The Return of a ‘Star Wars’ Legend: Timothy Zahn Talks Thrawn

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At this year’s Emerald City Comicon, one character’s name repeatedly put a smile on Star Wars fans’ faces: Grand Admiral Thrawn. The master strategist has not only returned to hunt down some of our favorite rebels on TV, he’s also starring in a brand new novel from Timothy Zahn out this April.

Zahn chatted with a full room at the convention to talk about his writing process, working with the Lucasfilm Story Group, and more.

Very slight spoilers for ‘Star Wars Rebels’ and the upcoming novel follow.

Zahn was first approached to write the Thrawn standalone novel in late 2015. But Lucasfilm kept the concept a surprise, not revealing why they invited the celebrated author to talk with them until he was face-to-face with Pablo Hidalgo, Leland Chee, and Dave Filoni.

When they said not only was Thrawn coming to Rebels, they asked if he’d be interested in writing a new novel featuring a character he’d thought would likely never return. Zahn’s reaction was simply, “The internet is going to melt.” (He was right.)

Star Wars: Thrawn takes places in the time before the crew of The Ghost encounters him. At that same meeting, Zahn worked out the basics of the story with the Lucasfilm Story Group, whose input he valued during the entire writing and editing process. “[Their suggestions are] really handy so we don’t walk on each other’s toes,” said Zahn.

Not only did the Story Group tweak the backstory of a certain character to make sure it meshed well with the same character seen on the show, they provided Zahn with a few tidbits of what’s in store so that he could work in foreshadowing and pieces of Thrawn’s personality that viewers would be treated to.

Zahn also expressed nothing but approval about how his character is portrayed on Star Wars Rebels. “Rebels has done such a good job of capturing Thrawn’s essence,” he said. “[The writers] grew up with those books. They understand Thrawn.”

Zahn also told the enthusiastic audience that while there might be an Easter Egg or two in the novel referring to his previous work in the original Thrawn Trilogy (there’s a subtle reference related to Talon Karrde, he hinted), “that one you’re thinking of” isn’t going to be seen nor referenced in the book. He was likely referring to Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand in the Rebels timeline, and a longtime fan favorite who has yet to make the jump from Legends to canon.

Star Wars: Thrawn will be hitting bookstore shelves this April after the season three finale of Star Wars Rebels. (Season four was also recently announced.) The book introduces Eli, “the Watson to Thrawn’s Holmes,” describes Zahn, and includes just a few of the famous faces of Star Wars that you’d expect to see. Read an excerpt from USA Today to get your first look at Thrawn.

Zahn could barely hide his excitement to return to his creation. “I’m already pitching a sequel,” he said.

Star Wars: Thrawn Cover © Del Rey Books, Star Wars Rebels © Disney / Lucasfilm, Photo by Kelly Knox

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