Once The Rise of Skywalker comes out this winter, it will mark the end of the Skywalker Saga on the big screen. And then we are getting a three year gap until the next trilogy. There will be plenty of Star Wars content on Disney+ of course, like The Mandalorian and the Rogue One prequel series. But nothing involving the characters we came to know and love all those years ago. But what if there was a way to see these original characters on an adventure again? Could an animated adaptation of the most beloved Star Wars novels of all time – Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy” – be the answer to uniting all of Star Wars fandom once more?
Back in 1990, Star Wars as a franchise seemed dead and buried. It had been seven years since Return of the Jedi hit theaters, and it seemed George Lucas was done with the series. There were vague comments about a prequel trilogy here and there, but nothing concrete. Then in the spring of 1991, a novel appeared on bookstore shelves called Heir to the Empire. Picking up five years after Return of the Jedi, Timothy Zahn’s book was an instant best seller. Eager fans gobbled it up, wanting to know what had become of their heroes. Aside from furthering the story of the original films, it also introduced an instantly iconic villain in Grand Admiral Thrawn along with other notable new characters like Force warrior Mara Jade.
Heir to the Empire was the first of a trilogy, preceding Dark Force Rising and The Last Command in 1992 and 1993. These three novels are now collectively known as “The Thrawn Trilogy.” It launched the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which took the storylines of Luke, Leia, and Han decades past the original trilogy. But with the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, it meant the end to twenty years of EU history. There are many fans still not over it, and for some of them, the animosity to the current films comes from “erasing” the old EU more than anything else. But I think an argument can be made for this one particular story’s re-canonization in a new way. And its return to canon would go a long way in healing a fanbase that has splintered apart.
It’s true that most of the old EU canon (now labelled as “Legends”) could not fit into the post-Disney continuity, but with some tweeking, the Thrawn Trilogy mostly still can. If certain changes are made. And also if it were to be adapted into animation that is. In fact, animation is the reason I think it could even be possible. Star Wars Rebels introduced the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn into official continuity, and his fate was left ambiguous at the end of that series. It suggest Lucasfilm has plans for him down the line. And it could be an animated adaptation of these three beloved novels. It could take the form of an animated film trilogy, or maybe even one film loosely adapting all three books. Presumably all this would be for Disney+.
Of course, there would have to be several changes from the books. Zahn picked up five years post Return of the Jedi, with the New Republic still fighting what was left of the Empire, now under the control of Thrawn. The main thrust of this trilogy had Admiral Thrawn attempt take a then-pregnant Leia and promise to hand over her force sensitive children to Joruus C’baoth, the insane clone of a dead Jedi Master. He would then raise them and make them his apprentices in exchange for C’baoth’s participation in the Grand Admiral’s plan to bring the Imperial fleet to power again and destroy the New Republic. In the novel, Leia gave birth to twins, Jacen and Jaina Solo. But if you simply switch them out for Ben Solo, the story still works.
There would have to be other timeline massaging as well. The current Aftermath series of books by Chuck Wendig deal with the events right after Return of the Jedi, and state the Empire officially fell one year after the Battle of Endor. Its said in those books that leading up to that there were several different factions of the Imperial remnant vying for power. So the events of the Thrawn Trilogy would have to be condensed a lot, and made to “fit” into known events. Instead of five years after Jedi, it would have to happen somewhere in the year immediately following it. But it could be done, and certainly the team at Lucasfilm would be up for the task. Dave Filoni in charge of an animated adaptation of this saga would be greeted with cheers from every corner of Star Wars fandom. Maybe something like this that all Star Wars fandom can rally behind is just what the doctor ordered.