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Grand Admiral Thrawn’s best Star Wars Rebels episodes to watch before the Ahsoka series

Scene from Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Scene from Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. /

Grand Admiral Thrawn is poised to be a major character in the upcoming Ahsoka series. Thrawn was created by author Timothy Zahn for the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire and was a vital character in Star Wars Legends.

Thrawn made his Star Wars canon debut in Star Wars Rebels season 3. He is voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, who will also play Thrawn when the character makes the jump to live-action in Ahsoka.

From those who know nothing about Thrawn, to those who love Thrawn’s character, to everyone in between, these are the best Rebels episodes featuring Thrawn to watch before the Ahsoka series begins on August 23.

“Steps Into Shadow” (Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2)

The season 3 premiere of Rebels is the first time Thrawn appeared in an onscreen Star Wars story. The animation, the music, and Lars Mikkelsen’s chilling voice performance make for an intimidating introduction, immediately communicating that Thrawn is more formidable than the other military antagonists the Ghost crew previously faced in Rebels.

These episodes show how Thrawn is quickly rising through the ranks of the Empire after being recently promoted to Grand Admiral by Emperor Palpatine. This is partly because Thrawn doesn’t just react; he always sees a bigger picture and has a larger plan that ultimately delivers results, even if it means giving his enemies small victories along the way.

“Hera’s Heroes” (Season 3, Episode 5)

Part of what sets Thrawn apart from other Star Wars antagonists is his deeply analytical mind, and how he studies the culture, history, philosophy, and art of his enemies to better understand and defeat them. “Hera’s Heroes” is a perfect example of this as Thrawn studies all these aspects of Ryloth as a tool against Cham Syndulla’s resistance movement.

This episode is where Thrawn meets Hera Syndulla and Ezra Bridger for the first time, both of whom will be in the Ahsoka series. When Hera tries to steal her family’s Kalikori, Thrawn sees through her ruse because of the time he spent studying the sacred relic and other elements of Ryloth’s culture and the Syndulla’s family history.

“An Inside Man” (Season 3, Episode 10)

“An Inside Man” gives a taste of Thrawn’s ruthlessness when he is brought in to investigate the recent surge of Imperial vehicles that had been defective and sabotaged in the factories on Lothal. Thrawn forces a factory worker named Sumar, who inspected a speeder bike, to bring the vehicle to full speed. Thrawn refuses to end the demonstration even as the bike overheats and kills Sumar. He lets Sumar die to make a point to the workers of what will happen if they sabotage the vehicles, along with the mandate that they personally test every vehicle they build.

In addition to Thrawn’s strategic ruthlessness, this is the episode where he realizes the rebels have a mole among the Imperials. Instead of panicking or rushing to unmask the spy, he begins a calculated series of moves that helps him use the mole to his advantage later on.

“Zero Hour” (Season 3, Episodes 21-22)

The season 3 finale shows all the pieces of Thrawn’s larger plan falling into place as he decimates the rebel fleet and destroys the rebel base on Atollon. It is a perfect plan that is only undermined by Admiral Konstantine disobeying orders to seek personal glory, and by the havoc on Atollon caused by the Bendu, a powerful Force being Thrawn knew nothing about before the attack.

Thrawn’s skill as a military commander is on full display here, but the episodes also show that he is unable to eradicate the Ghost crew and all of Phoenix Squadron due to the selfishness of a fellow Imperial and because of the Force, the one thing Thrawn cannot strategically outthink and outmaneuver.

“Flight of the Defender” (Season 4, Episode 6)

Thrawn was not a supporter of the Death Star. He had his own project that he believed would be the key to crushing the Rebellion and bringing order to the galaxy. This was known as the TIE Defender Elite, a far more advanced model of the Imperial TIE Fighter. “Flight of the Defender” shows what the prototype is capable of and how much Thrawn cared about and believed in the project.

“Rebel Assault” (Season 4, Episode 9)

When Hera leads a group of rebel ships to Lothal, it is up to Thrawn to stop the attack. Through his tactics, the rebel assault is crushed, and except for Hera and Mart Mattin, all the pilots are killed.

In addition to being another example of Thrawn’s military skill, the episode shows that the Rebel Alliance failed when they made a stand against Thrawn. His later defeat came at the hands of the Ghost crew and their friends, not at the hands of the official Rebel Alliance.

“Family Reunion – and Farewell” (Season 4, Episodes 15 and 16)

While the other episodes reveal a great deal about Thrawn’s character, the series finale is the episode that explains why both Thrawn and Ezra disappeared long before the events of Ahsoka. There is a good reason why one of the Empire’s best military commanders was absent during the events of the original trilogy. The series finale also shows a new side to Thrawn’s ruthlessness as he fires on Lothal’s civilians.

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These episodes are among the best ways to revisit and learn about Thrawn leading up to Ahsoka. All episodes of Star Wars Rebels are streaming now on Disney+.