Dave Filoni Sees Thrawn As The 'Big Bad' Of Star Wars' New Republic Era

For better or worse, Palpatine is the big bad of the entire "Star Wars" saga as we know it, and even if you look at it more closely rather than look at the macro story, it's always Force-users who are the villains. We have Vader in the original trilogy, Maul, Dooku, and Palpatine in the prequels, and Kylo Ren and Snoke in the sequel trilogy. Even "Star Wars Rebels" had big force-sensitive villains like the Inquisitors, Vader, and Maul.

Other than "Andor" and its rather despicable human villains, every bad guy we've faced (the big ones, not antagonists like Hux, Viceroy Gunray, or Captain Phasma) use the Force. That is, until now, because "Heir to the Empire" is coming, and with it, one of the biggest "Star Wars" villains ever: Thrawn. After having a big role in "Rebels," and after teases all throughout "Mandalorian," the trailer for "Ahsoka" finally showed us the Chiss Grand Admiral in the flesh. According to the cowboy hat himself, Dave Filoni, Thrawn is the defining villain of this new era of "Star Wars."

When asked by Empire for their Summer 2023 preview issue if Thrawn is the "big bad of this New Republic era," Filoni answered without hesitation, "Definitely, in my eyes." He added:

"Thrawn became this very iconic villain, because he was different than anything we'd seen before. He wasn't another helmet-wearing, lightsaber-wielding bad guy." 

As Filoni tells it, what was bold about the character was that he didn't have the force like Vader, but could still fight. Thrawn is "a leader, a military strategist, a Moriarty archetype, someone that will out-think you, out-strategize you," and confirmed again that the character is "a critical player in this time period."

Brave new world

Filoni is right. When Thrawn first joined the cast of Star Wars Rebels," he was something we hadn't seen since Tarkin in the first film, a regular non-magic villain who we could hate because he is pure calculated evil —a ruthless military strategist who thinks in numbers, not lives. That he is the big bad of the New Republic era makes sense, and is quite exciting.

After all, the best thing "Star Wars" has done in recent years is expanding into new eras, like the Reign of the Empire era of "Andor" and the new games. Lucasfilm is now looking to go back to movie theaters, and they're doing so by exploring previously unknown parts of the timeline, like the first Jedi in "Dawn of the Jedi." Dave Filoni is also making a movie, which will crossover and conclude all his TV work, building up to his take on "Heir of the Empire."

The problem is that this isn't the same "Star Wars" universe that author Timothy Zahn played with. As James Whitbrook pointed out in a brilliant piece for io9, Filoni's movie can only really take the bare bones of Zahn's Thrawn story of the Imperial Remnant fleet, because — unlike audiences in the '80s — we know the remnant imperial forces teased in "Mandalorian" are simply going to disappear eventually in order to give rise to the First Order, which, unlike the one from the books, is not at all different from the original Empire. Zahn's trilogy was about the Empire learning from Palpatine's mistakes and trying again, for better or worse, but the new canon has no space for it. 

What it has space for is a badass villain that doesn't need the force to be scary, and Thrawn is just that.