In 1991, a little known book called Heir to the Empire came out. It was arguably the first major story since the climatic events of Return of the Jedi. Continuing the adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia, it told the story of what happened after the events of the original trilogy and how our heroes were trying to restore democracy and fend off the still lingering Galactic Empire. It was well received among fans and non-fans alike as they enjoyed the return of their favorite heroes in a new epic tale. However, its villain was what really stood out about this book, which was something many fans probably did not expect. Whose villainy could match Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, the two greatest villains of not just the Star Wars saga, but of cinema history at that time. Well the answer came in a blue-skinned alien named Thrawn, an Imperial officer who held the rank of Grand Admiral. He led the remnants of the Imperial Forces against a fledgling New Republic. His tactical genius and usage of art to deduce his enemies tactics made him a dangerous foe. Because of such success, presence, and originality, he should be considered one of the best Star Wars villains
When Heir of the Empire came out in 1991, the franchise itself had begun to dwindle in public memory despite the popularity of the original trilogy. Many had believed that there would be no more tales of their favorite space heroes. When it was revealed that they would return in a story set after the events of Return of the Jedi, many wondered just who the villain would be after the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader, the top dogs of evil in the Star Wars galaxy. One would be either fighting former servants of the Empire or another secret evil force who had been waiting for the Palpatine and Vader to be out of the picture. The latter would be quite the challenge. Thrawn was not just a mere servant of Emperor Palpatine, but he managed to carry the power of the Empire that had been held by the Empror and Vader themselves up to that point. Not only did he take the reins of the Empire, but he was legitimately able to challenge to the main heroes Luke, Han, and Leia. Throughout the Thrawn trilogy, as the series came to be known, he managed to outwit them, build up his forces, and eventually lay siege to Coruscant itself. Thrawn brought the New Republic to their knees and was only defeated by what was essentially sheer luck, something that even the Emperor and Vader could not achieve.
How he went about achieving these objectives made him even more interesting. Future Star Wars stories that followed Return of the Jedi struggled with antagonists that could outdo the evils of the Emperor and Vader. Sometimes, storytellers decided to just recreate new versions of these characters. In some ways we saw this in The Force Awakens with Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren acting as this generation's Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. While they were not complete carbon copies, especially in the nature of Kylo Ren, they were similar to the same archetypes of the former villains of the original trilogy. Thrawn broke this mold of Star Wars villain. He was unique in that he had no Force powers, and no lightsaber. He only had his mind and a fleet with limited resources. His demonstrated his talent as master strategist when he analyzed the art of his enemy to understand how the particular species think and approach the battle. By understanding the culture of the species, he was able to understand his enemy, and predict their moves with frightening accuracy. This attribute had not been seen in any other Star Wars antagonists in the time prior to or after Return of the Jedi.
Despite his introduction three decades ago, Thrawn managed to stay in the minds of Star Wars fandom. While most of his backstory was fleshed out in Legends, he finally entered the current canon in Star Wars Rebels and possibly in The Mandalorian spin-off media. His popularity and star power which remained to this very day was a rarity only granted to only a few characters from the Expanded Universe. Being the first villain introduced after Return of the Jedi, Thrawn remained one of the best opponents opposite our heroes, right up there with Emperor Palpatine, and Darth Vader. His place among these titans of the Dark Side showed that he indeed is THE BEST Star Wars villain.
Written By Joel Davis
Syndicated From Culture Slate