Getting to see Grand Admiral Thrawn in live-action on Ahsoka was a real treat for Star Wars fans, especially those of us with dog-eared copies of Heir to the Empire that we’ve been flipping through since 1991. Sure, it was cool enough to see the character brought to life in Star Wars Rebels (an animated show that deliberately catered to younger fans), but old-school fans of the Star Wars EU have waited decades to see a live-action Thrawn. That’s a shame because the Thrawn we see on Disney+ bears so little resemblance to the book character that it seems Disney has ruined Thrawn, possibly forever.
Leaving Ezra Alive
Star Wars Rebels left us with a kind of cliffhanger ending in which we didn’t know the final fate of either Grand Admiral Thrawn or Jedi Ezra Bridger after Ezra’s space whale allies yanked them into a galaxy far, far away (literally). Therefore, we understand the narrative reason that Ahsoka was a package deal: getting a live-action Thrawn meant we’d have to get a live-action Ezra, too. But from a character-building and strategic standpoint, it’s utterly insane to think that Ezra is still alive by the time Sabine and Ahsoka arrive.
In the original Timothy Zahn Star Wars books, Thrawn was able to hold his own against powerful Jedi like Luke Skywalker, and he essentially bent an evil Dark Jedi clone, Joruus C’Baoth, to his will (temporarily, at least). Now, with the full resources of a Star Destroyer along with the mystical abilities of the Night Sisters and almost nothing else to do, the Thrawn in Ahsoka can’t hunt and kill a single pesky Padawan? This doesn’t make the young Jedi seem resourceful…it just makes Thrawn look way too incompetent to lead the Empire.
Thrawn’s Seeming Inability to Understand the Natives
This next point is tied to the first: implicitly, the primary reason that Ezra managed to survive Thrawn’s wrath in this Star Wars spinoff is that he befriended the local Noti, and they helped the young Jedi hide from the admiral’s wrath. On paper, this is vintage Star Wars: much like in Return of the Jedi, all the technological prowess of the Empire is unable to hunt and kill good guys who befriend the natives. But if you know much about Thrawn, you know how much this plot point makes the Grand Admiral look like a fool.
One of Thrawn’s more outlandish abilities in those early Star Wars EU books (and one that we saw later in Star Wars Rebels) is the ability to almost instantly understand alien psychology once he studies some of their art. It’s never been a very realistic ability, but it’s still one of Thrawn’s major defining features. However, Ahsoka gives us a Thrawn that, after at least a decade, is seemingly unable to understand the Noti or the alien bandits on the planet well enough to help him hunt and kill Ezra Bridger.
Giving Sabine a Ride And Weapons
Some Star Wars fans might not think it’s fair that we’re comparing Ahsoka’s Grand Admiral Thrawn so closely to his literary counterpart. It’s easy to say we’re just nitpicking and engaging in the usual nerd resentment over the fact that the latest Star Wars show didn’t live up to what we had imagined. But here’s a blunt truth: Thrawn is portrayed as almost dangerously incompetent even if we only judge him by his appearance in this Star Wars special.
For example, in the final episode of Ahsoka, Thrawn seems very honest about why nobody should underestimate the Jedi, telling Morgan Elsbeth “Even I fell victim to the heroics of a single Jedi.” It’s great to hear Thrawn openly acknowledge how dangerous the Jedi are (so few Star Wars villains manage to do this), but when he said this, we couldn’t help but think how stupid it was that he let Sabine go and even gave her the lightsaber back. At some point, we need to admit that the Jedi might not be winning due to “heroics” so much as Thrawn’s stupidity.
Thrawn’s Misplaced Faith in the Dark Jedi
Another very consistent feature of Grand Admiral Thrawn in the original books, as well as Rebels, is that he is a master strategist. He’s always thinking eight moves ahead, and whatever moves the good guys have planned, Thrawn already has several countermoves locked and loaded. When it came to dealing with Jedi opponents in Ahsoka, however, Thrawn’s entire plan seemed to be to rely on our newest Dark Jedi: Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati.
It’s bad enough that Thrawn didn’t seem to have any real contingency plan for the warriors that he would later identify (and quite correctly) as his greatest foes. However, it’s even worse that he ended up placing so much faith in two random Dark Jedi that almost nobody has ever heard of before.
We can obviously tell this faith is misplaced because if Skoll had gone back to help Hati instead of following his own weird agenda, the Dark Jedi would almost certainly have been able to kill Ezra and Sabine. Once again, Thrawn underestimated his foes and overestimated his allies, making this “grand” Imperial strategist seem like nothing more than a blue chump.