The final few episodes of Star Wars Rebels were nothing short of magnificent, managing to tie up the series' loose ends while expanding the world of the characters we love and hinting at what's to come.
Though we found out the future of most of the crew of the Ghost, the fates of Ezra and his foe Thrawn were left unknown. That is, until the most recent Rebels Recon, where Dave Filoni confirmed that both of the fan favorite characters had, in fact, survived. "I'll say this much—they're not dead," Filoni said on the show. "Both of them survive. Both Ezra and Thrawn, I would say, survive it." We know Ahsoka and Sabine are searching the galaxy for Ezra, but what does this mean for the blue-hued EU villain who fans were so happy to see enter main canon? We've got a theory...
Though many fans know him from his role in Rebels, Thrawn was first introduced in Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire. Set five years after the Battle of Endor and finds the galaxy unstable after the fall of the Empire, the novel introduces an exiled alien Grand Admiral named Thrawn who's rallying his Imperial Forces in an attempt to take advantage of the instability of the New Republic. As Disney chose to strike the Expanded Universe (EU) from canon when they acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, Thrawn looked like he may end up forgotten by all but the most beloved fans until he was reintroduced into the main Star Wars canon in the Rebels episode "Steps into Shadow." But it's actually his EU (now known as Legends) origins that can help us discover just what Grand Admiral Thrawn might be up to after surviving the space whale jump to hyperspace.
Rebels' end leaves us at approximately five ABY (After the Battle of Yavin), meaning it's around one year after the end of Return of the Jedi. That lines up with what Sabine's voiceover told us about the Ghost's crew, and it gives us a timeline to start looking for Thrawn, who just so happened to be introduced in a book set at this exact time in the Expanded Universe. In both EU and main canon, Thrawn is Chiss (an alien race from Csilla) who served in the Galactic Empire's navy in somewhere called the Unknown Regions. Broadly, the Unknown Regions are defined as uncharted areas of the galaxy, and were a large part of the EU after being introduced in Heir of The Empire. They've since been brought into canon in The Clone Wars, followed by novels such as Lost Stars and Aftermath, but have played a largely unnoticed and important part of the new Star Wars trilogy.
In The Force Awakens we were introduced to the First Order, the remnants of the Imperial forces, which fled the known galaxy after the Battle of Jakku and gathered in the Unknown Regions to form the new regime. So how did the Emperor and the Empire know about this little explored part of space? Well, in Aftermath: Empire's End it's revealed that Thrawn had a hand in leading them there and in turn establishing the First Order. Chuck Wendig's novel tells us that Emperor Palpatine "had one in the navy who knew something of the Unknown Regions: Admiral Thrawn, an alien with ice-blue skin who came from beyond the borders of the known galaxy."
Since it's canon that Thrawn was the Empire's link to the Unknown Regions, it's pretty likely that he would return to them, aligning with his arc in the Expanded Universe and hinting at a pretty exciting possible route for the animated Star Wars universe. Introduced in Specter of the Past, the Empire of the Hand was a stealth faction of the Empire set up by Grand Admiral Thrawn in the outskirts of the Unknown Regions with the support of Palpatine to secure the Empire's hold in the space outside of the known galaxy. Though in the EU this was established before the fall of the Empire, the Empire of the Hand was in control of the Unknown Regions until nine ABY. This could easily be repurposed, especially as in the books the Empire of the Hands' politics and structure were used to shape the Imperial Remnant, who in main canon would later become the First Order.
So looking at Thrawn's past and the future of the galaxy as we know it, we think it's possible Dave Filoni and company's next animated endeavor could feature the burgeoning Empire of the Hand, showing how their advancements in the Unknown Regions will eventually lead to the establishment of the First Order. We know that main canon has yet to establish the full timeline between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, so this will likely be the focus. Maybe Thrawn had already begun to set the Hand up under the guidance of Palpatine? And simply returns there after ending up in the Unknown Regions after somehow escaping Ezra and their Hyperspace altercation? Or could we see Thrawn abandoned in the Unknown Regions, creating the Hand from scratch as a way of attempting to reclaim power over an unstable galaxy, just like he did in the Expanded Universe?
What do you think of our radical Thrawn theory? Want to learn more about the Unknown Regions? Just desperate to know what Ahsoka and Sabine get up to next? Let us know below!