As I mentioned while reviewing yesterday’s episode of The Mandalorian, I am a huge fan of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series. I love the entire crew of the Ghost; I get a kick out of seeing Rebels references and Easter eggs pop up anywhere from Rogue One to The Rise Of Skywalker; and today, when it was teased that a major cliffhanger from the Rebels series finale will finally be resolved, I nearly screamed out loud because it’s about time. Whether it happens in future seasons of The Mandalorian or an entirely new spinoff series starring Ahsoka Tano (and Sabine Wren?), we are going to learn the whereabouts of one of Star Wars‘ most enduring antagonists, Grand Admiral Thrawn. And, probably, the lost Jedi Ezra Bridger. This could not get any better.
(No wait, actually it could. Please, Disney: cast Rahul Kohli as live-action Ezra Bridger. It’s the fan-cast that dreams are made of, and I will accept nothing less).
So let’s break it down. Even though we went over the basics in my review, I still feel like I have more to say (I always have more to say about Rebels), and anyway, it seems like fans of The Mandalorian are going to need more than a passing knowledge of Thrawn in order to fully understand what he could be up to, so many years after his initial disappearance at the end of Rebels.
Grand Admiral Thrawn, born Mitth’raw’nuruodo, was one of the Empire’s most terrifyingly efficient military leaders and strategists during the fight to suppress the rebellion. He’s been around in Star Wars canon for a long time, first appearing in the 1991 novel, Heir To The Empire. When Disney bought Lucasfilm and erased much of the old canon (now called “Legends”), Thrawn was nearly lost forever – but Dave Filoni swooped in and rescued the fan-favorite character from oblivion, giving him a key role in Star Wars: Rebels as the series’ main antagonist, and ultimate big bad. With his innate ability to strategize several steps ahead, and foresee every plausible outcome, the red-eyed Chiss alien commander is more like a super-computer than a living creature; his most “relatable” quality is his affection for art, which he steals from the worlds he plunders and assembles into a massive private collection.
In the waning years of the Galactic Empire, Thrawn’s attention was turned towards the remote planet Lothal, home to some of the Empire’s most valuable industrial centers. There, shortly before the battle in which the Death Star plans were stolen, setting off the events of A New Hope, Thrawn clashed with the Rebel forces led by Lothal native Ezra Bridger, a young Jedi with a deep connection to animals. All of Thrawn’s intricate plans were foiled by Bridger saving the day in a heroic, and completely unpredictable, act of self-sacrifice – by summoning an entire army of purrgil space whales from the other side of the galaxy. The purrgil grabbed both Thrawn and Ezra Bridger in their tentacles before shooting off into hyperspace at lightspeed, to a destination unknown. The moment leaves everyone – including the audience – in stunned silence, but Bridger’s actions end up saving Lothal: reeling from the loss of Thrawn, the Empire gives up on the backwater planet and turns its focus towards other, more urgent targets, while the core team of Rebels are free to go their separate ways, starting new lives.
And as for Bridger and Thrawn…well, nobody knows. But Dave Filoni has confirmed that both characters survived the space-crossing. Most likely, they exited hyperspace somewhere in the outermost regions of the galaxy (or perhaps even further afield?), and have now spent the last decade or so trying to find their way back. The final scene of Rebels picks up with one of Ezra Bridger’s former crewmates on the Ghost, Mandalorian graffiti-artist Sabine Wren, some years after the fall of the Empire; as she embarks on her own journey to locate Bridger and finally bring him home to Lothal. We know she has help from Ahsoka Tano, who made a promise to Bridger before his disappearance that she would find him. And now, thanks to The Mandalorian, we know a little bit more about Tano’s involvement in this very personal quest.
The general consensus amongst fans is that The Mandalorian‘s latest episode takes place just before Ahsoka and Sabine team up in that final scene of Rebels. It makes sense: the episode ends with Ahsoka learning the new whereabouts of Grand Admiral Thrawn from one of his acolytes, which could give her some hint of where to find Ezra Bridger as well, or at least where to start looking. But if Thrawn is back (and apparently already conspiring with his old allies), that means the New Republic has more pressing concerns than finding Bridger – the Grand Admiral could very well be the mastermind behind other Mandalorian villains like Moff Gideon, and the driving force behind the plan to rebuild the Empire, making him the biggest threat in the galaxy. As I said in my review, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out that The Mandalorian is all leading up to the story of how Thrawn created the First Order from the remnants of the Empire. This would even line up with Thrawn’s original story arc in the “Legends”, where he set up his own secret empire, united the remaining Imperials in the wake of the Empire’s fall, and battled the New Republic. Much like Palpatine in The Rise Of Skywalker, he cloned himself and became something of a recurring threat long after his actual death.
Ezra, meanwhile, can’t be too far off. In fact, The Mandalorian dropped a subtle reference to him in this latest episode, with the sudden (and suspiciously random) appearance of a loth-cat in the streets of Calodan. Loth-cats are native to Lothal, and act as Bridger’s spirit guides throughout Star Wars: Rebels, communicating the will of his planet’s thriving ecosystem. They’re cute and all, but their semi-mystical powers and connections to the Force make them even more fascinating. Interestingly, this is the second loth-cat to show up in The Mandalorian: the first having almost eaten Baby Yoda (back when he was still Baby Yoda) in season one. Is a pattern emerging?
So what do you think? Are you excited to see Thrawn return to Star Wars, and make his live-action debut? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AND STAR WARS: REBELS AHEAD!
Mere moments after The Mandalorian‘s thirteenth – and most eagerly-anticipated – chapter opens, we are introduced to Rosario Dawson’s live-action Ahsoka Tano, rising up out of the nocturnal fog with her twin lightsabers flashing on and off, hot on the trail of one of her enemies. And like me, your first reaction to this might be that it’s too soon for the episode to reveal her character, that you’re not yet prepared, that you haven’t had time: but that’s because we’ve all been under the (completely wrong) impression that Tano’s debut would surely have to be the biggest reveal in this entire episode, no matter what else happened. That is very much not the case. In fact, if I had to make a bet, I’d wager that any and all Ahsoka Tano discourse will dwindle out long before the uproarious debate about several other, arguably more urgent, reveals – including Baby Yoda’s birth name. This episode gives you absolutely no time to process any one of these reveals before dropping another bombshell on the audience, which makes the whole experience even more thrilling for a viewer (especially if, like me, you’re watching at three o’-clock in the morning and trying to stay quiet while also wanting to scream to the heavens because OMG WAS THAT A THRAWN NAMEDROP?)
Yes, yes it was.
But before my head actually explodes, let’s dial things back. Let’s start out with the most predictable and least shocking of all the reveals, which, ironically and a little bit tragically, turned out to be Ahsoka Tano. Over the course of The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, Tano gradually became one of the most well-written, complex, and compelling characters in all of Star Wars canon, growing from a reckless, free-spirited Jedi padawan, to a disillusioned cynic who left the Order rather than be complicit in its crimes, to a Rebel leader and a mentor for heroes like Ezra Bridger. The Mandalorian picks up with her shortly before her final Rebels appearance, still on Bridger’s trail after his mysterious disappearance (although he’s not the only missing person she’s following, as it turns out). Tano is once again entrusted to the care of her creator Dave Filoni, who directed this week’s turbulent, action-packed chapter.
It’s hard to find any glaring faults in Rosario Dawson’s performance, although the design of her striped lekku horns leaves much to be desired: somehow they went from ornate and almost waist-length at the end of Rebels to being short, soft, and rounded again, like they were in Clone Wars, and I can’t for the life of me understand why. Dawson has many of the character’s mannerisms down to a science, from her smirks and side-eyes, to the way she runs slightly hunched-over. She doesn’t perform quite as many gravity-defying leaps or twirls as her animated counterpart, but her action scenes are impressive nonetheless – and she has plenty of them. Her twin lightsabers, gashes of white light in the oppressively dark fog of Corvus (when Bo-Katan said it was a forest planet, she neglected to mention it was a petrified forest on a lava flat), are strikingly beautiful weapons as always. The only major difference between animated Ahsoka and live-action Ahsoka is her voice, which has up until now been consistently provided by actress Ashley Eckstein. Dawson’s voice is deep where Eckstein’s was higher-pitched, and the change is significant and hard to grow accustomed to in just forty-five minutes, especially when we’ve spent so much time with Eckstein as Ahsoka, and her unique voice has become such an intrinsic part of the character’s identity.
And, although I can’t believe I have to be saying this a second time, it is worth remembering and acknowledging that Rosario Dawson is still under fire for alleged transphobia, something that can’t be taken lightly. But whereas her Mandalorian castmate Gina Carano foolishly decided to make her petty transphobia public on her social media, Dawson’s case is more complicated, as it involves a severe allegation – that Dawson violently attacked a transman in her employ – that supposedly happened behind closed doors, and is thus much harder to prove. All but two of the charges filed against Dawson were dropped a few months back, but many fans still find it hard to support Dawson until more information is available, and that’s totally valid. No matter how you ultimately decide to process this information, it’s important that you know about it.
Din Djarin (voiced and sometimes played by Pedro Pascal), meanwhile, knows nothing about Ahsoka Tano except what Bo-Katan told him about her location on Corvus, in the city of Calodan. By the time Din Djarin and Baby Yoda reach Calodan, Ahsoka has already had to leave the city, and is now lurking in the forests just outside its walls, picking off her enemies one by one and slowly working her way towards the heart of the city, and its ex-Imperial Magistrate, a woman named Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto, channeling Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon era Michelle Yeoh very effectively), who wields a beskar steel spear and is withholding some very valuable information about her former masters. Elsbeth immediately enlists Din Djarin to hunt down and kill Ahsoka for her in exchange for her Mandalorian spear. But when Djarin does find Ahsoka, the two only exchange a few blows (and Djarin nearly scorches her with his trusty flamethrower, but whatever) before they both hesitantly lay down their weapons and agree to help each other. Like all of us, Ahsoka is immediately entranced by Baby Yoda, and wants to know more about him.
And thanks to her ability to communicate with Baby Yoda via the Force, we actually get some solid, though incomplete, answers to our many questions about the child’s backstory and place of origin. But most shockingly, we also learn his given name. He couldn’t just be Baby Yoda forever, I suppose. Now, one can see the wisdom in Disney’s decision to name him “The Child” in all of The Mandalorian’s marketing – it seems they were trying to give him the most boring moniker imaginable, so that when the time came for the big name reveal, audiences would willingly make the transition. But just as they never realized how big a sensation The Child would become, they never realized how the entire fandom would instantly disregard “The Child” in favor of a hashtag-friendly nickname we all collectively decided upon: Baby Yoda. And now, a season and a half into the show, we’re being asked to give up the nickname/social media phenomenon that helped to fuel this show’s popularity in favor of a new name…Grogu.
Grogu is a short, simple, and kind of adorable in its own way. Who knows, it might even catch on with the fandom (though, from what I’ve seen, reactions to this reveal have been mixed). But the fight between the Grogu separatists and the Baby Yoda loyalists will be long and brutal, and I honestly don’t see how Grogu – despite being a truly cute name for a cute character – can beat out Baby Yoda, which has become so solidly cemented in the public consciousness over the past year. Personally, I hope both stick, because I’m not quite ready to let Baby Yoda go (though I will use Grogu from now on).
In-universe, though, he’s officially Grogu. He even answers to that name, which will make the Mandalorian’s parenting a lot easier from now on. And in his conversation with Ahsoka, Grogu feels comfortable enough to open up about some other details from his traumatic past – like how he apparently used to live at the Jedi Temple in Coruscant until the very end of the Clone Wars, at which point someone got him out of the Temple. Although nobody mentions the Jedi Purge or Anakin’s slaughter of the Temple’s younglings, it sounds like Grogu was snuck out during that night of bloodshed – Ahsoka notes that Grogu is still very afraid of something. Without any more information to go on, we’re still left with gaps in Grogu’s story that don’t make sense: like how he ended up in the pirate camp where Din Djarin found him in the season one pilot. Or, for that matter, how Ahsoka herself managed to live at the Jedi Temple for years without ever coming across the baby (it’s theoretically possible he joined the Order after she left, but there’s hardly enough time between then and the end of the Clone Wars for him to have been trained by “many Masters”, as Grogu says he was). The reveal that he came from the Temple doesn’t even necessarily suggest a connection with Jedi Masters Yoda or Yaddle: the Jedi took in hundreds upon hundreds of Force-sensitive children from every corner of the galaxy. He could be anyone.
At the very least, Grogu’s background as a Jedi-in-training will give him an advantage as he begins the learning process again and reconnects with the Force. Ahsoka practices with Grogu, helping him use the Force to levitate small rocks, but the child is stubborn – and too attached to Din Djarin for his own good, Ahsoka quickly determines. And so, after a single training session, Ahsoka politely informs Din Djarin that she can’t risk mentoring Grogu, and tells him in no uncertain terms to seek help elsewhere. Ahsoka’s own mentor and best friend did succumb to the Dark Side because of his powerful love for another, so she’s certainly entitled to be wary of any sort of “attachment”, something expressly forbidden by the old Jedi code. But in my opinion, this whole situation felt far too contrived for my taste, and out of character for Ahsoka. After all, Ahsoka knew about Anakin Skywalker’s love for Padmé, but she never actually found out that was what drove him to the Dark Side. And considering how she rejected the Jedi Order and its outdated rules pretty firmly in The Clone Wars, it seems odd that she’d now be so adamant about adhering to their traditions, so many years after the Order fell.
But The Mandalorian needs a way to write her off the show somehow, because apparently we don’t get to spend more than one episode with any new character. First, though, Din Djarin agrees to help Ahsoka storm the city of Calodan and defeat Morgan Elsbeth. And it’s a good thing he does, because we, the audience, get to witness a truly spectacular duel between Ahsoka and Elsbeth in the latter’s water-garden (while Din Djarin confronts Elsbeth’s henchman in a very suspenseful staring contest): and what’s more, we finally find out why Ahsoka is so intensely interested in this remote planet when the former Jedi asks Elsbeth point-blank where to find Grand Admiral Thrawn. Cue me, a Star Wars: Rebels fanboy, screaming at the top of my lungs. Thrawn, the chief antagonist of Rebels, went missing shortly before the events of the original trilogy, after being ensnared in the tentacles of a purrgil space whale and carried to an unknown location somewhere in the outermost reaches of the galaxy. Ezra Bridger, the young Jedi protagonist of Rebels, went with him – sacrificing himself to defeat Thrawn and put an end to the Grand Admiral’s schemes. Fans have always known that neither Bridger nor Thrawn died: but at the same time, we still don’t know where they went, or whether they’ve spent the intervening years trying to work their way back towards civilization. But now, thanks to her encounter with Lady Elsbeth, it looks like Ahsoka has the intel she’s been looking for – and despite leaving The Mandalorian for the time being, she may be back: this time, perhaps with her traveling companion Sabine Wren, another Mandalorian and former Rebel whom we know she eventually enlists to help find Bridger.
The big question, though, is whether we’ll meet Thrawn in this series, or a future spinoff – because I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for him to appear now. Although he failed in his attempts to obliterate the Rebel Alliance, he became a truly menacing villain thanks to his innate ability to play the long game, staying several steps ahead of his opponents at all times and only being defeated thanks to a truly unpredictable act of heroism. But if Ahsoka has reason to believe he’s back, that probably means he’s begun conspiring with other ex-Imperials. I would not be at all surprised if we eventually learned that Thrawn is as much one of the masterminds behind the First Order’s rise to power as his master, Emperor Palpatine.
But for the time being, the race to hunt down Thrawn is still merely a tantalizing subplot. The main plot is heading to the planet Tython, where Ahsoka tells Din Djarin he’ll find an old Jedi Temple – and maybe, just maybe, some other Jedi. No hint of whom that might be (share your own theories in the comments below), but I expect we’re about to be in for another big reveal.