Inside the Star Wars generation gap: Why we still care about Mara Jade

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I had a lot of mixed feelings the other day watching the new video on Ahsoka Tano.

I’m not in The Clone Wars generation by any means – I’d been active in fandom for more than a decade when Ahsoka came around – hell, this blog was four years old in 2008.

But what Ahsoka is to that generation, Mara Jade was to mine. She was, back in the day – or at least to some of us – just as big a Star Wars figure as Leia. In fact, she was only the second female in the whole franchise to get anywhere near that much development. For nearly a decade – before the prequels – Mara Jade was the second-most important woman in Star Wars. But she’s not canon any more. And though I don’t really care about that, I have to admit it hurts to see her effect ignored. Oh, I know that to mention her in that video would just muddy the waters, but so much of what you see with Ahsoka and fandom right now mirrors what was happening with Mara and fandom back in the day.

Now: I don’t play the Legends pity party card. I welcomed the decanonization with open arms. The old EU was running on fumes, and as I have written extensively on this site and others, I am perfectly happy for the new films to sweep it away. (The real question is: Would I have felt that way if they hadn’t killed off Mara back in 2007? Hmm…)

I more than understand that the books will always have lower profile for much of fandom, even back when they were (arguably) canon. Hell, that’s part of the reason I started a blog on this site – because back in 2004, the other fansites simply weren’t covering them as much as I thought they could. But I can also say that Mara is a huge reason I got into the fandom in the first place. And Mara was a large part of the reason I kept reading, which is why I stayed in fandom.

When I got into Star Wars, I was probably the perfect age for it – I had just turned 13. It was 1991, and there were only three Star Wars movies. I had just watched them all, for the first time I can really remember. I was a kid in the ’80s, but Star Wars was never much on my radar before: I knew Darth Vader was Luke’s father and Luke and Leia were siblings and who R2-D2 and C-3PO were, but I hadn’t really played much with the toys or anything like that. So all I knew were the movies.

The prequels (with Padme Amidala, handmaidens, female fighter pilots, etc.) were just under a decade away.

Now, look at the original trilogy. There’s really only one woman in those movies who had a name that was mentioned onscreen: Princess Leia. Of course I liked Leia. And because I grew up on cartoons like The Smurfs and He-Man and G.I. Joe, the fact that there was only one woman who appears in more than a single scene didn’t really seem that unusual. But I was also a big reader, and I don’t really realize it yet, but I gravitated towards books with lots of women in them, with women in major roles.

So that was my mindset when I picked up my parent’s copy of Heir to the Empire. Obviously I wanted to know more about Luke, Leia and Han. But then, Chapter three: Mara Jade. She was a major character in Heir, and she remained one through the Thrawn trilogy. The title of the third book, The Last Command? That’s her last command from the Emperor.

When you encounter a franchise is just as important as how: I can honestly say if it hadn’t been for Mara in 1991, I don’t know if I’d even be a hardcore Star Wars fan today. And maybe if I’d been 13 in 2001 or 2011 I’d be talking about Padme or Ahsoka, but that’s simply not my experience.

Mara was so important in the Thrawn books that a lot of us were shocked that she didn’t carry through to the others – that she eventually did show up in non-Zahn books is a testament to exactly how loud many of us were. Sound familiar? The scale may have been quite a bit smaller (this was before social media, too) but the effect was the same: More Mara.

With the sequel trilogy prompting fans to dredge up all this old EU stuff, I’ve sometimes seen people get angry at the focus some fans have on Mara. “What about Ahsoka?!?” they say. Or Hera, Ventress, Sabine, etc. Why the focus on some random book character whose only notable action was marrying Luke Skywalker?

What these people forget – or maybe just don’t know – is that there wasn’t a whole lot of non-movie Star Wars stuff out back in the early 90s. Star Wars was, for all intents and purposes, a closed franchise. A ‘dead’ franchise, even. There were 3 movies, 7 novels published back in the 70s/80s that were out of print, a bunch of goofy comics languishing in remainder bins, and some pen-and-paper roleplaying stuff. Heir to the Empire was the first wave of ‘new’ Star Wars content in a while, and the only one I (and many other fans) were really aware of at the time. And Heir was a huge book, a bestseller for something like 22 weeks.

More books followed – reference, fiction, you name it. Within a few years, Lucasfilm announced Episode I was happening. Would that have happened without Heir? Oh, almost certainly. (George Lucas was citing the effects of Jurassic Park at the time.) But what the Thrawn trilogy did was show that there was a real hunger out there for more Star Wars, a hunger for new Star Wars stories. I’ve met so many casual Star Wars fans out there who didn’t keep up with everything over the years, but they still remember Mara and the the Thrawn trilogy favorably.

Mara became a fan-favorite once internet fandom got going in the late 90s, particularly among female fans. In a Star Wars Insider poll in 1997, she was the only non-movie character to make the top 20. THE ONLY ONE. At the time, that was huge – beyond huge.

The Thrawn trilogy basically ends with 'let's be friends,' not 'let's make out.'
The Thrawn trilogy basically ends with ‘let’s be friends,’ not ‘let’s make out.’
Yes, Luke/Mara had a significant following in fandom and fanfic, years before it happened in the books. But her popularity is rooted in far more than just the ‘shipping. The Mara we get to know over the course of the Thrawn trilogy isn’t presented as a love interest. She begins as an antagonist, as someone convinced she hates Luke. She’s bitter and angry about the fall of the Empire. But over the course of the trilogy she has to deal with her past, and how the Emperor used her as much as he used anyone. She has to work with the former Rebels, and see them differently. She learns to let go of her past, and her hate. Nothing in her actual arc is about romance.

You can read Luke/Mara into the Thrawn trilogy, but it’s subtle enough that you don’t HAVE to. Hell, they don’t get together until a book that’s set 10 years later and published in 1998, and even that happens rather abruptly. (Which is maybe just as well? Zahn has many talents, but out and out romance isn’t exactly one of them.) His Luke and Mara are excellent partners, however, and that’s clearly something that fed into the ‘ship.

And even as the EU developed, and added more female characters (though not really enough) Mara was one of the few who actually made an impression, who fans WANTED to see more. The only book character that comes close is Jaina Solo, Han and Leia’s daughter, and her fandom didn’t really come into their own until the New Jedi Order series in the early/mid ’00s. (And she then spent 20 years of book-time mostly getting romance-heavy plots, which… Yeah. Poor Jaina.)

Hell, what’s really refreshing about this new batch of female characters – they don’t need a romance with an established character to ‘matter.’ Ahsoka’s ‘romance’ is more of a footnote than anything else, and Sabine hasn’t had any love interests to speak of. (Hera and Kanan’s relationship is heavily anviled, but as ‘new’ characters they’re on equal footing.) Sure, they are (or were) mostly fairly young, but it’s certainly nice to see fandom evolve in that direction. I certainly hope it holds true going forward.

Please don’t take this post as though I resent Ahsoka or Padme or Hera or any of the other female characters who came later, in all formats. The more the merrier, and we absolutely should have just as many different types of characters to identify with as the guys do. But canon or not, Mara is still an important character in her own right to the fandom, from a time Star Wars only had a handful of important women. She’s still important to a lot of fans, even if their experiences aren’t exact mirrors of mine. But that didn’t come out of nowhere: For nearly a decade, she was the second-most significant female Star Wars character that existed, and that makes a impression. She was the Ahsoka of her time, and if she gets a return, too? Well, that’s a party I’ll be happy to plan.

22 Replies to “Inside the Star Wars generation gap: Why we still care about Mara Jade”

    1. Love the article but I did want to comment on your “Generation Gap”.

      I discovered SW in ’05 a few months before ROTS was released. I was 12 years old at the time and I just fell in love. As a girl who had always had strange interests, Star Wars fulfilled every fandom dream of mine and more-mostly having to do with Leia and Padme. Being a part of the “prequel generation” Padme was just as important to me. Once ROTS came out I ventured, or rather was forced, into SW literature. I probably read every PT era novel in the span of a month and then found myself with TTT and therefore Mara Jade. No character has every compelled me so much. I found strength in who she was, what she went through and how she persevered. I printed out pictures of book covers for school lockers and hung her up next to Padme. I read fanfic, I made my own t-shirt in the absence of a real one and the only thing I asked my parents for my birthday that year was that really bad Kenner action figure of her.

      And then as soon as I fell in love with her, she was killed off in LOTF. And that didn’t phase me an ounce, perhaps because her entire history had basically been laid out before me at the time of my entry into Mara fandom.

      As I got older, I met more fangirls my age who Mara meant so much too. And while we never blatantly said it, Mara Jade was special to us because of who Mara Jade was- not because she was the only option out there other than Leia. & I know that isn’t what you are saying.

      But there is room for new fangirls to love her in addition to Ahsoka, Padme, Leia and the new ST characters. Mara may have become popular because she was the only option opposing Leia but her popularity persists because she’s Mara Jade. Look at how fast the Limited Edition Mara shirt HU put out at C6 sold?

      I’m so happy Ahsoka’s popularity persists but I don’t think anyone has forgotten Mara yet. and we don’t need to.

      1. Well, I don’t really intend the generation thing as 100% literal, because even in the most general sense that kind of thing is very individualistic. I mean, to go the more mainstream route: Am I Generation X? Not quite. But I’m not a Millennial, either. I am right in-between those two generations, and I can’t fully identify with either. No one is ever going to fall 100% in the generalizations, even if they are ‘officially’ part of those generations, because that’s just not how humans work. We’re all are drawn to what we’re drawn to.

        Hell, Club Jade, when I joined it at 16/17, was mostly women who were older than me, and obviously Mara resonated with them just as much as she did me. And her popularity obviously didn’t wane through the years, it just changed…

      2. I got into SW right after AOTC.I always liked it bit after that movie I became obsessed! I still remember the day I found out about Mara, I ere at the airport with my performing arts youth group 3days after having a Star Wars Marathon (my best friend and I warched episode one saw 2 in theaters then went home and read all we could find about 3, then watched 4,5,&6) My youth leader over herd me talking about how I wish I could see what happened Ron Luke Leia, and Han. He looked at me smiles and said “Han &Leia are Merried with 3 kids and Luke Merried this awesome red head named Mara Jade” Me being a red head I was very intrigued. So I picked up the book that summer (one of the first books I read with out being forced) I became obsessed with her I wanted more then anything to be her. I honestly still do. I guess you can call me a prequel triligy gen kid (I was 11 when episode 1 came out), I too am actually ok with the EU being gone but I was kind of bitter when they killed her off.

        So yeah I still think she is relevant because she fills a roll none of the new females do. She like them is smart courageous and independent, but she was living fully emersed in the dark side and instead of accepting that she emerged still on the side of the light with new insights that helped shape the future of the jedi.

  1. THIS. MJ is so much more than a love interest! I miss her beyond my ability to convey here.

  2. “But canon or not, Mara is still an important character in her own right to the fandom, from a time Star Wars only had a handful of important women […] For nearly a decade, she was the second-most significant female Star Wars character that existed, and that makes a impression”

    Beautifully put Dunc.

    You’re so right, but it is a sad truth that over the next decade with more and more SW material being produced with new characters/role models, the EU characters like Mara will only be trully significant for a decreasing minority of fans. Unfortunately this is as much a result of the canon reboot/relaunch as it is for, dare I say it, us getting older.

    The march of time waits for no-man (or woman): it’s been 8 years since Mara’s death in Sacrifice, 4 years since she last appeared alive in a story (Choices of One). Now with the EU rebranded Legends and although Lucasfilm have said never say never about new Legends stories, as more time passes the smaller the chances that she’ll ever appear in another story (as the Mara Jade that you describe and love – and not as a Legends character brought over into canon like Quinlan Vos, aargh!!).

    What’s important is the impact and contribution that that character made on you, on me and on the thousands of fans who, for that generation, Mara was indeed “the second-most significant female Star Wars character.”

    1. Yeah, but the thing is – she hasn’t been forgotten. People keep bringing her up, even without new material. I didn’t write this post as a defense as to why she should be brought back – that’s something I’ve steered very clear of, for reasons that would take a whole ‘nother post – but gone in no way means forgotten.

      1. Dunc, I’m [trying probably quite badly] to say she’s not been forgotten, I completely agree with the article in that the relevance that Mara has on you and others of “that” generation is immeasurable (I would include myself in that generation – albeit I believe I’m now classed as an “old-timer” (9yo in ’77), but it was Zahn’s books and his characters that re-ignighted my original love of SW). And that for the new/next generation(s) of SW fans, trying to understand the importance and significance of this single character, who never appeared on-screen, is something that this article conveys.

  3. I often wonder if Mara’s romance with Luke wasn’t set in stone simply because all the other “love interest” characters that got introduced in the mid-90s for Luke were just so utterly poorly written….

    But that was my take – all the other romantic interests ended up… annoying me. Go for the person whom you work well with.

  4. So much real truth in this article. Maybe that’s why my favorite EU characters were Mara, Jaina, and Tahiri (and I’m still waiting for a standalone Tahiri novel to fix what FotJ did to her!).

    1. She was my favorite! I got into SW books with the Young Jedi Knights series and, as I kept reading, was bummed that she never got much more development.

      1. Oh man, Tenel Ka was my favorite too. I got BACK into the star wars books when it looked like she was going to be a character again briefly, post Vong, but then it was practically a footnote and blargh :(

  5. First off I’m stating im a guy who was born in 84 so you understand where I come from generationally. Star Wars was something me and my mom shared so I always viewed it as something for both genders and as such should have lots of strong female characters (my day was a trekie). The books were read me and my younger brother, I was read Heir to the Empire when it came out in 91. I fell in love with the series, Mara was my favorite female character in Star Wars after we finished (2nd overall behind Luke. I always went younger force user when i was a kid). I grew up loving her as a strong female character with an important plot centered around her as much as the main cast in that series and I loved her when she was a foil to Luke.

    She to this day is my favorite star wars female character. Though Kreia is a close second to me (I get why Star Wars will likely never touch on that way of thinking about the force again, even though I loved it it’s way too complex for most audiences) . I love Ahsoka, Sabine, Ventress, Tenal Ka, Allana Solo, Exile (I refuse to call her Meetra), Revan (I played both Kotor as both sexes, hitting hundreds of hours on replays. To me they are whatever gender you want, I accept both stories), Barriss, Jaina, Tahiri, and many others (I guess I still lean force users in preferences, lol). However Mara stayed my favorite since her characters journey had so much potential even without association to any main characters, even when it was poorly written (and it was often sadly). I lover her as an Emperor’s Hand, as an Emperor Loyalist, as an antagonist to Luke, as a foil to his Jedi Academy, as a loyalist to Jedi, as a fierce mother, and a lost loved one. She’s had more dynamics than alost any female in Star Wars. Not since she was the first really strong female character in the books or only major one in its early years save leia, though that was why I first liked her when I was young, later I just appiceated her overalls character journey even when bits of it where very poorly written or handled.

    I too when I watched that video about Ashoka winced because like you I recalled historically she wasn’t as big a deal but more a result of Lucasfilm knowing due to strong female Expanded Universe characters that their was demand for a chatacter like her. I get it, Ahsoka is very popular with a younger generation and that should be encouraged but I felt they built Ahsoka up a bit bigger in mythos importance than she really was to ALL generations of fans. It felt like propoganda from the Victor, when if they even mentioned the expanded universe or didn’t and just didn’t overpay Ahsoka’s importance I would have loved the video.

    Plus she’s a great character but she’s tied to others more so to make her important. Mara however at her introduction, before a shoehorned marriage to Luke, earned her status without as much ties to the main goodguys. She was an antagonist as you pointed out and stayed that way until she said yes to Luke when he asked to marry her. I read her marriage more as Zahn and Stackpole (with I, Jedi) retconning the Jedi Academy books as much as they could because Anderson is an awful writter (points at dune for further proof) who retconned good stuff in their previews books. So they both did stuff that couldn’t be wiped away easily… hence why like you I don’t mind the EU going away, since it needs a Lucas Story Group that we now got to keep things like that from happening again.

    I’m a big fan of more strong female characters who stand on their own going fourth and not just with Star Wars. Nothing makes me happier than Star Wars not just being a boys thing, I grew up in an era where there was a pitiful few strong female characters in Star Wars and I noticed many young girls getting teased because Star Wars was for boys. I told them that’s not true, read Heir to the Empire for decades. There are 4 big important females for Star Wars as representing their generation strongest female character: Leia, Mara, Padme, Ahsoka and it pained me a bit to see one greration ignored, especially since that generation is now the parents of this generations little girls (I feel a generation has lost the ability to share a character they loved with the newest). The jury is still out on if any Rebels characters will get super huge with Rey about to come out in Episode 7 in less than 200 days and them now competing with Ahsoka’s comeback too. Not to mention tons of Anthology movies coming out soon too.

    Anyways I rambled on much longer than I should have. But thank you for that. I was worried I was the only one who felt that way.

  6. I do still love Mara as I can tell you do and I’d love for her to be brought in to continuity some how, but if that never happens there is still a part of me that will always think of her as the bad ass that married Luke and could go toe to toe with anyone.

  7. I loved Mara. And always hated the fact that she married Luke, because she was awesome in her own right and it gave (non-Mara) fans a different perspective of her.

    Anyway, brilliant piece.

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