Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the most popular villains in the history of Star Wars because he introduced an entirely different type of villain that doesn’t have the Sith powers of Darth Vader or the emperor. Instead, he has relied more on his incredible mind and tactical brilliance since he was introduced as a Star Wars character in the Thrawn Trilogy novel series by Timothy Zahn. However, the entire Star Wars canon changed when Disney took over Lucasfilm. So, are the Thrawn Trilogy novels canon to Star Wars?
The 1990s Thrawn Trilogy novels are no longer canon but are now part of the Legends storyline of Star Wars. However, after Thrawn was introduced as a canon character in 2016 in Star Wars: Rebels, Zahn introduced three new Thrawn novels that are canon to the Star Wars universe.
Many fans were introduced to Thrawn in the Heir to the Empire book released in 1991, and that was when Thrawn became an interesting character with the same mystique and charisma that Darth Vader always had. However, the books are no longer considered canon due to the retcon that Disney introduced. Nevertheless, the Ahsoka series seems to have drawn inspiration from the Thrawn Trilogy.
Heir to the Empire (1991)
Released in 1991, Heir to the Empire follows the story of Grand Admiral Thrawn during the time of the New Republic, as he has now become the heir to the Empire after the death of Emperor Palpatine. He is now looking to use his gift in strategy and tactics to rally the remaining Imperial forces and use them to try to shake the foundations of the New Republic. And it was also in this book that Mara Jade, Thrawn’s second-in-command, and Luke’s future wife, was introduced.
The fact that Heir to the Empire takes place after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi means that it is not canon to the entire Star Wars storyline. That’s because we know that the current timeline has changed and that the events that happened after the fall of the Empire are different from the ones in Heir to the Empire. As such, the events of Heir to the Empire are entirely different compared to those that transpired during the same timeline as The Mandalorian.
Nevertheless, it is possible that some things that happened in Heir to the Empire inspired the upcoming Ahsoka series events, which take place during the same timeline as The Mandalorian. And the fact that Thrawn was referenced as the “heir to the Empire” in the Ahsoka trailer means that Zahn’s first Thrawn book may have a few parallels with the Ahsoka series.
Is Dark Force Rising (1992) Canon?
Dark Force Rising is the sequel storyline to the events of Heir to the Empire. The storyline follows the story of how a smuggler was able to discover an entire fleet of automated heavy cruisers that the Republic built before the events of the Clone Wars. This fleet was incredibly powerful before a virus infected it and drove the crew insane before the entire fleet disappeared. In that regard, Thrawn is now looking to make the smuggler spill the beans regarding the fleet’s location, all while Luke and Mara try to protect him.
The storyline of Dark Force Rising takes place right after Heir to the Empire, which isn’t even a canon storyline. Of course, there’s also the fact that Dark Force Rising includes the story of the Republic before Star Wars Episode I was even released. That means that it isn’t canon as it clashes with the established canon storylines of the prequel movies and the current timeline of The Mandalorian.
The Last Command (1993)
The Last Command is the final book of the original Thrawn Trilogy novels released in the 90s. Thrawn could now get his hands on the Katana fleet, the automated fleet that went missing decades ago. He is now looking to unleash the full power of this fleet against the New Republic, all while Luke and Leia look for a way to destroy the cloning facility that Thrawn used.
Considering that The Last Command directly follows the events of the first two books of the Thrawn Trilogy, it isn’t canon to the Star Wars storyline. As such, none of the Thrawn Trilogy books is canon regarding their connection to the current timeline. That is why the original Thrawn books are now considered part of the Star Wars Legends storyline.
Which Thrawn Books Are Canon?
Even though the original Thrawn books were never canon to the Star Wars storyline, Disney decided to make the character canon by introducing him during the events of Star Wars: Rebels, which is canon to the current timeline. That was when many fans were first introduced to Grand Admiral Thrawn, whose strategic brilliance was a thorn in the side of the Rebels. Nevertheless, Thrawn disappeared at the end of the Rebels series and is set to make his live-action debut in the Ahsoka series.
Because Thrawn became a part of the Star Wars canon in 2016 when he was introduced as the main antagonist of the final two seasons of Star Wars: Rebels, Timothy Zahn decided to write three more books about the character. However, unlike the Thrawn Trilogy, these new books detailed Thrawn’s rise to power from his beginnings in the Empire to his status as the Grand Admiral of the Imperial Armada.
The books that we are talking about are Thrawn (2017), Thrawn: Alliances (2018), and Thrawn: Treason (2019). All three books are canon because they were published after Thrawn became a canon character in 2016 during the Disney era of Star Wars. And unlike the original Thrawn Trilogy, these books don’t clash with the current timeline.
Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, called the Star Wars: The Imperial Trilogy, recounts Thrawn’s beginnings during the earlier part of his Imperial life and before he obtained the title of Grand Admiral. That means these books occur right before the events of Star Wars: Rebels.
In 2020, Zahn wrote a new trilogy about Thrawn. This was called the Star Wars: The Ascendancy Trilogy, which details the life of Thrawn before he even became a part of the Empire. That means the trilogy dates back to his time with the Chiss Ascendancy. These books are entitled Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (2020), Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good (2021), and Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil (2021). These books take place before the Thrawn (2017) novel.