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Star Wars: Ahsoka's Thrawn is 'brutal and manipulative'

Scene from Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. (Lucasfilm)
Thrawn, as seen from behind, in the new Ahsoka trailer. (Lucasfilm)

One of the biggest reveals of Star Wars Celebration 2023 was introduction of the live action Thrawn in Ahsoka.

First teased during a clip shown in Friday’s Lucasfilm Showcase, the Star Wars villain's blue-skinned face was glimpsed for the first time by the assembled crowd during Saturday’s Ahsoka panel. Until now, Thrawn has only been seen on the screen in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. The imperial military leader was originally created by author Timothy Zahn, and appeared in a series of beloved novels.

During the panel, it was announced that Lars Mikkelsen (star of Sherlock, and older brother of Mads Mikkelsen) who voiced the character in the Disney+ show, would be reprising the role for his live-action debut in the upcoming Ahsoka.

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So what can we expect from Grand Admiral Thrawn in Ahsoka? During interviews after the Ahsoka presentation, Yahoo UK asked creative Star Wars mastermind and showrunner Dave Filoni, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, Lars Mikkelsen, and the rest of the cast what makes Thrawn so scary, what inspires such loyalty from people, and what does Lars Mikkelsen bring to the character made flesh.

Kennedy thinks he's scary partly because he's a wildcard. “Because Timothy Zahn did such a spectacular job in writing those novels, I think that [Thrawn] might not be an obvious villain – by having this calm demeanour; by not having necessarily the attributes we’re used to [in] Vader and Palpatine. He’s unpredictable.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Lars Mikkelsen onstage during the Ahsoka panel at the Star Wars Celebration 2023 in London at ExCel on April 08, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Kate Green/Getty Images for Disney)
Lars Mikkelsen onstage during the Ahsoka panel at the Star Wars Celebration 2023. (Kate Green/Getty Images for Disney)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Hera Syndulla in the show, meanwhile, thinks it’s an inherent coldness that makes Thrawn so chilling.

“Thrawn is terrifying because he’s so calculating, and he’s so cold... He’s brutal and manipulative and cunning; smart. I think Dave [Filoni] says it really well — he doesn’t have the Force but he doesn’t need it, and there’s something really frightening about that.

"He doesn’t really need that kind of ability and I think that Hera and everyone involved in Ahsoka the series finds that very frightening.”

Rosario Dawson is Ahsoka Tano in Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. (Lucasfilm)
Rosario Dawson is Ahsoka Tano in Ahsoka. (Lucasfilm)

"When he speaks it feels official,” said Ahsoka actor Rosario Dawson. “Those piercing red eyes, and he’s the strategy there. He’d beat any chess master. This is someone who doesn’t have the Force but… I’ll just say, this is one of the reasons I think you see so many other amazing characters in Ahsoka’s show with her because she knows this is not someone to take on on her own.

"He’s not doing it on his own. You’ve got to strategise with that one.”

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Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who plays Sabine Wren in Ahsoka, says that the gravity in Lars Mikkelsen’s voice and subtle character choices he makes contribute to Thrawn’s frightening presence.

“I think he’s scary because you don’t necessarily hate him, it’s more like a misunderstanding. It’s complex. And he’s not just full of hate, he’s curious and there are layers to it which makes him more complicated.”

Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. (Lucasfilm)
Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Ahsoka. (Lucasfilm)

Ivanna Sakhno, who plays a new character in the series named Shin — described as “back-up” for Diana Lee Inosanto’s magistrate Morgan Elsbeth — gave an insight into Mikkelsen on set.

“Being with him in the scene and looking into his eyes is a chilling experience,” she said. “One of my favourite things about him is in between the takes he would just go around and hum a little and you could just totally imagine him as Thrawn in the morning cooking some eggs and pouring some orange juice, and being like [hums].”

Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) in Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. (Lucasfilm)
Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) in Ahsoka. (Lucasfilm)

She added that he inspires loyalty in people “because he is true to his essence. Be it light or dark, he has an agenda and he’s unapologetic about it. And I think that makes for an interesting villain.”

Inosanto says that the chills are all in what’s underneath, expertly conveyed by Lars Mikkelsen. “[Mikkelsen] will definitely bring levels of subtext and I think that’s what’s going to make him more scary because you know that mind is working all the time.”

Mikkelsen himself also credits Thrawn’s mind as being at the root of what makes him scary.

Said Mikkelsen, “He’s seven steps ahead of you the whole time so he’s got you figured out in every which way and that is always scary with an opponent that you can’t really beat.”

As for why people are so loyal, he had this to say: “I think he’s a good employer. He thrives on the creativity of his surroundings. He’s not beating down on people but he’s actually utilising what people have and isn’t that the best employer you can get? And of course power.”

STAR WARS REBELS -
Grand Admiral Thrawn as seen in Star Wars: Rebels. (Lucasfilm via Getty Images)

Dave Filoni, meanwhile, referenced the blue skin and the red eyes as critical to the fear he instils (“The eyes are a big part.”) before expanding on the cast’s thoughts: “You know what it is? It’s his cool calculation.

"He’s very calm. He doesn’t get riled up, he doesn’t get frustrated, he really thinks things through. And when you’ve got somebody there that no matter what chaos is going on, they’re calm – that means they’re powerful, that means they’re thinking, they’re not overreacting.

"Then you can’t really manipulate them, so that’s the danger – that he’s really going to understand you and he’s going to break down what you’re all about. And that’s going to be a particular challenge for our heroes.”

Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) in Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. (Lucasfilm)
Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) in Ahsoka. (Lucasfilm)

And loyalty? “He’s not like the other imperial officers,” said Filoni, echoing Kennedy’s words. “Because he knows his soldiers and that instils a sense of loyalty in them. I think they want to fight for him. That also makes him really dangerous. I think most stormtroopers feel disposable.

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"I don’t think they feel that as much when they’re working for Thrawn. I think they know that they’re working for a guy that can win and all these other imperials who send them to their death and just use them as numbers, he’s not doing that. He’s calculating. There’s a reason why he’s doing everything and I think that’s why he’s very effective as well.”

Ahsoka premieres on Disney+ in August 2023. Watch a trailer below.