Ahsoka Proves Grand Admiral Thrawn Fears One Jedi in Particular
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At the close of the sixth episode of Ahsoka on Disney+, Grand Admiral Thrawn instructed Morgan Elsbeth to research Ahsoka Tano, including her master. When he finds out that General Anakin Skywalker trained her in the Jedi arts, Thrawn's reaction is, for him, the equivalent of a terrified scream. The Imperial Admiral, who has faced down Jedi before, sees the name Anakin Skywalker and reacts with something like fear.
This is a subtle moment, especially since Thrawn is an emotionally understated character. It works on its own, played more like concern than fear. However, Star Wars fans familiar with the canon Expanded Universe, particularly the book Thrawn: Alliances, see it differently. The book takes place both during the Clone Wars and during the dark times, specifically between Star Wars: Rebels Seasons 3 and 4. In the past narrative, he works with Jedi Anakin Skywalker, who is, of course, hunting for Padmé Amidala. In the present narrative, the Emperor senses a disturbance in the Force and sends Thrawn and Darth Vader to investigate it. Thrawn deduces that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are the same person. More than so many others, he is aware of the full scope of the Chosen One and rightly fears his Padawan.
How Thrawn of the Chiss Ascendancy Met Anakin Skywalker, Jedi of the Republic
Thrawn was introduced as a character in the 1990s book series by Timothy Zahn that began with Heir to the Empire. While relegated to Legends status, Zahn has written two more trilogies of books starring the character. One was set during Imperial times, and the other detailed Thrawn's childhood, military service and "exile" to the Empire. Thrawn believes a threat is coming to the prime Star Wars galaxy. The Chiss were aware of the Republic and their civil war, and while trying to investigate them, Thrawn offered Anakin his assistance to find his wife.
During their mission, Anakin explains to Thrawn the politics of the Republic and the Separatists, though his understanding is filtered through Palpatine's lies and deceptions. Thrawn also recognizes that the Jedi are formidable fighters and wield the Force in ways his people seem unable to do. Chiss uses Force-sensitive children to navigate through hyperspace, though they lose their abilities into adolescence. Still, Thrawn sees Anakin Skywalker at his most destructive, especially as his fear for Padmé's safety clouds his balance in the Force.
In the book, Anakin destroys a factory and mine that makes cortosis, an alloy that defeats lightsabers brought over from Legends. This devastates the indigenous settlement on the planet, costing people their livelihoods. Thrawn sees how impulsive and destructive Anakin Skywalker can be by accident. His time with Vader, however, shows him how destructive Anakin can be on purpose.
Grand Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader Shared a Mutual Respect
As part of the larger canon story, Grand Admiral Thrawn was at odds with Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin. The latter Imperial officers wanted "Project: Stardust" (the Death Star) to benefit from Imperial resources. Thrawn, however, wanted to develop the TIE Defender fighter, which he believed would beat the Rebels and the threat of the Grysk Hegemony to the prime Star Wars galaxy. While Darth Vader doesn't have any friends, he ends his time with Thrawn supporting the TIE Defenders over the technological terror that Tarkin and the company created.
The enemies Vader and Thrawn face aren't Separatists but Grysk. They have kidnapped Chiss child navigators, and Vader is disinterested in this as he doesn't care what happens to them. Thrawn is able to convince Vader to help by subtly reminding the Dark Lord how he helped Skywalker rescue his wife. Still, Thrawn watches Vader act with less impulsiveness than Anakin but with far less care for the lives of the enemy or his own forces. While Thrawn is a villain, he doesn't have the penchant for killing his own people Vader does. He knows Vader will throw away the lives of allies for convenience.
Thrawn was able to put together clues from Vader's behavior, fighting styles and other habits that he was Anakin. During his mission with Anakin, Thrawn learns of an unorthodox fighter attack strategy called Marg Sabl, which Anakin learned from his apprentice. Knowing what he does about Anakin and Vader, a student who was able to teach their master something so deadly is a frightening prospect.
Anakin Skywalker's Fall to the Dark Side Helps Ahsoka With Thrawn
Making peace with the dark legacy of her master was the primary journey Ahsoka Tano took on in the series. Forget traveling to other galaxies -- Ahsoka's final lesson from Anakin was the most important moment in this series. She had to learn that his failure wasn't her fault, nor did his choices make her tainted by the dark side. Yet, Thrawn doesn't know that. In fact, part of his fear when he learns Anakin is her master is how unpredictable this makes her. He didn't even try to beat her -- he just wanted to delay her so they could escape.
Now he is a different kind of Jedi than she was before. In fact, she might even claim the Jedi Order again. However, despite being one of the most faithful servants of the light side of the Force, her connection to Anakin means Thrawn expects her to be ruthless. Rather than trying to destroy her, Thrawn is just focused on fleeing. And if he does successfully leave them behind, he probably expects them to be able to follow him with the aid of some purrgil. Either way, she is not a person he wants to face.
Thrawn may also harbor some fear of Ezra Bridger, since he successfully ruined his Imperial plans and evaded him on Peridea. Yet, he knows Ezra. Ahsoka Tano is an unknown quantity. Her connection to Anakin Skywalker, the one Jedi (or Sith) who scared him, gives her an advantage through his fear. For her ally is the Force and a powerful ally it is.
The Ahsoka finale debuts Tuesday, October 3, 2023, at 9 PM Eastern on Disney+.