Escape Pod: Mara Jade Skywalker

I find myself surprised to be writing this article. Surely if I wanted one thing from the Expanded Universe to survive the anticipated Disney purge and make its way into the Sequel Trilogy that it would be my favorite character, Corran Horn, right? The more I thought about what to write as I sat down to write that article though, the more my appreciation for the character of Mara Jade kept pushing itself into my thoughts. So I’m writing to save Mara Jade instead.

This appreciation was completely unexpected, not only because I thought I was going to write about a different character but because I have never been a big Mara fan. Looking back I realize now that I should have been and I can’t even explain why I wasn’t a fan. She really embodied what I look for in strong female characters in the Star Wars books. I didn’t quite know what I had until she was no longer included in the stories.

Zahn’s Jade

385px-Choices_of_One_PB_artThis Jade is perhaps the one I least like which is weird since he invented the character. Don’t get me wrong, I find the concept of her character to be enticing and I like how despite being the Emperor’s Hand she constantly makes decisions for herself and doesn’t feel like killing is always the answer to a problem. I think as a youngster reading the books I didn’t want to like her because she wanted to kill Luke and no one was taking my hero away from me! However, as an adult reading Zahn’s books now I find myself not liking the situations she’s written into. Zahn created this amazingly strong character and for the most part she is written into books where she can’t really win because Luke, Leia and Han are always in the way. By the time Choices of One came out I was really expecting or hoping to have a book with Mara Jade and without Luke, Han and Leia in it. I actually can’t figure out why all of her stories have to revolve around them. I believe she is a strong enough central character to the EU that she could hold a book by herself. I feel like we’ve never gotten to see her be the ultimate assassin/dark agent because the Big Three are always there to spoil things.

Now you might be thinking that during the timeframe that Zahn writes in Mara is the bad guy. Should the bad guy get to win? Answered simply, yes, if you consider her a true bad guy. I don’t. Time and again we’ve seen her administering Imperial Justice on people who actually deserve it for one reason or another. She’s not ruthlessly killing anyone she encounters and she usually tries to find out the truth before passing judgement. That’s part of what makes her character unique and intriguing to the reader. Therefore I don’t understand why we’ve never had a novel where we solely followed Mara Jade around. She’s the total package of a female character and could definitely hold down a book of her own. She is intelligent, independent and powerful which are all qualities I would like to see in the female Jedi that are included in the Sequel Trilogy. Why invent a new character when the perfect one already exists?

Bantam’s Mara Jade:

Jade survives the death of the Emperor and becomes successful in Talon Karrde’s organization. This version is definitely my favorite of the Jade character. I like how she decides to train as a Jedi only after a lot of thought and living of life. She continually tries to avoid the attraction to Skywalker and busies herself with the Smuggler’s Alliance and Lando. Her travels keep bringing them together and in a touching scene we finally get Luke admitting his love for her. She challenged him at every meeting and the Mara they developed became the best match for Luke.


Del Rey’s Mara:

The only part I enjoyed of this version of Mara was her determination and strength shown on Dantooine during the NJO. Despite her sickness and hordes of Vong attacking them, she was able to stay alive long enough for backup to arrive. The ultimate motherly instinct and I applauded Del Rey for keeping her alive even after Ben was born because I seriously thought they were going to kill her off then. So often storytellers feel the hero needs to be motherless. When Anakin Solo died the readers shifted their focus to Ben and were hoping for great things from the offspring of Luke and Mara.

I am not going to get into the bad parts of the Del Rey Mara Jade and those are definitely something I don’t want to see saved from the purge. I’d also ask that any discussion doesn’t go into that either. I’m interested in having Disney preserve the character that is Mara Jade Skywalker and seeing her with Luke in the Sequel Trilogy (while also being a badass female Jedi too!).


Final Thoughts:

Mara Jade is the perfect match for Luke Skywalker. If they are going to have the story call for an offspring of Skywalker, and it seems logical that it would, I sincerely hope they include Mara as a female role model for the young Jedi in the series and as a wife and mother. Mara Jade has been a part of the Expanded Universe for a long time as a strong female character. I’m also slightly tired of heroes always having a missing or dead parent(s) in movies. So many of the recent sci-fi/fantasy stories seem to start with dead parents and I don’t think it is always necessary. I know some of this contradicts my thoughts on how Luke is going to die in Episode VII but I have been persuaded by some of the comments made on that article that the death of the mentor has been overdone. Star Wars also has a track record for having missing parents ie. Luke initially had no parents and Anakin’s father was unknown and then his mother was killed off in Episode II. If they can find a plausible way for Luke and Mara to remain together alive and on the sidelines I am all for them staying that way but I don’t want to see it at the expense of not fully developing the next generation of Jedi. Mara Jade is a great example of a female Jedi and I hope that they decide to include her in the Sequel Trilogy and other stories.

Escape Pod: The Bothan Species

Welcome to Escape Pod, a new series here on Eleven-ThirtyEight, wherein a staff member picks one character or element from the Expanded Universe—independent of existing stories featuring said element—that they feel is vital to the Galaxy Far, Far Away and should survive a hypothetical continuity reboot. Rather than focus on the Sequel Trilogy specifically, the goal of Escape Pod is to detail the subject’s inherent value to the Star Wars setting itself.

Bothans occupy an interesting position in Star Wars continuity. Despite dating back to the Original Trilogy, they’re one of the last things the OT added to the galaxy before its completion—and as far as George Lucas is concerned, they never came up again.

As it happens, it’s not even clear from the dialogue in Return of the Jedi that they are in fact an alien species. Speaking for myself, I remain unconvinced to this day that in Lucas’ mind, “Bothan” isn’t just some special GFFA spy title—he certainly had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate otherwise, but between six hours of prequel films and over 100 episodes of The Clone Wars, he never felt the need.

Luckily, the EU has taken the most meager of balls and run very, very far with it.
By sheer coincidence, just this morning I happened to read the first instance of the word “Bothan” outside of RotJ in issue #80 of the Marvel Star Wars comics; alas, once that brief tie-in to RotJ was out of the way it looks like Marvel didn’t have anything to add on the subject either.
Enter Timothy Zahn. In 1991 Heir to the Empire unveiled Borsk Fey’lya, one of the earliest members of the Rebel Alliance, pillar of the New Republic government, and perhaps most interestingly, gigantic douche. Fey’lya added new depth to the “ambiguous bad guy” role invented by Boba Fett by undermining the heroes at every turn—including getting Admiral Ackbar arrested—while simultaneously being a figure of great significance to the Rebel cause and, frankly, not a totally-unreasonable dude.

I think the true genius of Zahn’s interpretation of the Bothan species is that he circumvented one of Star Wars’ hoariest tropes—OT character x has this job, therefore their entire species has that job—while still rationally extrapolating from what little info the films had given us. The Bothans were famous for their Spynet, sure, but that was basically an outgrowth of their true love: politics.

The Bothans rejected the Empire because when your business is politics, tyranny is bad for business. For his part, Borsk Fey’lya wasn’t really a dishonorable being; his actions came from a cultural understanding of chicanery that seems dickish to humans, but at his core he only wanted what was best for Bothan Space, and therefore, the New Republic.

That kind of moral complexity can be hard to find in Star Wars; it’s all over the place if you know where to look, but more often than not it’s well below a surface littered with guys in white hats and black helmets. By their very existence, and complicated status as protagonists, the Bothans are the perfect species to represent the Rebel Alliance in the popular imagination—as an organization that pulls together all sorts of divergent beings and ideologies, and is too often portrayed as only marginally less homogeneous as the Empire. And did I mention they’re crazy-looking horse-dogs?

Which brings me to my next point: the aesthetic value of Bothans. Another all-too-common trope in Star Wars is alien species that look like rejected Ninja Turtles characters—cat people, spider people, killer whale people (okay, that one is kind of awesome), and so on. Bothans are that rare breed (heh) of alien species that feel familiar, or at least plausible, without being a real animal hastily stapled onto an anthropomorphic frame. It’s actually become a bit of a running joke in EU fandom that two different prose descriptions of a Bothan can give rise to two totally different interpretations.

The plus side of this relative inconsistency is that if some seven-figure screenwriter felt like putting Bothans in a movie down the line, they’d have a fair bit of leeway to tweak the design to their tastes; after all, even a slavishly EU-faithful movie Bothan wouldn’t match all the existing imagery.

And speaking of which, my final point is one that even I don’t fully understand: in a galaxy dominated by humans, the Bothans, for whatever reason, have been consistently portrayed as one of the alien species most likely, and most willing (on both sides) to couple with humans. Well, part of that I do understand—one of those aforementioned lazy alien designs that comes up every so often is basically Puck, the half-goat faun character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Despite Bothans not having horns, well, ever, the EU has retconned a whole half-human, half-Bothan species into existence purely to explain the presence of things like this:

Furthermore, even in the far-less-flighty “modern” era of the films, regular Bothans have been depicted on more than one occasion to be romantically involved with humans. First in Requiem for a Rogue, as a brief fling for Rogue Squadron pilots Hobbie and Janson (movie characters, no less!) that notably comes and goes without anyone in the story so much as raising an eyebrow, then later in the Rogue Squadron novels as the really-quite-poignant relationship between Biggs Darklighter’s cousin Gavin and Bothan agent Asyr Sei’lar. Even better, the star-crossed lovers—literally!—end their relationship due to Bothan prejudice against humans, not the other way around, once again nicely subverting the expected treatment of a human-on-alien love story.

Only Rogue author Michael Stackpole, I suppose, could say exactly why Bothans have filled this particular role so often (second only, if I don’t miss my guess, to female Twi’leks), but given their distinctively nonhuman appearance, it speaks to a species that’s been integrated with humans longer than anyone can remember; one with a progressive mentality—political considerations notwithstanding—that both makes sense for the GFFA and would be absolutely vital for any 21st-century reimagining of such. For these reasons and more, it is utterly criminal that “higher” canon has avoided the Bothan species for so long, and were they to appear in a rebooted continuity, I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything about them that bears improvement.