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 ComicBook.com 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.
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.