Mara Jade, a Redeemed Villain

"The Hand of Judgement" by Darren Tan, from the Star Wars Essential Reader's Companion (copyright of Lucasfilm Ltd, published by Del Rey).
There was a time when Mara Jade had it all. She was a favoured agent of Emperor Palpatine, called by the title “Emperor’s Hand.” She enjoyed a life of privilege, which included a personal starship, a droid companion, and private quarters on Coruscant. All she had to do was carry out the Emperor’s will.

Acting on Palpatine’s behalf, she eliminated corrupt Imperial officials, Jedi who survived Order 66, and anyone else the Emperor deemed worthy of death. Although few in the Empire knew about her, they would have been jealous of her if they had. She was, after all, advancing the Empire’s interests.

Then Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance ruined everything. When Palpatine died at the Battle of Endor, Mara’s life crumbled. She blamed Skywalker and made it her life’s ambition to kill him. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Not only is she flawed and human, but she also finds redemption.

When Timothy Zahn first introduced Mara Jade in Heir to the Empire in 1991, he could not have foreseen her popularity. She has become a fan favourite and has appeared in novels and comics well beyond what Zahn originally intended. Her backstory—which he sketched out in his novels—has been extensively documented in other stories. Ask any group of fans about her and one or two of them will likely say, “Mara Jade? She’s awesome! I love her.”

Really? Why? She was an assassin; a tool the emperor used to destroy his enemies. That hardly qualifies her for “role model” status.

I think part of the appeal is that she is a strong, complex character. We can identify with her struggles. She commits evil acts, but her heart sometimes betrays her and she is drawn toward the light. In other words, she is as human as the rest of us.

I’ve never been an assassin or served as The Emperor’s Hand, but I can still identify with Jade’s struggles. It’s so easy to get fixated on a course of action—to feel that I’m absolutely in the right—while I’m engaged in something evil.

A decade or so ago, I found myself in that situation at work. There was a conflict and I chose the side I thought was “right.” I believed that I was acting in the interests of the organization and my efforts would make things better.

What I really did was betray a friend and it ended very badly.

It took me a long time after that to admit to myself that I was the villain of that event. After all, I’d just been doing my best, right? I hadn’t meant to hurt anyone. My goals were noble and I wasn’t acting alone. If anything, I was being brave, standing up for what I thought was right. Wasn’t I?

Mara could have made the same excuses. The emperor had selected her and trained her to be what she was. Her goals were noble; she was protecting the Empire. She bravely stood up for what she thought was right.

Killing Luke Skywalker was just a continuation of what she’d been doing all along—more literally than she knew. She and the Emperor had always shared a telepathic link. That was part of what made her special to him. At the instant of his death, he sent a mental order for her to assassinate Luke. Even though she wasn’t consciously aware of the order, it haunted her thoughts.

While Luke was trying to build the New Republic, Mara was busy rebuilding her life. Her skills landed her a position with smuggler Talon Karrde. In short order, she became his second-in-command. Her story collides with Luke’s when Karrde rescues/captures Luke in deep space. She desperately wants to kill Luke, but Karrde forbids it.

It’s easy to get fixated on a course of action while I’m engaged in something evil.

Over the course of several novels, she and Luke are forced to work together. Learning of the Emperor’s last command, Luke vows to help free her from the compulsion. He persists in helping her despite the danger she poses to his life. When she finally gains her freedom, she turns against the Empire and becomes an ally to the New Republic. Luke is able to forgive her terrible past. In time, he trains her in the Force and they eventually fall in love and get married.

Which may be another reason she’s so popular with fans. Not only is she flawed and human, but she also finds redemption. That gives us hope.

As a Christian I believe strongly in the possibility of redemption. The story of the Bible is the story of a loving God who wants to reconcile with humanity. Even when we are stubborn and arrogant and willful, God is waiting to take us back. In the Catholic Church, we call that reconciliation; we attempt to make the relationship with God right again. Which, in my case, meant I had to confess my villainy—to God and to my friend.

Long after the dust had settled and I had admitted that I had been wrong, we met for coffee. My friend was gracious and kind in accepting my apology. She gave me what Luke gave Mara—a shot at redemption. And though I don’t deserve, I’m thankful for that forgiveness.

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The Star Wars stories referred to in this article are from the Star Wars Legends canon.

Kevin Cummings

Kevin Cummings

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Kevin has been the husband of one wife for more than thirty years and the dad of two sons for not quite that long. A geek from birth, he grew up with the original Star Trek and Star Wars and enjoys finding expressions of God’s love in the worlds of fandom.
Kevin Cummings

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