Let me preface this by saying, the following speculation piece will contain massive spoilers for Timothy Zahn’s latest Thrawn novel. So, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and stop reading this, pick up Thrawn and check it out. It’s god damn fantastic.
The first thing we need to clear up is Thrawn’s back story and motivations. Thrawn initially got himself involved with Palpatine and the Empire simply to assist his people, the Chiss, from a threat in the Unknown Regions that was too powerful for the Chiss Ascendancy to handle alone. In fact, he didn’t even intend to join the Imperial Navy; he simply wanted access to the vast knowledge archive housed at Coruscant. Entering the academy was Palp’s idea. Thrawn takes place from this point until his ascension to the rank of Grand Admiral, basically the start of Rebels season 3. There are things about Thrawn that would not be clear if you have only watched Rebels, and we will discuss three main points.
First, Thrawn felt that the secrecy of the Chiss location was of the utmost importance. Emperor Palpatine himself was not privy to this information, even as Thrawn rose all the way to the rank of Grand Admiral. There was exactly one person who Thrawn trusted with the location of his home, Eli Vanto. More on him shortly.
This brings me to my second point. All the while Thrawn is kicking ass and flying up the ranks in the Imperial Navy, he’s simultaneously and secretly recruiting for his cause. In the novel, Eli Vanto becomes Thrawn’s most trusted confidant. Eli is by his side from day one at the naval academy up until around the time Thrawn makes Grand Admiral. It’s then that Thrawn asks Eli to meet up with a commander from his Chiss Ascendancy. Thrawn admired Eli’s instincts and military ability so much that he would pull a high-ranking officer from the Navy and send him to secretly help the Chiss.
Further driving this point home, the main nemesis to Thrawn was a rebel by the name of Nightswan. When Thrawn finally locates Nightswan after years of fighting, he arranges a secret meeting with him. In what amounts to high treason, Thrawn attempts to convince Nightswan to help him assist the Chiss Ascendancy. Recognizing Nightswan’s incredible talents, rather than destroy him, Thrawn chose to use him. Why? Well that is my third point.
Thrawn doesn’t give a shit about the Empire. His plan was always to go back to the Chiss, hopefully with enough knowledge, assistance, and resources that he could fend off this great unnamed threat from the Unknown Regions. That’s why he sent Eli there. That’s why he attempted to recruit an infamous rebel to his aid. It was never about serving the Empire, it was and is about serving the Chiss. The Empire is simply a means to that end.
So, what does all this mean heading into the final season of Rebels? Well, because of his absence in the OT, we know one of two things has to happen to Thrawn. He either dies or disappears. I will argue that he disappears, or rather, flees back to the Chiss. If Thrawn were to die serving the Empire, then the idea of even writing the novel makes zero sense. There is simply just no way Thrawn would allow that to happen. Plus, if you remember Bendu’s prophecy to Thrawn at Attolon: “I see your defeat. Like many arms surrounding you in a cold embrace.” He doesn’t say death, just defeat. Let’s head down that rabbit hole. Thrawn survives, now what?
I realize that not everyone has or will read the book, so to them, Thrawn is just a bad ass Grand Admiral in the Imperial Navy. To them, it would seem just as weird for Thrawn to bail out as killing him off wouldn’t make sense to me. But they have 20+ episodes to play with here. It would not be difficult to start showing some cracks in Thrawn’s façade, a few “what the hell is he up to” moments. Perhaps he even takes it so far that those “arms surrounding him in a cold embrace” are suspicious Empire officials. Maybe they uncover some of his dirty dealing in the past, i.e. Nightswan. He is, after all, still seen as an alien outsider. One who made Grand Admiral in under a decade as well, a fact that has surely earned him a few enemies along the way. Time for some bold predictions for season 4 of Rebels!
Bold prediction #1:
Thrawn survives the finale, fleeing home to rejoin the Chiss Ascendancy in the Unknown Regions. The simple fact is, Thrawn the novel is canon, and it would just make no sense to kill him off. His story arc would be completely wasted.
Bold Prediction #2:
Thrawn Takes Ezra with him. This is going to be a similar situation to what happened with Nightswan in the novel. I see this going down during the final sequence, where the Empire and remaining Rebels are duking it out. During the shitstorm, Thrawn makes the same offer to Ezra as was made to Nightswan. You can argue that I’m wrong, but you can’t argue that he wouldn’t do that. He already has done it my friends.
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