of the narratively-conflicted sequel trilogy and spinoffs of varying success, not to mention a new canon that has fallen into many of the movie-reliant potholes, at least dipping into the past makes sense for Star Wars‘ future.

Next: The Mandalorian: May Have Just Set Up A Dark Future For Baby Yoda

New episodes of The Mandalorian release every Friday on Disney+.

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Updated: November 29, 2020 — 12:30 pm

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