Dave Filoni Had The Idea To Use A Creepy Organ For Thrawn's Theme

As the upcoming "Ahsoka" live-action series hovers on the horizon, the recent Star Wars Celebration announcement of Lars Mikkelsen taking up the blue make-up to reprise his legendary animated voice role in the full-bodied flesh sent waves of excitement through Star Wars fans. A main baddie for the final half of the "Star Wars Rebels" animated series created by Dave Filoni (showrunning again for "Ahsoka"), the ice-blue Chiss Admiral proved to be a formidable and terrifying threat to the Ghost crew. Mitth'raw'nuruodo's (Thrawn's Chiss name) epic (re)entrance into the public consciousness provided fond memories for Celebration attendees back in 2016, especially for the generation who grew up with the Legends novels that started with Timothy Zahn's 1991 "Heir to the Empire." That book kicked off an enduring Legends reign for Thrawn as an intelligent Imperial tactician who had no nonsense for Imperial stupidity. 

Thrawn might admire how the history rhymes like poetry. The 2016 Celebration in London announced Thrawn's new canonical debut, as well as the return of his authorial creator, Zahn, to write the canon reset "Thrawn" books. Now the 2023 Celebration (which also took place in London) announced Mikkelsen's live-action embodiment of Thrawn, after his appearance had been teased by Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in that character's live-action debut in "The Mandalorian" season 2. In the new show, he's sure to calculate strategies to outwit the titular Togruta Force-warrior.

But how do you give this character gravitas in animation or live-action? Throw in a sweet organ, of course!

A sound with historical significance

A hallmark of cathedrals, pipe organs can ironically signify the unholy in cinema. From Hans Erdmann's score in the 1922 film "Nosferatu" or Hans Zimmer's organ theme for Davy Jones in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," the pipe organ has served as an instrument of cinematic chills. So the pipe organ cueing the reveal of Thrawn in the season 3 trailer gave him what equates to a red carpet treatment for antagonists. It also feels in line with Thrawn's introduction in his 1991 debut book, when the Imperial Captain Gilad Pellaeon felt offset by Thrawn's cryptic airs.

The pipe organ theme followed Thrawn through "Rebels" season 3 and 4, including the interrogation sequence where he invasively unpacks Hera Syndulla's childhood, a demonstration in which he forces a Lothal farmer to test faulty and fatal equipment, and his planned orbital bombardment of Lothal. Just as Pellaeon was Thrawn's loyal Watson, the pneumatic instrument is the perfect partner to Mikkelsen's ominous performance. "Star Wars" composer John Williams pulled from classical inspirations for villain leitmotifs with heapings of trumpets, so something about the organ gives the Grand Admiral a villainous aura (and artful appetite) like no other Star Wars antagonist. Not even the Imperial Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn in "Rogue One," is worthy of it.

The creepy organ was showrunner Dave Filoni's idea. According to an interview with "Ahsoka" composer Kevin Kiner, it was Filoni's own homage to the fact that Filoni's father loved classical music.

The Kiner(s) at the keys

It'd be easy to assume that Kiner, the versatile "The Clone Wars" and "Rebels" composer, scored Thrawn's leitmotif. After all, he was responsible for Ahsoka Tano's leitmotif (beginning with "Clone Wars"), the sweeping strings of "Journey Into the Star Clusters" in "Legends of the Lasat" ("Rebels" season 2), and the mournful synths of a clone's passing in "Mayday" ("The Bad Batch" season 2). But it turns out that piece of music was actually composed by his son Sean Kiner, Kevin's collaborator and music editor (along with Kiner's other son, Dean). Sean started his composing career when he and his father discovered Sean's knack for recognizing "Indiana Jones" music cues in "Clone Wars" temp tracks.

"Well, I would love to take credit for that, but Dave Filoni had the idea of using the organ for that. And it was brilliant ... I can't take credit for the tune because my eldest son, Sean Kiner, wrote that piece of music. During the last four or five years, we've been co-writing, and my other son has been co-writing with me as well. ... And for the fans, 'Thrawn's Theme' is one of their favorites. And I got all the credit, but it belongs to my oldest son and Dave Filoni."

"Ahsoka" marks a homecoming for "Rebels" veterans. Along with Jedi Ezra Bridger (voiced by Taylor Gray), Thrawn and his Chimaera Star Destroyer were dragged off into uncharted stars due to the intervention of space whales when "Rebels" ended in 2018. In 2023, fans cheered for the live-action sightings of Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), Hera (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Ezra (Eman Esfandi) in the "Ahsoka" trailer, with the addition of Garazeb Orrelios (Steve Blum) dropping by in "The Mandalorian" season 3. Due for an August 2023 release on Disney+, "Ahsoka" will herald the Admiral's long-awaited return. With Kevin Kiner (and maybe with the younger Kiners helping out) returning to compose the new live-action series, the odds that Thrawn's memorable organ sound will follow Mikkelsen into the stars have never looked better.