After more than three decades, Star Wars is finally bringing one of its most iconic villains into live action.
Ahsoka resurrects a number of familiar Star Wars faces, but perhaps the most anticipated arrival belongs to Grand Admiral Thrawn, the notorious Imperial officer played by Lars Mikkelsen. Thrawn — a.k.a. Mitth'raw'nuruodo —has a long history in the Star Wars galaxy, stretching all the way back to his debut in Timothy Zahn's influential 1991 novel Heir to the Empire. In the last three decades, he's become one of Star Wars' most notorious villains, and Mikkelsen voiced him in multiple episodes of the animated series Star Wars Rebels.
Now, Thrawn has finally made his long-awaited jump to live-action, appearing in Ahsoka in all of his blue-skinned, red-eyed glory. Mikkelsen reprises his voice role from Rebels, and prior to the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike, he spoke to EW about bringing the cool and collected strategist back to the screen.
"He's brutal to a certain point, but he's not stupid," Mikkelsen explains. "He utilizes the creativity around him, and I like that. He doesn't just kill people off for the fun of it. He's sort of seven pages ahead of everybody else."
Disney+ Lars Mikkelsen as Grand Admiral Thrawn on 'Ahsoka'
Mikkelsen first voiced Thrawn in 2016, lending his voice to the third and fourth seasons of Rebels. When the series ended in 2018, the Danish actor assumed that was the last time he'd play the character. But while recording the final Rebels episode, he remembers future Ahsoka creator Dave Filoni making a sly comment, hinting at a possible return. Filoni asked Mikkelsen if he had ever visited Los Angeles, and when the actor said no, Filoni replied, "Well, let's see if we can make that happen."
"I didn't really understand what he meant by that," Mikkelsen says now with a laugh. "But then, about a year and a half after, he phoned me up, and I was game."
Ahsoka finds Thrawn stranded in a distant galaxy, desperately seeking a way to rebuild after the collapse of the Empire. He's since become an almost god-like emperor to his remaining soldiers, who chant his name with obsessive reverence. Mikkelsen says he jumped at the chance to explore new sides of the admiral, and he praised Filoni for encouraging him to make Thrawn his own. "He sort of thrives on the creativity of the people he hires," Mikkelsen says of the Ahsoka showrunner. "It's a very good quality to be a boss like that. He gets so much more from people."
Still, it's not exactly easy to play a galaxy-hopping dictator — especially one who's so manipulative and careful with his words. "My biggest challenge is always the language," Mikkelsen explains. "There's a barrier because I'm not English; I'm Danish. And it's quite elaborate English. He's so poised, and he's so calm in what he's doing, this character. So, the challenge is to believe in what you're doing. He's not a man who goes for a cup of coffee. He's in the room giving orders but in a very calm, rational way."
Lucasfilm via Getty Images Larks Mikkelsen; Thrawn in 'Star Wars Rebels'
Plus, starring in a live-action show requires a bit more preparation than showing up to record in a voice booth. Like his costars Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mikkelsen had to spend hours in the makeup chair each day, slathering on the blue paint. For the most part, he says, he didn't mind the laborious transformation process.
"I mean, you can't go out in the rain," Mikkelsen says. "That'd be stupid. And after 16 hours of shooting, the contacts will hurt you. But there's people coming around all the time with [eye] drops."
But even after witnessing the full transformation for the first time, Mikkelsen admits that he wasn't sure Thrawn's menace would properly translate into live-action. He wasn't truly convinced until he stepped on to set in full makeup, red eyes glinting in the stage lights. He asked if he could see how he looked in the monitor — only to see Thrawn staring back at him. "I really wanted to see it in the camera," he explains. "But it worked. And I was quite amazed."
Ahsoka airs Tuesdays on Disney+ at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
To hear exclusive interviews with the Ahsoka cast, as well as full episode recaps, listen to EW's Dagobah Dispatch podcast.