- "A knack for doing the impossible was one of the things Grand Admirals were selected for."
- ―Talon Karrde
Grand Admiral was a high naval rank. Around 3640 BBY, the rank of Grand Admiral was used by the Imperial Armada of the resurgent Sith Empire, with Harridax Kirill being the only known holder of the rank. However, by far the most famous Grand Admirals were those of the Galactic Empire, appointed by Emperor Palpatine during the Galactic Civil War in 2 BBY. Grand Admiral was one of the highest ranks in the Galactic Empire, outranking all other political and military personnel, including Moffs and Grand Moffs. Legally, no more than twelve men could hold the rank at any one time.
Appointed unexpectedly by Emperor Palpatine at the New Year Fete Week celebrations of 2 BBY, the twelve Grand Admirals were the most senior officers of the Imperial Navy and answered directly to the Emperor, or his authorized executors, in all matters. The creation of the rank was widely recognized as a means to increase the Emperor's direct control of the Imperial Military.
The initial cadre of Grand Admirals, called the "Circle of Twelve" by Palpatine, consisted of Martio Batch, Nial Declann, Octavian Grant, Josef Grunger, Ishin-Il-Raz, Afsheen Makati, Danetta Pitta, Peccati Syn, Miltin Takel, Osvald Teshik, Rufaan Tigellinus, and Demetrius Zaarin. Numerous conspiracy theories were swapped within the Imperial Military as to the real reason for the Emperor's appointments: Grunger, Takel, Tigellinus and Teshik were respected strategists with years of experience as Fleet Admirals, and little opposition was heard to their appointments, but Declann, Grant, Makati and Syn were merely average flag officers who were considered odd choices for the rank. Zaarin and Batch were better known for their supervision of cutting-edge military research than battlefield victories. There was a cultural divide within the Grand Admirals as well: Il-Raz and Pitta were fanatical New Order partisans notable only for the ferocity of their politics (and rumors swirled that Pitta had alien ancestry), while the Teshik family were Generationals that had dwelt in Anaxes' Sirpar Hills for centuries.
A few months before the Battle of Endor, Demetrius Zaarin attempted a coup against Emperor Palpatine, which was put down by forces led by Lord Darth Vader and the mysterious Chiss Vice Admiral Thrawn. After Zaarin's death, Thrawn was officially promoted to Grand Admiral as his replacement (although other evidence suggests that the Chiss had, in fact, been promoted in secret at an earlier stage). Thereafter Thrawn was sent to continue his exploration mission in the Unknown Regions, and he was not present at Endor.
- "I thought we'd accounted for all the Grand Admirals."
"Me, too. We must have missed one."
- ―Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, regarding Thrawn
The Rebel Alliance accounted for all of the Grand Admirals, save Thrawn who they thought dead, in the first years after Endor. The historian Voren Na'al remarked that had the Grand Admirals banded together immediately after Endor, the New Republic may have been snuffed out in its infancy. Owing to personal ambition, ill-chance, or madness, such an alliance never occurred. Declann had been killed at Endor, while Teshik had been captured after unsuccessfully trying to rally the fleet and fighting on alone. He was later executed by the New Republic for war crimes. Batch went into hiding after the failure of the Phantom TIE project, until his crew murdered him and defected to Warlord Blitzer Harrsk. Makati, Syn, Takel and Tigellinus continued to defend their areas of operations while waiting for guidance from Palpatine's successor: Syn was killed during Admiral Ackbar's liberation of Kashyyyk, while Makati died while trying to keep the Corporate Sector an Imperial possession. Takel and Tigellinus died after throwing their lot in with the Central Committee of Grand Moffs, which ended up doubting their loyalty and executing them. Grunger and Pitta set themselves up as warlords and ended up mutually perishing in a battle over control of the Corellian sector. Octavian Grant supported Grand Moff Ardus Kaine's breakaway Pentastar Alignment, while Ishin-Il-Raz went mad, attacking worlds in the Outer Rim Territories apparently at random until he died plunging his flagship into the Denarii Nova.
Ultimately, Grand Admiral Grant was the only one of the original Circle of Twelve who survived, and defected to the New Republic on the condition that he be granted immunity for war crimes. Dubbed "the last Grand Admiral", Grant was allowed to go quietly into retirement on Rathalay and the New Republic Intelligence Service considered the matter of the Grand Admirals closed. However, they remained unaware of "the thirteenth Grand Admiral", Thrawn, who emerged from the Unknown Regions in 9 ABY to lead a devastating military campaign that nearly crippled the New Republic, doing so with all the skill and panache to be expected of his rank, until his assassination at the Battle of Bilbringi.
Palpatine's Dark Empire appeared to have revived the rank before Thrawn's assassination, with meetings between the new circle of Grand Admirals taking place aboard the uncompleted Eclipse in drydock over Byss. Palpatine's own death seemed to have marked the final extinction of the college.
The prestige of the rank meant that a number of warlords like Zsinj and Admiral Larm, adopted some of the trappings of Grand Admiral's rank. After the signing of the Bastion Accords, the Council of Moffs revived this esteemed rank for Gilad Pellaeon, already Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet and head-of-state of the Imperial Remnant. As of the war with the Yuuzhan Vong, Pellaeon and the long-retired Grant were the only living Grand Admirals, although rumors persist that Pellaeon's mentor, Thrawn, somehow cheated death and remained active in the Unknown Regions.
The rank appeared to have become synonymous with Supreme Commander as commander-in-chief of the Imperial military possibly as early as 28 ABY. Evidence exists of Pellaeon referring to himself by a longer form of the rank: "Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy". Coupled with Moff Kurlen Flennic's threat to "appoint another Grand Admiral" in Pellaeon's place rather than appoint another Supreme Commander seems to indicate that the rank of Grand Admiral was increasingly becoming something of an honorific title of posting rather than a rank of military promotion. Indeed, by the Sith–Imperial War, the Fel Empire's form of the rank, held by Grand Moff Morlish Veed and also by Rulf Yage following the Massacre at Ossus, seems to have followed this trend. In Krayt's Empire the Grand Admiral was Joint-Supreme Commander alongside the Fist of the One Sith.
Powers and position
Grand Admiral was one of the highest ranks in the Galactic Empire, besides the Emperor, the Supreme Commander, the Executor, and the Grand Vizier. The Grand Admirals were visually distinguished from other officers in the Imperial armed forces by their unique, stark white uniform, sometimes worn with gold epaulettes and rank insignia, sometimes without any badge of rank.
There was a method behind the diversity of Palpatine's appointments to the rank: although all the Grand Admirals were exceptionally gifted officers, they were not just front-line commanders; rather, they included several technical specialists and theoreticians, enabling them to serve as a leadership cadre for the whole Imperial Military—and indeed the whole Empire. Only Grant, Grunger, Syn and Tigellinus continued their regular naval service after their promotion, and of those, only Tigellinus was observed to benefit substantially from his new rank, becoming a Core Worlds Grand Moff. The other Grand Admirals were tasked with special projects or missions outside the regular naval service, such as Batch's Phantom TIE project to create starfighters equipped with cloaking devices and Zaarin's "Research" facility.
It is unclear whether the Imperial Army or stormtrooper rank of Grand General was equivalent with the rank of Grand Admiral. Malcor Brashin held the title, but those few Grand Generals the Emperor appointed were largely honorary positions. Ysanne Isard, as Director of Imperial Intelligence, wore a red version of the Grand Admiral's uniform, and her power and position in the Imperial hierarchy could be considered analogous.
Most references showed the insignia for a Grand Admiral as six blue squares with three yellow and three red; an alternate version of the rank badge seen in some images displayed seven blue and red squares, with two code cylinders. At least one Grand Admiral was given the position of warlord upon achieving the rank; the same was possibly true for the rest of the Grand Admirals as well.
Behind the scenes
Heir to the Empire author Timothy Zahn introduced the rank of "Grand Admiral" for the villain of that novel, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Zahn wanted Thrawn to be a military leader rather than a political title-holder or darksider, but felt a normal Admiral would be too mundane. He therefore decided to use the title "Grand Admiral," which he had encountered while reading William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in the context of its use in the German Navy.