Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Ahsoka Episode 4.

The Big Picture

  • Ahsoka Tano’s mention of “Heir to the Empire” in the latest episode of Ahsoka suggests that elements from the iconic Thrawn Trilogy may be incorporated into the show.
  • The Thrawn Trilogy, written by Timothy Zahn, introduced new stories set after Return of the Jedi and expanded the Star Wars universe beyond the Original Trilogy.
  • While Ahsoka may not be able to faithfully adapt the Thrawn Trilogy due to the current canon, it is setting the stage for Dave Filoni to potentially adapt the story in his upcoming Mando-verse movie.

It took four episodes, but Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) finally said the thing. That thing, the one that made fans go wild when the first trailer for Ahsoka was released back in April, talking about Grand Admiral Thrawn’s (Lars Mikkelsen) return as “heir to the Empire.” Those are words that every old-school Star Wars fan has always dreamed of hearing, but never really thought they would. They are reminiscent of an age long gone, when our beloved franchise grew beyond the Original Trilogy mostly through books, and told stories of what used to be called Expanded Universe – now only known as Legends.

Ahsoka’s phrasing is exactly the name of the novel trilogy that kickstarted the Expanded Universe, telling stories with the Original Trilogy heroes set years after Return of the Jedi. Despite not being part of the official canon anymore, the Heir to the Empire novels made their author, Timothy Zahn, one of the best Star Wars authors, and also kept the public’s attention on the franchise in the early 1990s, when no one could imagine it would grow even bigger than it already was. Four episodes in, it seems at least some of the elements that made the novels so iconic are being incorporated into Ahsoka as creator Dave Filoni gives his own twist to this classic EU story.

What Is the Story of ‘Heir to the Empire’?

Lars Mikkelsen as Thrawn in Ahsoka
Image via Disney+

The first book of Zahn’s trilogy came out in 1992, nearly a decade after Return of the Jedi ended its theater run. Although Star Wars was already big, at that time no one imagined there could be more to its story, and Heir to the Empire took fans by surprise when it showed that the universe could be expanded and that new stories with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) were mere pages away. Nicknamed Thrawn Trilogy, they were the first works that showed the potential of growing the franchise beyond the big screen, and, thus, the Expanded Universe was born.

The story was simple enough to catch anyone’s attention, but complex enough to make readers not want to put it down. A few years after the fall of the Empire, what’s left of the Imperial Fleet gathers under the control of a new leader, Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo – Thrawn, for short. He was one of the few aliens in the Empire’s extensive military structure and precisely the one who took it upon himself to keep Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) vision alive. His tactic genius made him extremely well respected even by the Emperor, who allowed Thrawn and his Seventh Fleet to go on a mapping mission to the Unknown Regions, which is where he was when the Rebels attacked and destroyed the second Death Star above Endor.

Thrawn is not only a great villain, but also an extremely compelling character. One of only twelve Grand Admirals in the Imperial Navy, that would’ve been enough to impress anyone, him being the single Chiss in a Human environment. But Thrawn is also keen on observing people and their customs, especially through art. He can tell much of a species’ way of life by analyzing their artistic expressions, and it’s incredible to see him do it. Those two factors make him a threat to almost every system in the galaxy because he could easily understand their people and subdue them.

And he very nearly conquers the galaxy in the Thrawn Trilogy, planning ways to defeat each of our heroes, especially Luke and Leia. Thrawn discovered Joruus C’baoth, a clone of a long-dead Jedi Master and powerful with the Force. C’baoth was created by Palpatine to protect his Mount Tantiss storehouse and cloning facility on the planet Wayland – which has already been adapted into the canon by The Bad Batch – but had always dreamed of taking apprentices of his own. With Luke in need of guidance and Leia pregnant with twins (yes, twins), C’baoth didn’t need much convincing. What had Thrawn beaten was, ultimately, C’baoth’s insanity and being betrayed by his private bodyguard, Rukh.

RELATED: ‘Ahsoka’s Baylan Skoll Is More Interesting Than Any Other Sith

‘Ahsoka’ Is Setting the Stage for Dave Filoni To Adapt ‘Heir to the Empire’ in His Mando-Verse Movie

Image via Disney+

We may have heard her say the words, but it’s impossible for Ahsoka to faithfully adapt the Thrawn Trilogy, because the current state of the Disney-owned canon is completely different, with the heroes of the Original Trilogy living completely different lives from their Expanded Universe counterparts. Also, in the new canon Thrawn is opposed by the Star Wars Rebels crew, and that’s who is trying to stop him this time around. In all fairness, it seems like Ahsoka has been setting the scene for Thrawn’s return so that Filoni can adapt Heir to the Empire with a little more freedom in his movie, which is being teased as the culmination of the Mando-verse stories. Still, some premises and elements are already present in Ahsoka, and that’s enough to have us excited.

First is the very premise of having Thrawn come back after years disappeared. In the current canon, the Grand Admiral was last seen jumping into hyperspace to a far and unknown location. Jedi Ezra Bridger (Taylor Grey/Eman Esfandi) highjacked Thrawn’s flagship, the Star Destroyer Chimera, and called upon the purrgil via the Force to vanish with everybody onboard. That’s why Thrawn is only able to come back now. And, although his condition as “heir to the Empire” may not be official, he certainly could take the position, as he had a relationship of mutual respect with Emperor Palpatine and even with Darth Vader (James Earl Jones). In fact, Thrawn is one of the very few people to know that Vader and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) were the same person, a conclusion he drew himself.

Another Thrawn Trilogy element is the presence of Force-sensitive antagonists. We’ve met (for lack of a better term) the dark Jedi Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), but there’s also their employer, Nightsister Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). Baylan is an interesting counterpart to Joruus C’baoth, although he is not mad. His complexity and sadness over having to fight other Jedi are compelling, as is his relationship with his Padawan Shin. This removes the frustration C’baoth felt in Heir to the Empire after failing to convince Luke to join him and making a clone of him called Luuke Skywalker (yes, the Expanded Universe was wild), but gives us a more relatable villain in this particular story, which focuses so much on the idea of masters and apprentices.

What seems to be very serendipitous is the fact that cloning is a recurring theme in Star Wars after The Rise of Skywalker, with Wayland and Mount Tantiss even made canon again in the animated series The Bad Batch. So we know Baylan is evil, works with Thrawn, and has a blonde apprentice who seems to be as fast as Luke… Who knows?

Filoni’s movie is bound to have many more ties to Heir to the Empire once it comes out, and the idea of tying up all those different series is an exciting one for the fans. Many people wished to see this storyline adapted into what eventually became the Sequel Trilogy, and now it seems like an actual possibility seeing as Filoni and The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau have been laying the groundwork for it for so long. Filoni has also revealed he consulted with Timothy Zahn for Ahsoka, so, unless something crazy happens, we can expect it to lead us directly into the adaptation of Heir to the Empire we’ve always wanted to see on the big screen. There are so many amazing elements in those books, from Force-resistant lizards to a whole species devoted to protecting Thrawn, it’d be a shame if all that was left aside.

By mrtrv