Early Career and Command Style
Thrawn began life as a commoner, raising his status in life by joining the Chiss Expeditionary Fleet. He rose quickly through the ranks, which was unusual for one not of noble birth. Despite his early success, he would be summarily exiled by the Chiss after preemptively attacking and destroying the Outbound Flight, a Jedi vessel that he believed to be a danger to his people. By this time his bold strategic thinking brought him to the attention of Palpatine himself, and it was not long before he would be recruited by the Empire. Despite the Imperial Navy's preference for humans, Thrawn's obvious skills allowed him to thrive, eventually even being invited by the Emperor into the ranks of the Order of the Canted Circle, whose membership was reserved for his most trusted allies. Though he had defied the Emperor's wishes on a number of occasions, he was never permanently demoted, as his predictions were almost invariably accurate.
Though his piercing red eyes were often a source of intimidation among his subordinates, Thrawn was decidedly less ruthless than the average Imperial officer. In fact, he viewed the style of command propagated by Darth Vader and his contemporaries to be distasteful, preferring instead to inculcate an atmosphere of intellectualism that promotes novel ideas, even going as far as to promote crewmen who fail their task if they approached it creatively. This generous attitude had its limits, however, as Thrawn, in keeping with most Imperial officers, had little tolerance for insubordination.
The Thrawn Campaign
Though he was an active and well-regarded member of the Galactic Empire during the Emperor's lifetime, it would be his activities in the wake of Palpatine's death for which Thrawn would be most remembered. Finding himself in command of an outnumbered and undermanned Imperial fleet, Thrawn set in motion an elaborate and multi-faceted plan to not only restore the former glory of the Empire, but also smother the nascent New Republic before it had a chance to succeed. With no chance of success in an open confrontation, Thrawn used his keen intellect to even the scales.
Several key acquisitions allowed Thrawn to transform the Imperial Navy from a force in decline to one capable of threatening the New Republic. The first was the discovery of the lost Katana fleet, a collection of 200 Dreadnaught-class starships that had been lost for years. Thrawn was able to claim nearly all of them, adding considerable strength to the Imperial fleet. The second boon was the discovery of the Emperor's secret cloning facility on Mount Tantiss. Using a force-neutralizing creature known as the ysalamir, Thrawn was able to create stable clones in a matter of days rather than years. In this fashion he could quickly man his new ships, bringing them to bear against the Republic before they would expect it. The last acquisitoin was a cloaking device, also found on Mount Tantiss, which in the hands of a master strategist like Thrawn might be able to turn a tactical disadvantage to his favor.
Using these new tools and his own natural talents, Thrawn amassed several victories in a short span of time, striking fear in the New Republic and, more importantly, boosting the morale of the Imperial fleet. Using his new cloaking technology, he even successfully blockaded Coruscant with a relatively small force. He is undone by his own treachery, however, as the Noghri, whom he used as his own personal assassins and spies, discovered the harm Thrawn had caused their people with the assistance of Leia. Shortly thereafter he was stabbed and killed by his own bodyguard Rukh, and the Empire fell into disarray once again.
The Hand of Thrawn
Being the cerebral leader that he was, Thrawn foresaw the possibility of his own death. To this end he created a single clone of himself, which would reach full maturation in ten years, warning that he would return to beset his enemies should he die. Close to ten years after his death, the facility containing the clone's incubation chamber, known as the Hand of Thrawn, is discovered by Mara Jade, and along with Luke Skywalker the two destroy the complex and Thrawn's fully matured clone, ostensibly ending his threat. Some speculate that Thrawn may have other facilities ready to unleash a new cloned Thrawn upon the galaxy, but this has not been confirmed.
Video Game Appearances
In terms of expanding on the character and his story, Thrawn's most significant video game role was arguably his turn in TIE Fighter and its expansions, which was notable for being one of the first Star Wars games to give an Expanded Universe character a prominent place in its narrative. Set prior to Timothy Zahn's novels and concurrent with the original trilogy, TIE Fighter depicts the circumstances surrounding Thrawn's promotion to the position of Grand Admiral. Then a Vice Admiral, Thrawn is tasked with bringing the traitorous Grand Admiral Zaarin to justice after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Emperor. Deducing that the Grand Admiral was too reliant on the technological advantage provided him by the very TIE Defenders he helped design, Thrawn commissions a new craft called the Missile Boat with the express intent of counteracting them. Over the course of several tours Thrawn successfully tracks down and kills Zaarin, and for his efforts in defense of the Empire he is awarded Zaarin's former title.