Okay, wow. So apparently the Thrawn-turns-traitor theory has caused quite the disruption in the fandom. And while I love discussion and spirited debate within a fandom (that’s one of the best things about being in a fandom, imo), upset fans is not a good thing. So.
As far as this theory not fitting in with Thrawn’s character, numerous posts have already been made on this point. Check out @inkstranger, @cystemic, and @moomkin92 for a few good arguments on why Thrawn turning traitor actually does fit well into his new canon character. Because of that, I’ll address this as briefly as I can, starting with the main protests from those who don’t like this theory.
First off, Thrawn is a highly logical and complex character. And I think we can all agree that he is nowhere near petty or vindictive enough to target the Death Star simply because it’s getting more attention than his TIEs. I never meant to imply otherwise, and I don’t think anyone else did either. But I’ll get more into why that part of the trailer sparked the return of this theory in a little bit.
Another point of contention seems to be the loss of life. It’s true that Thrawn is significantly bothered by collateral damage and the loss of innocent life. This, too, has been established. However, the keyword here is innocent. As @moomkin92 said, facilitating the deaths of thousands of Imperial military officers and personnel is very different from facilitating the deaths of billions of innocent civilians. Which is the purpose of the Death Star.
Now, keep in mind that Thrawn’s core loyalty, his strongest loyalty, is to his people. If it comes down to the Empire or the Chiss, Thrawn is going to choose the Chiss without hesitation.
So here’s where the theory comes in. Assisting in the destruction of the Death Star, however indirectly, does carry a heavy cost: the loss of every Imperial life on board the station, including people Thrawn respects. However, allowing it to exist carries the following dangers: the loss of billions of lives and entire planets, one of which might eventually be his own. For an analytical person like Thrawn, one of those outcomes is clearly far less desirable than the other. Neither outcome is great, but destroying the Death Star does more ultimate good than bad, and Thrawn is all about “the ends justify the means”.
That being said, his intentions in helping Galen Erso plant a weakness in the Death Star would be similarly complex. And while doing so would help out the Rebellion, I believe that Thrawn would see this as more of an unavoidable side effect than an actual goal. Remember again that his primary motivation, his reason for living almost, is to protect his people, and this brings me to the strongest argument in favor of this theory.
Thrawn would not weaken the Death Star for the benefit of the Rebellion. He would do so to protect his people. Because if the Empire ever decides to go after the Ascendancy, he would want to give the Chiss a way of combating the Death Star. Because there is no defense against it. The only way to stop it is to destroy it. And rather than wasting time trying to find a way to destroy it after it’s already been turned on them, it would be a very Thrawn thing to do to plant something in advance as a sort of safety switch. Because this is what Thrawn does. He plays the long game. And he’s not stupid. He certainly knows that the Emperor would dispose of his people in a heartbeat if he thought it necessary.
Also remember that Thrawn is in the Empire because he needs its strength to defend his people. Giving the Rebels this weakness serves as a sort of test of this strength, because if the Rebels manage to destroy the Death Star, the Empire is not, in fact, strong enough for his purposes. And, hearkening back to his conversation with Nightswan, if the Empire and Rebellion are squabbling, it could provide a more appealing target for that unknown evil, thus buying himself, his people, and Eli more time to figure out how to defeat it.
Planting a weakness in the Death Star is, in my opinion, classic new-canon Thrawn. It serves multiple purposes at once, plans for the long term, and ensures that his people have a defense against it if necessary.
Now let me address why the Rebels S4 trailer in particular brought this theory back up for me. I came at this with my original post not from the perspective of a viewer or a fan, but from the perspective of a writer. I’ve been writing and studying stories since I was a kid. I am intimately familiar with their construct.
In order to pull off a twist as massive as Thrawn being involved in the destruction of the Death Star, you must foreshadow the hell out of it. The interesting part of this is that the foreshadowing is, in fact, there. His conversation with Nightswan about weakening a lesser opponent to distract a larger threat is one form of foreshadowing. The other is the fact that the Death Star was a recurring focus for Thrawn throughout the novel, and he had an obvious dislike for it. Even Eli’s distaste for it is another piece of the set up.
Now we have the Death Star being brought into Rebels S4. From the perspective of a writer, it wasn’t so much the context in which it was brought in, it was the fact that it is brought in at all. And specifically, that it is brought in as a plot line for Thrawn himself. It is a direct continuation from the book, which is where all that foreshadowing lies.
I’m not saying this is going to happen. I’m not even saying it’s likely. I’m saying that, from the perspective of a writer, it’s possible. It’s feasible. Because the set up for it is there. If the Rebels team wanted to use it, all of the groundwork for this twist was laid out in the novel. They would have had to do a little more foreshadowing in this upcoming season of the show to really make it a strong, believable turnaround for Thrawn, but they really wouldn’t have to do a lot.
So there it is. My reasons for why I am partial to this theory. It works for the character: his motivations, his loyalties, and his MO all line up with him taking this action. It also makes my writer’s senses tingle, because I love massive set ups like this.
Hopefully this helps mitigate some of the upset caused by this theory. You are more than free to disagree with everything I just said. Again, that’s the beauty of a fandom: being able to discuss and debate and challenge one another in a respectful and civil fashion over something we all love. And that can’t happen if we all agree on everything. So disagree. Debate. But have fun with it, allow others to have fun with it, give others the respect for their opinions that you also deserve for yours, and remember that at the end of the day, we’re all here because we love Thrawn.
1) Betrayal is not a sinister mechanism of most Chiss unless heavy EU elements were returned into canon, which sounds like LFSG won’t do. (Namely bringing back the Killiks species – Killiks mind controlled Chiss to do their bidding).
2) Can I betray my Emperor I swore a military oath to directly? Would I want to knowing he has the Force differently from the Jedi? And what of this Force – do Chiss wield it in canon? They definitely do in the EU, but they are under further ostracism. Something about Chiss acrimony – or a detente with the Killiks – or more.
3) you are sound in your reasons, but as of yet, I would have to make the Sith angry. No one else. Imperials may hate me, but for silly reasons. If Palps and Vader are on my side, what would be my impetus be to overwhelmingly betray them risking the very presence of the Ascendancy? Favoring Rebels? I mess up the Emperor’s grip on Vader? That would get me killed. I screw up in battle? Many claim I will do that but forget I’m not human and Chiss do not make mistakes…nonchalantly… I’m vengeful because I can’t have my way? Again, HOOMAN EMOTIONS can be annoying to us Cerulean aliens. So, what’s my downfall from the Emperor’s graces? You answer that and it will be a good story.