The term “Emperor’s Hand” is canon again. Should Mara Jade follow? (I’m not so sure.)

Yeah, we all heard it: “Emperor’s Hand” in Saturday night’s Rebels, ‘Legacy of Mandalore.’ The Hand in question is Gar Saxon, governor of Mandalore, a character who’s appeared on Rebels before.

So no, it’s not Mara Jade, the first and best known “Emperor’s Hand” in the no-longer-canon Star Wars Legends timeline. Per Dave Filoni himself, it was just a reference. He told it’s “probably just a little sly nod to a character type.” Probably:

I think it would probably be meant more innocently, but the minute you say it I’m like, ‘Good grief.’ I know exactly where everyone’s going to go with that,” Filoni told us with a laugh. “I know, with the hopefulness of it all, but I wouldn’t dwell too much on that. It’s more of a generic reference to that type of character that exhibits in history of the world, like the emperor has a hand, there’s someone who’s always sitting at the right hand that’s gained great power.”

Yeah, Filoni could be playing games. But I’m willing to take the comments at face value for now… Even though giving the title to both a man and a Mandalorian seems particularly tone-deaf.

But the fact is, I’ve been rather wary of Mara returning to canon and would prefer it not be on Rebels – if at all. (Rebels is fine for what it is, but it just doesn’t do it for me. Take all the Thrawn you like, but I’m selfish and want more for Mara.)

But, you know… It’s complicated.

If it ever happens, I don’t think Mara Jade is going to get a simple Grand Admiral Thrawn-style return to canon. Although both characters originate in the same books, Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, their paths couldn’t be more different.

Grand Admiral Thrawn on Rebels.
Thrawn was an easy character to import: He’s an Imperial military officer and strategic genius. With minor adjustments, you could put him anywhere in canon that has a functioning military and corresponding resistance. He’s the perfect character to test the waters with: Beloved and well-known, but not too well-known. Not too beloved.

To contrast: Thrawn, in Legends, had some cameos and short stories after that first Zahn trilogy. Mara headlined or co-headlined several books (five at least, and that’s only the ones by Zahn himself) and two comic mini-series. I’m sure Zahn pitched or would have happily written a Thrawn background novel back then, but it took a cartoon and a mostly new canon to get one the green light.

Relative popularity aside, Mara Jade was more closely involved with several major canon characters. Right out of the box, you have the Force-sensitive personal servant to the Emperor thing. Well, that’s easy enough, right? Rebels has already laid the groundwork: Make her an Inquisitor! But then she has to survive the original trilogy. And then, another wrinkle: In the books, she eventually marries Luke Skywalker. (No, that’s not the full extent of her character or the reason we like her, but I’ve already written that post.)

So that’s where it gets tricky. Because we know so little about Luke in the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Could he have had a love interest at some point in that gap? Sure, probably. Could it be Mara? Sure, probably. 30 years is a long time, and Luke hanging out alone on an island now doesn’t mean he subscribed to the old Jedi Order’s restrictions on relationships. We can speculate, but there’s not really any evidence either for or against Luke having some sort of relationship just yet.

But the most complicated part of the equation is us, the fans. Is it better to have a Mara Jade that’s only part of the Legends version? Or would that be interpreted as a tease or, even worse, an insult?

And Mara has a lot of fans. She is, without question, one of the most popular characters to come out of Star Wars without ever having been in a movie. She’s one of the very, very few book characters who got to headline or co-headline books in the days when that was an absolute rarity. If you run into people who are mad that the old books got swept away into the alternate universe of Legends, she will always almost come up. Now, some fans are always going to be angry over the Legends split, but many of us are somewhat open to reinterpretation. Mostly.

So the question becomes: What parts of Mara do they keep? What parts can they keep? Ex-Imperial turned smuggler? Barely trained force-sensitive? Skywalker love interest? Jedi? Mother of a Skywalker kid? Because I’m not really sure the complete package is going to be possible outside of actual fan fiction these days.

(Knowing as little as we do about this new canon Emperor’s Hand position – it could very well be a nickname given by the Mandalorians to Palpatine’s agent – I think that one is out for Mara. Even if it is a formal term, it seems far too high-profile for the character if it’s already out there being thrown around in public.)

Having Mara show up as an Inquisitor on Rebels and end up on the wrong side of a lightsaber battle with Ezra or Kanan or Maul and die would also be a “tribute,” but it would also be cruel, and taken fairly badly. Hell, there are already people who took Thrawn-but-not-Mara as an insult – having her show up just to get killed off a handful of episodes later would multiply that exponentially.

So let’s say she’s never been an Imperial agent. Let’s just have her be a smuggler. (Force sensitivity optional.) Let’s have her hook up with Luke sometime after ROTJ. Hell, let’s subscribe to the Rey Skywalker theory and have her be Rey’s mom. And she’s already dead, or, at best, abandoned her kid. Is that going to play any better? It sure doesn’t in outline form.

These are hypotheticals, of course, just a handful of options out of many. And, if we’ve learned nothing else from the EU, it’s that the writing matters. The presentation matters. The context matters. That second scenario could probably be pulled off, with a thoughtful assist from a novel or a comic or another animated show. But it’s a very, very big maybe, and there are still a lot of pieces up in the air.

So no, it’s not going to be easy or simple for Lucasfilm to bring her back Thrawn-style. It would be a tricky balancing act. The Legends EU was built over more than two decades, but we’re only a few years into this new era, and they’re – rightfully – being far more careful this time. Maybe too careful? But as someone who watched Legends decline, improve, and decline again several times over, I can’t really blame them.

I’m not sure I even want them to do it. Mara had a pretty rough go of it as Legends went on, with out-of-character experiences galore and eventually a perfunctory death that ended up serving very little purpose. Maybe it would be better to let the new canon continue creating brand-new women free of all the Legends baggage. Maybe Mara’s role now is to serve as a foundation and a symbol for women in Star Wars, and women who are fans of Star Wars.

If that’s the direction Lucasfilm has decided to take, I can live with it. (Hell, that is the status quo, as far as any of us can tell.) Because if she comes back, I want it to be a Mara I can appreciate. If Mara returns, she deserves to be important, not a hastily-thrown together appeasement. I want her to matter in the new canon just like she did in the old. And yes, I’d rather wait and see her done right – or not at all. If it only happens in fan fiction, well, so be it.

12 Replies to “The term “Emperor’s Hand” is canon again. Should Mara Jade follow? (I’m not so sure.)”

  1. This is a really good article, and I agree with most of it. Especially the part about getting Mara right rather than just bringing her in for the sake of it.

    I guess though, like you, I’m selfish–and I REALLY want more of Mara. I’m fine if we don’t get that, but I can’t deny that if she showed up in Rebels I wouldn’t run around the house screaming in glee. (Thrawn on Rebels has probably helped, since he’s by far my favorite part of the show.)

    But again, I realize the difficulties in bringing her back and hope that, if it ever happens, it’s done right. If it’s not, well, I survived Legends. :P

    1. I was surprised by how happy I was to see Thrawn, but I don’t really have much of an emotional connection with him in the first place. But if Rebels does somehow mess him up, I can just shrug it off. Mara… Not so much.

  2. I am not actually sure I’d say Thrawn is less popular. (And he did get a background novel, the question is how much of it still applies with the NEW background novel. If Thrass didn’t exist there’s gonna be some pissed-off people.) What he has less of is haters. This is helped big-time by his being killed off before most other authors had a shot at using him (though Troy Denning did it and so subtly it was easy to miss) and by most post-Thrawn attempts at creating Imperial masterminds either being deliberately comic or just failing. Mara, otoh, was the center of shipping wars, and the subject of plots like the “Mara’s womb is barren” stuff. Some people hate her for derailing THEIR choice for Luke Love Interest, some people hate that Luke had ANY love interest. Thrawn, otoh, is basically disliked by…people who just don’t like anything Zahn did. The Chiss in general have a fanbase (see SWTOR) and the Rebels writers were also able to tie him in with material related to one of the most popular vintage computer games with the TIE Defender. So he’s an easy choice–almost no one dislikes him, a big section of the Legends fandom LOVES him, and he comes bundled in Rebels with something from a game a lot of fans have very fond memories of (and best fighter from that game.) It’s really hard to hate him unless you’re only familiar with him on Rebels.

    Mara comes with a ton of baggage. People who hate her REALLY hate her, people who love her REALLY love her. There’s not much in between. And I’m not sure I’d 100% trust Rebels as the right place to put her. Unless they REALLY redeem themselves a lot of Thrawn fans are getting less and less tolerant with his not being so much a tactical genius as the only Imperial in the room with a three-digit IQ. Rebels seems really hamstrung at times by Disney enforcing the PG rating much harder than was done for Clone Wars. I’m not sure they could really integrate Mara as anything other than a throwaway nod to Legends fans and have her still resemble any well-written aspect of her character. However the amateur-level writing of many of the novels makes me nervous about that. Yes, you have Zahn and Luceno and now Golden, but I wouldn’t trust Wendig or whatshisface who wrote that incredibly boring Battlefront tie-in or even Gray to write a recognizable Mara.

    Maybe, if Zahn is just doing a one-off, Golden’s new Imperial novel might be a place to slip her in with someone who’s already established as writing readable Star Wars and who knew the Legends universe.

    1. Well, let’s just say this: Over the years, I’ve noticed that people – including folks not clued into ship wars and message boards and such – LIKE Thrawn, but they LOVE Mara.

      And yeah, she has been a polarizing figure. But you generally don’t get that polarizing without some sort of backup.

      I want to see Golden recanonize Mara even less than I want Rebels to do it.

  3. I want to forever believe that the Thrawn Trilogy happened as written. I don’t really want anything that tramples on that. I like to think that events of the EU happened up to the 30-year post-RotJ time and THEN it restarts something else. Maybe the NJO didn’t actually happen. Perhaps Mara and Luke were married and she died at the hands of Kylo Ren? That would make for an interesting flashback, for sure. I think, though, that they’re going to have left Luke single all this time.

  4. Or it could be as simple as she did exist and he’ll even let her be reys mom, but her death and or capture (perhaps in a way that Luke thinks she’s dead) is truly what sent Luke into exile and possibly even lead to Rey on jaku. After all this is the Luke that even came back and kept fighting after his defeat on bespin and learning that darth Vader was his father.

    1. They were just examples, and pretty low-hanging ones at that; I’m not really soliciting for additional theories.

  5. One thing to think about – we don’t see Mara in the old time line until five years after Endor — and the new movies are roughly 30 years after Endor. And in between Luke saying, “I won’t leave you,” to Vader and his intense stare at the end of TFA – we have no idea what has been going on.

    It would be quite simple to even have Mara fit right in there – former imperial that Luke runs into (shoot, Lora San Tekka could have helped hook them up, cause we don’t know anything about him), and they marry – she could even have been one of his students that gets killed by some Solo brat… it could all fit very, very easily if Disney *wanted* to.

    But if they did – would that be Mara? What if we got just an off-screen backstory about Luke’s mysterious wife who was killed off… and nothing more. A giant homage, but never a character fleshed out in the canon. Would that be good? Bad?

    What would a giant allusion to a Mara character be if it never gets fully fleshed out? Satisfying or… bitter?

  6. Brilliant article! I agree that it will be so hard to bring Mara into canon, especially since as you mentioned, we know so little of Luke in the Disney canon and what we do know of him seems to be quite different from the Legends continuity (this video analyses the difference between the two: ) and that Rebels has already given a perfect opportunity with having the Inquisitors. Not to mention Luke has had a few love interests already, that Mara could’ve taken the place of such as Nakari in Heir to the Jedi and Ahpra .
    I don’t believe that Rey is Luke’s daughter, which also means that she’s not Mara’s either. I hope they do indeed bring her back into canon, but the only way I can see it happening if she introduced in books/comics set after the ST and meets Luke then (with the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher, I think it’s a given that Luke will survive). But if she never becomes canon, it will make me very sad especially since the Legends books/comics are going out of print which will make it very hard for younger and future fans to discover her. Mara was for me and other female fans in the 90s and 00s what Ahsoka and Rey are for girls now.

    1. Thanks! A few things:

      1. Rey could very well be Mara’s daughter but not Luke’s. I mean, I don’t think it’s LIKELY, but it’s possible. (And would make me laugh my head off, if nothing else.)

      2. Legends books aren’t going out of print. (Unless you count YJK, which… Good riddance.) I think there was a brief scare about it a few months back, but it turned out to be nothing. Maybe one day, but not now.

      1. You’re welcome!

        Really? Oh it must be in the UK then. I’ve been in so many book and comic stores and they’re no longer getting Legends books in stock anymore – which is tragic :(

        1. Ahh, in the U.K., maybe, since the publishing situation is different. But here, Del Rey is reissuing them with the Legends banner as the old print runs aell out.

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