Mara Jade is one of the most popular Star Wars characters who isn’t canon. Rarely a month goes by without some new article describing how she’ll appear in one of the new Star Wars shows, or what famous actress is rumored to be portraying her. But if you’re one of those Star Wars fans who hasn’t been reading the past thirty years of novels, you might have no idea who she is.
Let’s take a look at this Star Wars Legends character and the likelihood of her return to the canon Star Wars universe.
Who is Mara Jade?
Mara Jade was originally introduced in the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn as a smuggler who had served as the Emperor’s Hand – a sort of very high-level minion who enforced the Emperor’s will, usually through assassination. She becomes a central character in this trilogy and a major foil to Luke Skywalker. At the time, these Star Wars novels were the only new stories being told and fans ate them up and Mara emerged as a major fan favorite, the only character from what was then called the Expanded Universe to make a 1998 Star Wars Insider poll of the Top 20 Best Characters.
Mara Jade’s popularity ensured her appearance in further books, comic books and even a short story where she was in Jabba’s Palace during the events of Return of the Jedi, attempting to assassinate Luke Skywalker. But Mara’s greatest claim to fame is the fact that she and Luke Skywalker eventually marry, and she’s the mother of Luke’s son.
What? If you’ve never read the Expanded Universe books, you might be a little shocked here – Luke had a wife? And a son? Yeah, well, there were a lot of Star Wars novels and comics written between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
Enter Mara’s greatest foe: Disney
The Star Wars Expanded Universe was hugely popular with a subset of fans, and many characters, places and events found their way into related media like video games. Mara Jade herself has been a major force in comics and games, and appeared in the Star Wars Customizable Card Game, modelled by Shannon McRandle (as Shannon Baksa). Even the Special Edition versions of the Original Trilogy had a few Easter eggs hiding within them.
But when Disney bought Lucasfilm, the Mouse House assessed the state of the franchise and declared that everything that existed was no longer canon, except for the six movies and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Rebranded Star Wars Legends, more than two decades of creativity in novel, comic and game formats was relegated to the trash heap of galactic history. Some fans still talk about “Legends canon” but Disney has decreed that none of it is considered part of the “real” Star Wars.
Can Mara tread the path blazed by Grand Admiral Thrawn?
But surely, a concerned fan might argue, there’s room in Disney’s new Lucasfilm for a Force-sensitive assassin trained as the Emperor’s Hand on a mission to kill Luke Skywalker who ultimately turns to good? One of the reasons Mara Jade is so popular is that she’s complex – the first major character to bring much-needed shades of grey to the black and white morality of Star Wars.
And, as anyone who’s seen Star Wars: Rebels knows, it’s possible for a Legends character to be resurrected into canon. Grand Admiral Thrawn was also introduced in Heir to the Empire and he was a central character – so much so that Timothy Zahn’s books are often referred to today as the Thrawn Trilogy. He joined the cast of Rebels in the third season and remained the primary antagonist until the series ended, proving so popular that Zahn has written a new series of canon books around his iconic character. Could the same be done for Mara Jade?
How Could Mara Jade Return?
Admittedly, there are a few problems with Mara Jade’s story as it exists in Legends and it would be next to impossible to bring her back into canon as she currently exists. For starters, we get no indication from The Last Jedi that Luke ever had a wife, and even if he had, surely Mara has passed away by the time Luke retreated to Ahch-To – not leaving us a lot of room to develop her story.
Also, Legends tells us that Mara and Luke’s son, Ben, was a major figure in the New Republic, helping his parents rebuild the Jedi Order before Han and Leia’s son, Jacen, turned to the Sith and burned everything down. Obviously we can see elements of this story built into Ben Solo / Kylo Ren, which doesn’t leave much room for Mara Jade in her Legends form.
But Thrawn was re-imagined with a new backstory that allowed him to fit seamlessly into the new canon without sacrificing all the awesome character elements we loved about him in the books. Mara Jade could possibly re-enter the story in a similar way, with a new purpose and backstory but still the same amazing character.
The Mandalorian seems the most logical entry point, since Mara Jade was first introduced as a smuggler trying to build a new life after Palpatine’s death and the fall of the Empire. The leader of her group of smugglers, Talon Karrde, is another popular Legends character whom many fans would welcome back into the fold alongside Jade.
Star Wars: Ahsoka would be another course to steer if Mara Jade is going to enter the story, but I’d argue a couple of reasons why this wouldn’t be the best choice. First, we’re all expecting Grand Admiral Thrawn to make his first live-action appearance in this show: to also re-introduce Mara Jade might diminish both characters. Second, if Ahsoka is going to square off against a lightsaber-wielding, Force-sensitive, Dark Side female badass, everybody wants that to be Barriss Offee.
A novel suggestion that’s popped up would be for Mara Jade to join canon in either Star Wars: Kenobi or Andor. Both of these series take place before Return of the Jedi and the Legends Thrawn Trilogy, meaning Jade would still be the Emperor’s Hand. Having her appear in official canon as Palpatine’s assassin would be super badass, but it would seriously limit where her life and story can go, since any interaction with Luke Skywalker would be unlikely. No bad thing if Lucasfilm just wants to re-introduce a beloved character, but without the Luke relationship the form of Mara’s story changes so much that we have to question whether it’s worth it.
The ongoing challenge of Star Wars Legends
Legends offers a deep well of outstanding creative content for Lucasfilm to draw upon, and Mara Jade could be an amazing source of new stories. But the problem always remains that official canon has moved in a very different direction from the Legends stories, making it awkward to bring old characters back. It’s easier if the character only has a bit part to play, but Mara Jade was such a central figure in Legends that a cameo wouldn’t be enough.
Timothy Zahn himself still has considerable control over his creation, and has to be consulted before Mara Jade is included in any related media. He’s stated publicly that he wouldn’t allow Mara to return for a single appearance, although he’s very open to seeing her rejoin the timeline in a meaningful way.
Thrawn was pretty easy to retro-fit into the Disney canon, but Mara Jade would be trickier. Her marriage to Luke and her rebuilding the Jedi Order just don’t jive with what The Last Jedi told us about galactic history, unless Luke chose to make some serious edits to the truth when he described the Order’s fall to Rey. (Which would actually be on point for a Jedi – Obi-Wan did neglect to tell Luke that Darth Vader was his father, after all…)
The will of Star Wars fans is strong
But any online search for Mara Jade reveals that there’s a strong and ongoing desire to see her return. So how could Mara make it back into canon? If we scrap the romance and family part, we still have a cool, dark, Force-wielding character who’s final command from the Emperor was to kill Luke Skywalker.
The most loyal way to bring her back would be to create a new TV show or movie that pulls as many of the key elements from the Thrawn trilogy as it can without contradicting Disney’s canon. Mara could still work for the Emperor, could still be on a mission to kill Luke, and eventually could still switch sides and help Luke in training the new generation of Jedi. All of this could fit between Episodes VI and VII, and could intersect with The Mandalorian or Ahsoka on occasion. But it would have to be its own show, as Timothy Zahn has made it clear he wouldn’t allow it if Mara just appeared in one or two episodes.
The Mara Jade show
Luke’s story in the New Republic is a fascinating one to tell, and if Star Wars fans could get on board with the idea of a younger actor playing Luke (Sebastian Stan, anyone?) then Mara Jade could return in a tale that fills in some of the gaps currently wide open in canon. Her death prior to Force Awakens would be likely, but one doesn’t have to search very far to learn that death is rarely the end in Star Wars, especially for someone trained in the Force.
Lucasfilm has already hinted that they’re open to using the novel technique of having several series intersect, as The Mandalorian, Ahsoka and The Book of Boba Fett clearly will, so there’s nothing stopping our favorite, lightsaber-swinging heroine from Legends to make guest appearances – so long as she has her own platform upon which to be showcased.
I could see Mara Jade in command of an Imperial death squad when we first see her, facing off against Luke, Ahsoka and the Mandalorian himself. Ahsoka and Mando could then depart, leaving Luke and Mara to set off on new adventures that set the stage for the Sequel Trilogy. Maybe such a series could repair the damage done by Episodes VII-IX, just as The Clone Wars rescued the Prequels from absurdity.
That’s a show I’d like to watch.