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Vintage Casting: A Mid-90s STAR WARS THRAWN TRILOGY

Nobody is more excited about the upcoming Star Wars sequel trilogy, not to mention all the offshoots and sidequels (a word I hate) than me. In fact, all of us here at Nerdist feel that way. (Watch Dan Casey talk about the five spinoff movies he wants.) However, I can’t help but feel a little bit sad that we never got to see movies based on Timothy Zahn’s awesome and influential novel trilogy from the early ’90s, known collectively as The Thrawn Trilogy. Those books basically redefined the idea of an Expanded Universe and introduced some really complex and interesting characters who deserved their chance to shine on the silver screen.

And so, friends whom I’ve mostly never met, I’ve decided to play casting director yet again and lay out who I think would have been the best or ideal choices to play these characters, should the trilogy been made between 1994 and 2000 (like the prequel trilogy never happened, or happened later).

Now, of course, they all three (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) would have been directed by Irvin Kershner, who directed the best Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. He had basically retired after 1990’s RoboCop 2 (the poor man) but I think the prospect of directing these would have brought him back. The other great thing is that, being only a decade or so after the release of Return of the Jedi, the main cast would all still be around and look the same, since the books take place 5 years post-Jedi. Hell, they’re all back for Abrams’ trilogy, so why not for this one?

So, what we’re looking for here is casting the new and pivotal roles that were invented for these novels and let’s start with the big bad baddie of the whole thing, the cerulean-hued poster boy for the new Galactic Empire.

Thrawn art by Joe Corroney

Grand Admiral Thrawn played by Charles Dance – Is there a better villain than Charles Dance? Anybody who watches Game of Thrones knows how commanding his onscreen presence is and how calmly his evil comes across. That’s the sign of a good actor. In the 1990s, he was also a villain, playing the one-eyed gangster-turned-real-world-demigod in Last Action Hero. Paint this fella blue and slap a black wig on him and he’s the perfect choice to portray Imperial warlord Mitth’raw’nuruodo, better known as Thrawn, the last real hope for the Emperor-less Empire to reestablish itself as a power in the galaxy. He’d have to be a compelling presence considering his name is given to the whole trilogy, and Dance, in any decade, could easily fill those shoes.

Pellaeon art by John Van Fleet

Captain Gilad Pellaeon played by David Jason – One of the best parts of the original Star Wars trilogy was getting British character actors in to be the various Imperial officers, often short-lived and usually in constant fear of the throat-squeezy whims of Darth Vader. Captain Pellaeon was around through the whole of the rebellion and by the time of this series, five years later, he’s a bit hopeless, looking for someone in whom he can ascribe the hope of bringing back the Empire. He sees that in the ruthless and hyper-intelligent Thrawn, but he also worries Thrawn is repeating too many of Emperor Palpatine’s mistakes. The actor who portrays Pellaeon would have to be able to convey all his uncertainties on his face but also follow orders as a military man. Jason was known, among other things, for playing Inspector Frost on the popular British crime drama. Looks the part to me.

Bel Iblis art by Edvin Biukovic

Garm Bel Iblis played by Powers Boothe – A former senator for the Republic who carried over into the Galactic Empire, Bel Iblis was nevertheless an outspoken detractor for Palpatine’s continued power-grab. He is eventually ousted and forced to go on the run, becoming a general in his own army, not joining up with the Alliance. In the novels, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian go to recruit him to their cause but the General refuses on account of his personal problems with Mon Mothma. They do eventually bury the hatchet, with the help of Leia, and Bel Iblis agrees to take out Thrawn. For this role, I chose Powers Boothe because he can portray stately and rough-and-tumble in equal measure, something Garm Bel Iblis certainly needs.

Karrde art by Brian Rood

Talon Karrde played by Antonio Banderas – A smuggler and information trader, Talon Karrde’s business and domination of the galaxy’s underworld really took off after the death of Jabba the Hutt, when Karrde and his group could swoop in and pick up the pieces. Though he remained neutral in the years of the Rebellion, he was forced to join sides when he rescued Luke Skywalker and refused to hand him over to Grand Admiral Thrawn, who subsequently put a bounty on his head for retribution. Karrde then fully sided with the New Republic, forming the Smuggler’s Alliance to aid the anti-Thrawn campaign. Banderas seems a natural choice to me being that he, especially in the ’90s, was suave and charming but could also be intense and unwavering if he had to. Plus, anyone who’s seen him rock the Zorro look knows he can wear the hell out of a cape.

Jade art by Mike Vilardi

Mara Jade played by Gillian Anderson – Perhaps the most pivotal role in the trilogy would need to be played by an actress who can convey the anger and intensity of someone who used to be Emperor Palpatine’s Hand and blames Luke Skywalker for his death, but also someone who can express doubt and turmoil with what she thought she believed, with an air of innocence as someone who was deceived by the Dark Side. Anderson has all of those traits and in the mid-’90s she was showing them off with her role as Agent Scully on The X-Files. Mara Jade would also, eventually, become Mrs. Luke Skywalker and if you don’t think people would write the hell out of fan fic about Luke and Scully, then you are the wrongest dummy to ever live.

C’baoth art by Topps

Joruus C’baoth played by John Hurt – A Dark Jedi who was clone of the Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth (apparently an extra vowel means you’re a clone), Joruus C’baoth was created by Palpatine as the protector of the all-important Imperial storehouse on Wayland. Once Grand Admiral Thrawn learned of his existence, the Imperial leader wanted to use his prowess with the force to help him succeed in destroying the New Republic. The trouble is, C’baoth was completely out of his mind and wanted to control the Empire himself, as well as corrupt Luke and Leia to become his new dark apprentices. Luke agrees to be trained by him, but he can’t be overtaken. Hurt seems the perfect choice to me because A) he can wear a beard like nobody’s business, 2) he has a very wise and powerful way of speaking, and d) you’re never sure if he’s crazy or not in his roles.

These are but six of the main characters from The Thrawn Trilogy; if you have any more you’d like to add, or if you think I really missed a trick with my list, let me know in the comments below!

Featured image art by Tom Jung from the original cover of Heir to the Empire.

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  1. I dont agree with gillian anderson for the role of mara jade. Even 90s Gillian. Beyond that I could get behind everyone else. Curious who you would cast as Niles though. He was an interesting character to me.

  2. Marko says:

    This reminds me of Wizard magazine casting call back in the day.

  3. Loren says:

    Thank you for writing this, Kyle! Perfect casting across the board. I’d love to see who you’d cast for a project based on the Fate of the Jedi novels. Also, it would be fantastic for Disney to do some sort of TV series based off of some of the Legends stories.

  4. He’ll still work after 2020 ^_^

  5. This is an awesome list. Now we need to figure out who’ll be able to play these parts (plus the big three) in the 2020s …

  6. Ashlee says:

    All of this is excellent but in particular – Joruus C’baoth played by John Hurt YES that’s perfect! This just makes me sad all over again that these aren’t the movies we get. 
    Also, somewhat unrelated side-note but I just noticed that most of the posts I’ve liked on here lately are by Kyle – so I wanted to say I’ve been enjoying the awesome topics and writing!

  7. Adam says:

    I agree, side is terrible. I have always used coquel myself.

  8. Grant Lanham says:

    I see Joruus C’baoth as being played by Nick Nolte or Gary Busey… Both can play strong yet vulnerable; driven yet unhinged; likeable and loathesome in equal measure. I think Mara needs to be someone who can deliver acidic sharp barbs while kicking action ass! Depending on when the movies were to be made (later 90’s) Charlize Theron would be awesome.

  9. I am on board with all of these choices!  

    Oh, and in response to Rich suggesting Milla Jovovich, Angelina Jolie, or Uma Thurman over Gillian Anderson… thanks for making me throw up in my mouth at 7:00 in the morning.  Those overrated biznitches need to stay far away from even my imaginary Star Wars universe.

    • JamRevo says:

      You shoot down Milla Jovovich for being overrated, which is untrue(IMO), but support the choice for Antonio Banderas. In the 90s, Jovovich was underrated for her performances in “The Fifth Element” and “He got game”, which are her two best performances(IMO) and Banderas would have been in his “Interview with a Vampire” and “Desperado” days. I believe Banderas was way overrated at that time, and Jovovich would have been a great choice back then. I respect your opinion, but I think the points I make ultimately show that you didn’t think this one through or just have bad taste(IMO).

  10. Chris says:

    Benedict Cumberbatch as Thrawn

  11. Rich says:

    There are several modifications to your casting choices, that I suggest.  
    Grand Admiral Thrawn:  while Charles Dance could be good, Alan Rickman or Sean Bean are amazing as a villains!
    Mara Jade:  Jillian Anderson is right out!  Milla Jovovich can kick ass (check out the Fifth Element), Angelina Jolie isn’t too much of a stretch, but my choice would be Uma Thurmann, who is versatile, and certainly can convey the range of emotions that Mara encompasses.
    John Hurt as C’boath… Brilliant!

  12. Matt Manley says:

    I’m not sure of the legalities of the whole thing, but since Disney/Lucasfilms have turned their backs on the rest of the Star Wars EU, do they not also relinquish control? Could someone else essentially swoop in and take all of it? Seems far-fetched…

    • chum lee says:

      No. Just because they are ignoring it as canon for future works does not mean they dropped ownership of it. If you have a bicycle, but choose to drive your car instead…I can’t just come take your bike. It’s still yours, whether you choose to use it or not. 

  13. Darren says:

    I like Gillian Anderson, but I feel like you were just looking for a 90’s redhead instead of who would be best for the role. Anderson just isn’t Mara material. I always envisioned Melinda Clarke as the perfect Mara back in the 90’s.

  14. Killswitch says:

    How about putting Ralph Fiennes as Thrawn? I hated that C’baoth needs to be a bit muscular for a Jedi master, the great Ian Mckellen would have been a good fit IMO.

  15. Alec Baldwin as Admiral Thrawn – would work today as well

  16. Juac says:

    Chris Hardwick could portray Chaz Skyrawker. A hipster nerd with a butt cut who screams “Points” everytime someone uses the force or references some obscure event from the original trilogy.

  17. That’s a long while since I’ve read the Thrawn saga and this formidable post makes me itch to dig the books up again. I hardly remember anything from them though but I do recall some parrot-like animals suppressing the force. Not sure about the details but in foggy hindsight that seems dumb. Well, gonna visit the parents and climb up the attic.

  18. Alex L says:

    I would have preferred Hugo Weaving as Adm. Thrawn…

  19. Wilson says:

    John Hurt as C’boath? Yes please.

  20. JP Garrison says:

    I still think Charles Dance most memorable role was the villain in “The Golden Child.”  While I think he would have been a great Thrawn, when I read the books I envisioned David Warner in the role.

  21. Chris Trevas says:

    The Jorus C’baoth art is by Chris Moeller. It was a trading card for the Star Wars Finest set by Topps.

  22. Willvader says:

    Jerri Ryan as Mara jade

  23. Willvader says:

    Jerri Ryan as Mara jade 

  24. Steven says:

    Great Post, but I got a better Mara Jade for you. Think Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives. That’s right, Marcia Cross. She’s fit, she’s has red hair, she’s beautiful, and she’s the perfect choice.

  25. Mikey says:

    I always got the impression that Talon Karrde was more like Lando – he wore the suave and sophisticated mantle, but he was only wearing it – the man beneath was still a bit slimy from getting to where he was.  I’ve never really gotten the “grease-ball with a heart of gold” feel from Banderas.  The 90s timing probably isn’t right, but two guys that jump to mind are Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell based on some of their more recent roles.  Colin can look like he’s worked his way up the underworld ladder, and Sam can really throw on that “I’m doing this because it’s high society” cloak (think Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2, only less douchey…)

  26. mattu101 says:

    Anderson doesn’t  have the chops to play Mara. I would go with an actress that conveys secret agent not federal agent. I would suggest someone more exotic and mysterious.

  27. ohbeeone57 says:

    You forgot the most important cast member!!!! Who would play Mara Jade????