By Julie Catherine
It’s incredible to think that this month marks the 30th anniversary of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. A quote from Dave Filoni perhaps best encapsulates what Heir to the Empire meant to Star Wars fans when it was released in May 1991.
Filoni once said, “You couldn’t have grown up a Star Wars fan without encountering Thrawn in Heir to the Empire. It was a dark time when there weren’t any movies, and it blew our minds that there could be more.”
But, now, three decades after its release, the legacy of Zahn’s novel still lives on. So much so, in fact, that we have a theory as to how the upcoming crossover event in The Mandalorian will be an Heir to the Empire adaptation.
For those not as familiar with Heir to the Empire, the novel is Legends or Expanded Universe content now. It was set five years after Return of the Jedi and the fall of the Empire, and is well known for introducing some fan favorite characters, including Mara Jade and, of course, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Essentially, the story looks at the aftermath of the Empire’s fall. We see Han and Leia married as they navigate the politics of the New Republic. And we see Luke Skywalker taking the mantle of the leader of a burgeoning Jedi Order. It’s what’s happening on the outer edges of the galaxy, however, where the plot really kicks into gear.
One of the Emperor’s last warlords – Thrawn – develops a strategic plan to overthrow the New Republic and restore the Empire. With the help of his personal bodyguard Rukh and the mad clone of a dead Jedi master, Thrawn kicks off a chain of events that have dire consequences across the galaxy.
So, why do we think The Mandalorian may adapt Heir to the Empire in one way or another. If we take a step back, The Mandalorian has a lot of similarities with Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy already. Both tackle the aftermath of the Empire with a struggling New Republic and a relentless Empire that doesn’t want to seem to go away. There’s also quite a bit in the Thrawn trilogy involving the underworld, gangster elements of the Star Wars universe, something that is core to the story of The Mandalorian.
It’s also interesting to look at the similar functions The Mandalorian and Heir to the Empire share with one another in the broader Star Wars universe. Both take place after Return of the Jedi and, largely, serve to bridge the gap between what came before and what’s to come. For The Mandalorian, as creator Jon Favreau has spoken of previously, this means connecting the original trilogy to the sequel trilogy, highlighting the origins of the First Order. For the Thrawn trilogy, we get the set up for the events that unfold in Dark Empire, the Second Galactic Civil War, the Yuuzhan Vong War, and much more.
Now, let’s take a step back to December 2020, when Kathleen Kennedy, during Lucasfilm’s Disney Investor Day Presentation, announced a slew of new Star Wars projects, including several Disney+ series. These included a new season of The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Rangers of the New Republic, and Ahsoka. Perhaps most interestingly though, Kennedy revealed that these series will crossover in an epic, interconnected event at some point.
Immediately, this raises the question: what will this crossover event entail? Well we have several clues to suggest it may be something akin to Heir to the Empire.
In Chapter 13: The Jedi, we find out that Ahsoka is hunting after Grand Admiral Thrawn. The last we saw Thrawn was in roughly 0 BBY, in the series finale of Rebels. Ezra and Thrawn are plummeted deep into hyperspace into the unknown. Then, five years later, we see Sabine and Ahsoka reunited on Lothal, presumably teaming up to find their mutual friend.
But, the revelation in Chapter 13 makes it very clear: Thrawn is back, he’s still a threat, he seems to have quite a following, and Ahsoka is out to stop him and retrieve Ezra.
With a crossover event incoming, there needs to be a threat notable enough to warrant all of these different shows and characters intersecting and Thrawn may well be that threat.
Now, I’m not saying The Mandalorian will straight up adapt Heir to the Empire. It’s unlikely Mara Jade is showing up anytime soon. The Thrawn trilogy sees Leia give birth to twins. But, nonetheless, the barebones of Heir to the Empire – Thrawn claiming the Katana Fleet and strategizing a master plan – seems more than feasible in the crossover event.
Also of note is the character Jorus C’baoth in Heir to the Empire.
Jorus is a mad clone of a Jedi Master, who allies with Thrawn and attempts to turn Leia’s unborn twins and Luke to the dark side. It’s not entirely inconceivable that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni find a way to make Ezra the Jorus C’baoth of canon.
We know that Ezra is highly likely to appear in live-action, with Aladdin star Mena Massoud reportedly helming the role. And the last we heard of Ezra and Thrawn they were together. So, it’s possible that Ezra is somehow worked into this crossover event as a reluctant ally of Grand Admiral Thrawn, either a clone version of Ezra or some kind of mind-altered version of Ezra.
Nonetheless, it’s exciting to look back at Heir to the Empire and see its continued legacy to this day. Dave Filoni has intelligently incorporated elements of Legends throughout The Clone Wars, Rebels, and now The Mandalorian, so it’s possible he leans into EU content once again in crafting the upcoming crossover series, with Jon Favreau in the driver’s seat.
Images courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm