Star Wars: Ahsoka is coming to Disney+ in August, and this is the third installment in our series of prep notes here at Couch Soup. If you haven’t watched the animated Star Wars shows or just want a pre-show appetizer, these prep notes offer a quick glance at the Star Wars characters and lore in the backstory behind Ahsoka. In the previous two installments, I’ve covered Ahsoka, Rex, Hera, Chopper, and the Ghost. Here, I briefly introduce series antagonist Thrawn, his flagship the Chimaera, and Thrawn loyalist Pellaeon.
These notes are a bit longer because I didn’t want you to miss any info that might be relevant to Ahsoka. However, I’m sticking only to the current Star Wars canon. Fans like me who lived through the 16-year Star Wars drought (1983-1999) know Thrawn, Pellaeon, and the Chimaera as creations of author Timothy Zahn from The Thrawn Trilogy (1991-1993). Those novels were the most successful publications in the Expanded Universe (EU), which Disney now categorizes as non-canon “Legends” stories. If you want to know more about how the EU kept fans engaged during the drought, I recommend “How ‘Star Wars’ Overcame Its Lean Years” by Ben Lindbergh followed by “How the Star Wars Expanded Universe Was Born” by Jesse Schedeen.
Thrawn is an Imperial Grand Admiral during the time of Star Wars: Rebels. He has a cool, detached demeanor that colleagues and opponents often find unsettling. Thrawn is best known for being a master tactician who seems able to read his opponents’ minds and accurately predict their actions. Current canon denies that Thrawn has supernatural powers, though. He’s just incredibly observant, intelligent, and cunning, with a willingness to color outside the lines to win. Thrawn’s unique edge is tied to his passion for art: he can deduce an opponent’s battle strategy by studying their art, culture, and history. This approach brings Thrawn tremendous success throughout his life and career leading up to Rebels.
The motivation for Ahsoka to search for Thrawn started during Rebels. Galactic regional governor and Imperial loyalist Arihnda Pryce is unsuccessful in dealing with rebels operating in her region, and she suggests to Grand Moff Tarkin that they may be part of a larger rebel movement across the galaxy. Tarkin agrees and endorses Pryce’s request to move Thrawn’s powerful Seventh Fleet into the region. When Thrawn gets involved, he directs his subordinates to accept defeat during small operations associated with the Phoenix Cell of rebels, including Hera and the crew of the Ghost. But that acceptance is part of Thrawn’s long-term strategy to track down the larger rebel fleet for a single, overwhelming defeat.
In the meantime, Thrawn begins manufacturing his pet project on Lothal: TIE Defender fighter ships that could gain the upper hand in suppressing insurgents. Conventional TIE fighters have to be ferried in and out of a location using capital ships like Star Destroyers, but TIE Defenders have a hyperdrive and deflector shields, freeing them to operate independently. Later, as Orson Krennic‘s Stardust project (featured in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) ate up so many Imperial resources, Thrawn gained more support for his less expensive TIE Defender project. However, the project grinds to a halt when Pryce’s reckless pursuit of Jedi Kanan Jarrus causes the destruction of the TIE Defender factory’s fuel depot.
Thrawn delivers two major blows to the rebels: one destroying a base and a chunk of their fleet, and another taking out a squadron of fighters in an attack over Lothal. However, the remnants of the Phoenix Cell eventually succeed after young Jedi trainee Ezra Bridger of the Ghost uses a strategy that Thrawn had not considered. In short, Ezra asked two of his companions to send a signal out into space that would summon purrgil to Lothal. (I’ll cover more about the purrgil in my next prep notes.) Those “space whales” grabbed Thrawn’s ship, the Chimaera, and pulled it into hyperspace with both Thrawn and Ezra on board, destination unknown. With Thrawn and the TIE Defender no longer in play, Lothal is liberated, and the tide turns for the Rebellion.
The urgency of Ahsoka’s search for Thrawn ties back to the attention and personal favor he received from Emperor Palpatine. Timothy Zahn published a canon novel trilogy in 2017-2019 (starting with Star Wars: Thrawn) that covers Thrawn’s Imperial service and relationship with Palpatine and Darth Vader. Ahsoka may also drop some Easter eggs from Zahn’s Thrawn Ascendancy novel trilogy (2020-2021). Those novels lay out the canon backstory for Thrawn (full name Mitth’raw’nuruodo) and his people (the Chiss) from the Unknown Regions. You shouldn’t need to read Zahn’s novels to appreciate Thrawn in Ahsoka, but they’re intriguing stories, and I recommend dropping them on your reading or audiobook list.
Thrawn’s canon story made the leap to live action during Star Wars: The Mandalorian Season 2. There, Ahsoka faces off with Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth, a known associate of Thrawn. After getting the upper hand in their duel, Ahsoka asks the Magistrate where Thrawn is. But Ahsoka doesn’t get an answer, setting us up for what’s to come in the Ahsoka series. We know from the Ahsoka trailer and Star Wars Celebration that we’ll see Thrawn in the series, portrayed by Lars Mikkelsen who gave Thrawn the perfect voice in Rebels.
Gilad Pellaeon is captain of the Harbinger, which is part of Thrawn’s Seventh Fleet during the events of Rebels. Most of Pellaeon’s canon story comes from Zahn’s novels, but what we’ve seen of him so far in Rebels and The Mandalorian is sufficient to set up his character should he appear in Ahsoka. Pellaeon’s debut on film was in the final episode of Rebels where he’s voiced by Jim Cummings. There, we hear Pellaeon report to Thrawn about an overwhelming force (the aforementioned purrgil) that appeared out of nowhere to attack the fleet in orbit.
During The Mandalorian Season 3, Pellaeon meets with his fellow Shadow Council members, speaking of the importance of taking careful action when working behind the scenes to undermine the New Republic. He wants to rally support for the return of the Empire by representing strength to contrast with the Republic’s weakness. He’s counting on his former superior for that strength, saying, “Grand Admiral Thrawn’s return will herald in the reemergence of our military.” Pellaeon also ties Thrawn’s return to giving Brendol Hux time to move Project Necromancer forward, an obvious reference to the efforts to bring back Emperor Palpatine that come to fruition in Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.
During that meeting, Moff Gideon chides Pellaeon for his faith in Thrawn, who is still missing in action. Pellaeon emphasizes that the Shadow Council’s success relies on the secrecy of Thrawn’s return. Gideon spreads doubt about Thrawn, though, and encourages the Council to look to new leadership, flaunting his own competence to take that mantle. This hints that Ahsoka will show Thrawn returning to a fractured remnant of the Empire that requires him to test loyalties. But why would Thrawn be keeping his return a secret from his allies? We’ll probably find out in Ahsoka.
The Chimaera is an Imperial I-class Star Destroyer that serves as Thrawn’s flagship. Thrawn captained the ship during the Galactic Civil War, then chose to use it as his command ship through his subsequent promotions. Since Thrawn has unconventional methods for getting things done, he likes to work with people and equipment he can count on. Given that, it makes sense that he would continue using a ship he was familiar with and grooming its crew, captains, and commanders to serve under him with fierce loyalty.
Inside, the Chimaera has extensive customizations to suit Thrawn’s comforts, including his private physical training facilities and rooms of collected artwork. On the outside, the Chimaera has unique artistic markings engraved onto its ventral hull (the underside of the ship). As seen by anyone below the ship, the markings form the image of a chimaera. Members of Thrawn’s Seventh Fleet, along with several of his associates, have worn the chimaera design on their uniforms and regalia while in his service.
We last saw the Chimera above Lothal just before the purrgil pulled the ship into hyperspace. We don’t know where it ended up, but we’ll likely get that answer in the Ahsoka series. I hope we’ll see the ship itself, too, for the first time in live-action Star Wars.
In the coming weeks, Lily K will bring you an article that dives further into who Thrawn is and why he’s such a significant character in Star Wars. Next week, make sure your eyes are on Couch Soup again for my prep notes on Ezra Bridger, Kanan Jarrus, and the purrgil.