Timothy Zahn's Thrawn - one of the best new novels to come out of Disney's rebooted Star Wars canon - gave us some wonderful insight as to how the mysterious Chiss tactician encountered the Empire, rising through Imperial ranks to become the Grand Admiral we saw in Rebels. Now, the follow up is showing us an even earlier part of Thrawn's life.
A younger Thrawn encounters a familiar face in his new novel. Image: Del Rey
We've known since the first book that Thrawn's first contact with the Star Wars world as we know it - the area of the galaxy beyond the Unknown Regions that the Chiss Ascendancy call home - wasn't with the Empire, but with the Republic, years before he re-emerged on the Imperial scene.
Specifically, it was with someone Thrawn refers to Palpatine's "servant": Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight.
Now we know just how that fateful meeting is going to come about, thanks to a new excerpt from Zahn's follow up, Thrawn: Alliances, that was posted to StarWars.com this week.
Alliances will largely deal with Thrawn being put on a mission with none other than Vader himself, but the extract reveals that we'll also get to flash back to the height of the Clone Wars, and meet Thrawn back when he was still officially part of the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet.
The extract is set in the space near the planet Batuu - an important location in the novel that Vader and Thrawn will be sent to for their mission, as well as to future Star Wars canon, since it's the location the upcoming Disney Parks attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, will be based on.
This passage sees Thrawn poke and prod at an easy-to-anger General Skywalker before negotiating a brief alliance so the two men can get what they really want: For Anakin, the location of an apparently crash-landed Padmé; for Thrawn, knowledge of a raging war between two factions he's never met before that could threaten to consume both them and his home:
"Interesting offer," Anakin said. And now, finally, he was close enough. Taking a deep breath, he stretched out to the Force.
The intruder wasn't human, though of course Anakin had already guessed that. He was near-human, though, like many other species in the Republic.
But the texture of his mind was unlike anything Anakin had ever touched before. It was neat and well ordered, the patterns of thought flowing smoothly and precisely in ways not unlike those of scientists or mathematicians. But the content of that flow, and the muted emotions accompanying it, were completely opaque. It was like a neat and precise array of unfamiliar numbers.
"So what answers are you looking for?"
"I wish to more fully understand this conflict in which you're embroiled," the intruder said. "I wish answers of right and wrong, of order and chaos, of strength and weakness, of purpose and reaction." There was a slight pause; and when the voice came back there was a new formality to it. "You asked my identity. I am now prepared to give it. I am Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo, officer of the Expansionary Defence Fleet, servant of the Chiss Ascendancy. On behalf of my people, I ask your assistance in learning of this war before it sweeps its disaster over our own worlds."
The full extract is delightful, not just for this uneasy meeting of minds - the way Thrawn dances around a blustery Anakin is wonderful - but because it raises some interesting questions about just how Thrawn will interact with the man Anakin becomes by the time he's an officer of the Empire.
The Clone Wars-era artwork that will cover Thrawn: Alliances' San Diego Comic-Con exclusive edition. Image: Del Rey (StarWars.com)
It's never made entirely clear in Thrawn that the future Grand Admiral had realised Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are one and the same, but given his famous talents of perception and strategy, it's likely not going to be long into their mission during Alliances that Thrawn puts two and two together.
How will he react? Is it simply another bit of knowledge to acquire? We'll have to wait and see when Thrawn: Alliances hits shelves July 24.