The Ahsoka Trailer Teases A Legendary Star Wars Storyline - And Yes, You Should Be Excited

Star Wars Celebration is underway in the U.K. and Lucasfilm kicked things off with a panel that showcased the future of "Star Wars," both on the big and small screen. It turns out, these worlds are going to intersect, as Dave Filoni ("The Clone Wars," "Star Wars Rebels") is directing a new movie that will bring together all of the Disney+ shows like "The Mandalorian" and the upcoming "Ahsoka." And, speaking of Ahsoka Tano, a trailer for her solo series dropped a big hint in regards to where this is all headed: an adaptation of a classic storyline that is worth getting excited about.

In the trailer, Rosario Dawson's Ahsoka Tano says "something's coming, something dark. I sense it." For the first time ever, brief though it may be, we get a glimpse at Grand Admiral Thrawn in live-action (even if it's just the back of his head). Building on that, Ahsoka also says to Sabine, a "Rebels" favorite making her way to live-action, "I started hearing whispers about Thrawn's return, as heir to the empire." Boom. There it is.

For certain fans, those words may well have made your eyes light up like mine did, as it is a direct reference to author Timothy Zahn's trilogy of novels that debuted in the '90s where Thrawn was born. More than just a little Easter egg, this strongly suggests Filoni is gearing up for an adaptation of this storyline in the coming years.

What is Heir to the Empire?

For those who may not be familiar, Timothy Zahn essentially birthed what was once known as the expanded universe in "Star Wars" (now dubbed "Legends" tales by Lucasfilm) with his "Heir to the Empire" trilogy of novels. Published between 1991 and 1993, the books included "Heir to the Empire," "Dark Force Rising," and "The Last Command." The books take place roughly five years after the events of "Return of the Jedi," with Thawn emerging from the shadows to bring the Empire back together under his command. For a bit more context, here's an official synopsis:

Five years ago, the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and drove the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy. Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting twins. And Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of Jedi Knights. But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor's warlords, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made a vital discovery that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to build.

Granted, there is no way the universe as it exists could adapt that totally faithfully. And, admittedly, the books contain some weird stuff. But the timeline of "The Mandalorian" universe absolutely lines up with the timeline these stories cover, and it wouldn't overlap with the sequel trilogy, which takes place around 30 years after the events of "Return of the Jedi." So there is more than enough room for Thrawn to make a power grab before the formation of the First Order.

One of the great Star Wars stories getting its due

For so many "Star Wars" fans, these books helped to fill the void at a time when it seemed like there would be no more "Star Wars." Rather than just dip into the same exact well, Zahn crafted a truly remarkable character in Grand Admiral Thrawn to center this whole thing on. The scope of this trilogy feels cinematic, even though it is, for most of us, just words on a page. The acknowledgment of this story in the new canon is the realization of one of the most cherished and impactful storylines in the history of this storied franchise. It's a big deal.

Without going into full spoiler mode for all of the books, Zahn's tales incorporate a great deal that Filoni can work with, from the introduction of fan-favorite Mara Jade, to the introduction of a creature known as the Ysalamiri, capable of disrupting the Force. We go to secret storehouses put together by Palpatine, bizarre clones of former Jedi, and some great stuff from Admiral Ackbar, cementing him as the great Rebel hero that he is. He's more than a meme, folks. And that's just the first book!

Sure, the fact that Kylo Ren is Han and Leia's kid gets in the way of the original twins from Zahn's books, but this doesn't have to be a beat-for-beat adaptation – and it shouldn't be! Using the pieces on the board, such as Ahsoka Tano, Mando, Grogu, and even Luke Skywalker, there is more than enough room to be faithful to the work while making it fit the modern context.

Dave Filoni has been building to this

Thrawn is arguably the greatest "Star Wars" character that has never made his way to live-action. Wildly different from Darth Vader or Palpatine, Thrawn is a member of the alien race known as the Chiss whose greatest weapon is his mind. He's a master tactician and, that being the case, the idea of him taking the remnants of the Empire and pulling it together to once again rule the galaxy is a fascinating idea. That's the promise of "Heir to the Empire," and it seems like Dave Filoni has been building to this for quite some time.

For starters, Filoni brought Thrawn into the official canon in "Star Wars Rebels" in the show's third season. That show's finale very much left Thrawn in play, and ultimately set the stage for the events of "Ahsoka." Not only that, but elements of "Rebels" have been bleeding into the Mando-verse for some time now. Plus, we've had hints of cloning technology in "The Mandalorian," which is a huge subplot in "Heir to the Empire." Filoni knows "Star Wars" better than perhaps anyone this side of George Lucas, and it's extremely clear that this has all been a deliberate long game.

If there is anyone that can pull this off, it's Filoni. No story outside of the films has had a greater impact on "Star Wars" than Zahn's beloved trilogy. While it's a little reckless to speculate, it seems fair to presume that Filoni's movie will be the culmination of all this worldbuilding, leading to an adaptation of this beloved trilogy. The pieces are in place and, stopping just shy of coming right out and saying it, it's clear Thrawn's time has come. This is the way, as it were.

"Ahsoka" premieres August 2023 on Disney+.