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Star Wars Rebels resurrects Grand Admiral Thrawn

Plus: Ahsoka Tano will return — and Sabine Wren gets a jetpack and a new weapon

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Lucas Films Ltd.

Rebels has brought a fan favorite back from oblivion.

Executive producer Dave Filoni is one of the foremost experts in the Star Wars expanded universe — the books and games that filled in the blanks in between, and far beyond, George Lucas’ movies. All that backstory was later discarded to clear way for the new films, but Filoni has been gradually bringing pieces of it back on the Disney XD TV show. 

With the Season 3 trailer for Rebels revealed at Star Wars Celebration in London, he reintroduced one of the most significant characters to ever emerge from the Expanded Universe: Grand Admiral Thrawn, a sapphire-hued, red-eyed Imperial officer in a crisp white uniform, who cobbles together the remains of the Empire after the deaths of Vader and the Emperor.

“Let’s take a moment and expand the universe a little,” Filoni said as the lights dimmed and the trailer began to play. (You can see it yourself above.)

Thrawn was created by author Timothy Zahn, who made him the central villain in a trilogy of books published in the early 1990s that picked up the story of Han, Luke, and Leia after the events of Return of the Jedi.

“You couldn’t have grown up a Star Wars fan without encountering Thrawn in Heir to the Empire,” Filoni said. “It was a dark time when there weren’t any more movies, and it blew our minds that there could be more.”

Lucas Films Ltd.

A member of the Chiss species, Thrawn was one of the few non-human Imperial officers — distinguished by his intellect and ruthlessness. Although his rise to power took place after Jedi, he now occupies the timeline before the original 1977 movie, since Rebels focuses on the building of the uprising that would eventually topple the Empire.

He’ll be voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, the Russian president on House of Cards and also the brother of Mads Mikkelsen, who is coincidentally co-starring in Rogue One as Jyn Erso’s father. Filoni said he imagined their Christmas will include a lot of Star Wars talk.

Zahn appeared via pre-recorded video to thank Filoni for bringing back the character, said he was “very pleased with the directtion” they’re taking the character, and announced that he’s busy working on a new Star Wars novel, titled — of course Thrawn.

During the audience Q&A, one of the first questions Filoni was asked was if he would also be resurrecting another character from Heir to the Empire  Mara Jade, a former operative for the Emperor who goes on to become Luke Skywalker’s wife. 

Filoni’s answer was blunt. “I saw that coming a mile away,” he said. “No, not likely. You got Thrawn! Remember we got Thrawn? Yay?”

Eagle-eyed audience members also spotted a familiar starship in one of the clips  the Outrider, a vehicle piloted by Dash Rendar, a smuggler from the 1996 Shadows of the Empire video game, who also became a popular Expanded Universe/Legends character.

But Filoni shut that down, too. “No,” he said, turning to Rebels voice actors Sam Witwer and Tiya Sircar. “See what I have to deal with? Every little thing.” He confirmed that an Outrider-style ship was dropped into the trailer as an homage, but that Rendar would not be making an appearance. “It’s a very similar, similar, similar ship,” Filoni said. The designer who created it for the Lucasarts game now works on the show, he said, so she got to reintroduce it in the series.

He did confirm that Doctor Who actor Tom Baker would be joining the cast as a mystical figure named The Bendu, who looks like an anthropomorphized bantha, and walks a “middle way” between the light and dark sides of the Force, neither good nor evil, according to Filoni. (The Bendu is also a part of Star Wars mythology that refers to an ancient group of Force-followers, a separate sect from the Jedi.)

Did Ahsoka Tano survive?

The panel opened with the resolution to a question that has been haunting Rebels fans. The season 2 finale featured the long-awaited clash between Ahsoka Tano and her former Jedi mentor, Darth Vader. It was implied that Vader took her life… but then we saw her walking into a cavern. Did she escape? Was that a metaphor for her spirit departing?

“Let’s get this one out of the way,” Filoni said. “It’s likely you might not have seen the last of Ahsoka Tano.”

He refused to reveal more, saying maybe she turns up in a flashback, or maybe she’ll be revealed to be alive and well. The mystery of how she will return is something he wants to maintain until the show can answer it definitively.

Sabine Wren gets new toys

Sircar was able to make a few revelations herself, showing off her Mandalorian character’s new white hair (with purple tips). “We get to know Sabine a lot better and get to know a lot more about her past,” the actress said. “And she has some new gadgets.”

She looked to Filoni for guidance. “Is that all right?” she asked, hoping she hadn’t said too much.

Filoni nodded vigorously and asked Witwer to “give her a little Emperor and tell her she’s doing good.”

“Exxxxcellent,” Witwer intoned.

But there was no need for secrecy. A new clip revealed what she was talking about: Sabine activates her own rocket-pack to escape a quartet of Mandalorians. (For the unfamiliar, that’s the helmeted tribe that claimed Boba Fett as a member.) As she flies through a canyon carrying young Jedi-wannabe Ezra, the four pursuers fly after her, and a dangling Ezra deflects their blasts with his lightsaber.

In a separate photo, Filoni showed that Sabine eventually will come to possess the Darksaber, a black-bladed lightsaber that was lost to the Mandalorians during The Clone Wars animated series (and ended up in the hands of Darth Maul).

“I get to interact more with Mandalorians,” she said. “And I may or may not be related to some of them.”

The natural question that raises is – could she be related to the main Mandalorian, Boba Fett himself.

Darth Maul’s destiny

The presentation also included a scene in which Darth Maul leads a now-blind Kanan into the ruins of a space station, where the crew of The Ghost starship is being held captive. But Maul has betrayal in mind, trapping Kanan in an airlock and opening the vacuum to space.

“Maul is coming to grips with what his life is – what he’s been,” Filoni said. “He’s searching for some kind of purpose, because he’s failed again and again. He’s still on the evil side of things, and he’ll never be good. Unless he finds a selfless resolution, which is not likely.”

Another fan asked if Filoni might consider incorporating Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata from The Force Awakens. He smiled. “That’s a great idea,” he said. “You have a good mind for this sort of thing. That doesn’t mean anything I’ve said means we’re doing that. But sometimes I’ll admit, if we’re not doing it, it’s still a good idea.”

Hmm, maybe the story of her and her “boyfriend,” Chewbacca?

For more Star Wars news, follow @Breznican.