The Skywalker saga may be over following the release of The Rise of Skywalker, but the live-action Star Wars universe is expanding. The Mandalorian helped kicked open a world of opportunity to explore new corners of a galaxy far, far away. While much of what is exciting about this new era of the franchise hinges on seeing new stories, the idea of seeing beloved characters brought to life in live-action is a big part of the appeal. With that, it seems inevitable, a matter of when, not if, we will see Thrawn brought to life, be it on the big or small screen.
Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise to never appear in live-action. Until his appearance in the animated series Rebels, Thrawn had never appeared outside of the expanded universe at all. Created by author Timothy Zahn, Thrawn made his debut in the Heir to the Empire novel trilogy that imagined this brilliant strategist who had risen through the ranks of the Empire seizing the power vacuum left behind by the Emperor and Darth Vader.
Thrawn, a member of the mysterious Chiss alien race, has been brought back to the modern Star Wars canon via Rebels and a new series of novels from Timothy Zahn. Old fans of the franchise and more recent fans alike have a fondness and awareness for him. Plus, with Kylo Ren out of the picture, we are in need of the galaxy's next great villain. Sure, that could be a new creation. But Thrawn is here, waiting in the wings.
The character's newfound popularity and rich backstory could be fertile ground for the right actor. In the right hands, it could help cement the character as an all-timer Star Wars villain. With all of that said, here are some suggestions for who could play Thrawn in live-action, whatever shape that might take.
For anyone with even a passing familiarity with the character, this may seem like the most obvious choice. There is a great deal of fan art on the internet to back that up. But sometimes that isn't a bad thing. Benedict Cumberbatch has a lot of range as an actor and is as A-list as it gets in every sense. Roles like Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness have shown us that he can be evil, calculated and imposing. The man also played a deeply convincing Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, which is very akin to how Thrawn operates. Brilliant and mysterious. Cumberbatch also has the physical stature to faithfully portray Thrawn. Not to mention that ever-so-perfect voice. Obvious though it may be, it would be hard to imagine someone better suited for the job.
Michael Fassbender is, similarly, one of the greatest and most in-demand actors working in the business today. This is another almost painfully obvious choice, but one that can't be ignored. Just look at what Fassbender did with David and Walter in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Also, not for nothing, he played a complex genius brilliantly in Steve Jobs. Just swap out the jeans for a pristine white officer's uniform. The man has range. His ability to express so much while saying so little. That imposing stare. Plus, we've seen Fassbender bring an iconic villain to life rather brilliantly with Magneto in the X-Men franchise. Whether or not the actor would want to do something like this is another question entirely. But if Lucasfilm could sway him, this would be one heck of a way to go.
It is tough to imagine another actor working today who could simply be painted blue, dressed in white and almost instantly look like Thrawn brought to life. Jason Isaacs feels like a man who could truly embody the masterfully brilliant Chiss effortlessly. Isaacs is known best as Lucious Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise. So we know he can do villain quite well, not to mention his willingness to go all-in on a franchise. Plus, Isaacs fit right in on Star Trek: Discovery as Captain Lorca. Apples to oranges, yes, but it's easy to picture him transitioning from a Starfleet captain's chair to one in the Imperial Navy. Also, not for nothing, but Isaacs played voiced an Inquisitor on Star Wars Rebels. He likes the franchise and knows how to do a bad guy in this universe justice.
This is an obvious pick, albeit for different reasons. When it was revealed in that infamous Star Wars Rebels season 3 trailer that Thrawn was coming to the party, fans lost their minds. This was a treat for those who were sad when Lucasfilm reset the canon, effectively wiping Thrawn from existence. It was Lars Mikkelsen who voiced the character and made him come to life so effectively. Mikkelsen, as it just so happens, is a very accomplished actor in live-action as well, having starred in House of Cards, The Witcher, The Team and quite a few movies over the years. Plus, Mikkelsen has the look to pull it off. As an added bonus, Mads Mikkelsen, his brother, played Galen Erso in Rogue One. So there would be something of a family connection there. Most importantly, even if it was just the voice, this man is Thrawn in the current Star Wars canon. Why not keep it consistent?
Sterling K. Brown
Sterling K. Brown may be one of the most underappreciated actors, in my mind, working today. The man delivers in spades every single time he is on screen, becoming one of the best parts, if not the single best part, of any project he's involved with. Brown had a tiny role in Black Panther but made a huge impact. He was perhaps the best part of The Predator, a movie that was otherwise quite disappointing for many. And he gave an Oscar-worthy performance in the criminally underseen Waves. Brown is a tremendous actor and can be threatening, yet calculating. Put this man in blue, give him a white suit and let him go about outsmarting the Rebel scum.
This one is just too easy to picture. Tom Hiddleston is best known as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A trickster god. Someone deeply evil yet undeniably likable. Turn him blue, cut the hair and Hiddleston could transform into Thrawn at a moment's notice. That combination of charisma and villainy. It's truly perfect. Once Hiddleston is done filming the Loki series for Disney+, his days in the MCU are over, so far as we know anyway. We know he has an excellent relationship with Disney, and that he's willing to commit to a role for a long time. Whether or not he would want to do that again remains to be seen, but this could be a clear-cut home run for Star Wars fans.
Not that anyone is crying for Hugh Laurie as he's had a career that most actors would kill for. But it feels like following his career-making run on House that Laurie never found that next breakout role that could help take him to the next level. Be that as it may, Laurie is a tremendous actor who, as Gregory House, showed us for years that he can play the smartest guy in the room incredibly well. Laurie could perhaps bring that quiet, composed quality to Thrawn that is in such stark contrast to Palpatine or Darth Vader. That is arguably what makes him so fascinating. He's not just another Force-using, over-powered monster. Thrawn's biggest asset is his brain. That feels right up Laurie's alley.
Sacha Baron Cohen
Here we might be venturing into some eyebrow-raising territory here. Sacha Baron Cohen? The guy who played Borat? The antagonist to Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights? Ali G? Yes, that guy. Cohen may be known for his comedic exploits but he is a true chameleon in a way few actors can claim to be. He disappears into each of his roles. Cohen transforms into someone totally different for every part he takes on. Case in point, even as a majorly famous personality, he fooled politicians and quite a few well-known folks on his series Who is America? Also, not for nothing, Cohen was long-attached to play Freddie Mercury in what became Bohmeian Rhapsody. Couple that with the fact that, once colored blue, Cohen could absolutely look the part, this feels like the right place for him in the Star Wars galaxy.
Assuming, be it in a movie or TV series, the powers that be at Lucasfilm decide to throw us something of a curveball and gender-swap the role, Eva Green would be the way to go. While this seems unlikely, as Star Wars has a tendency to stick to the canon, it's hard to deny Green's ability as an actress. And it's easy to see her crushing a role like this. Green first made herself known to the world as Vesper in Casino Royale opposite Daniel Craig's Bond. In the years since, she's turned in impressive performance after impressive performance, though often in less-than-stell projects. Green would undoubtedly be able to do a lot with a role this meaty, even if it does defy the convention of the character.