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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Voices in her Head: Mara Jade

Mara Jade
Second-in-Command to Talon Karrde
Former Emperor's Hand
(uh, what's with all the necklaces??)

When I write about Mara Jade, I want to write about how she changed my life; how I'd never read a character like her (though, granted, I was ten the first time I read Heir), who was powerful and strong and self-reliant and self-made. I want to write about how, at an uneasy time of transition in my own life, Mara Jade inspired me and helped stabilize me when the real world felt shaky and unsure.

But it's not time for that post yet. Mara's story is just beginning in the Thrawn Trilogy and I don't want to get ahead of myself. Instead, I want to write about something that occurred to me during this upteenth rereading of The Last Command.

Mara hears voices in her head. She's not the only one.

One of the scariest things about insane clone Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth is the way he talks about bending another person's mind to his will; in The Last Command he shows how thoroughly he can do this and the limitations of breaking in the mind to the point that it can't sustain itself. General Covell succumbs to C'Baoth's manipulation on their jounrey to Wayland together and when C'Baoth loses his mental contact with Covell when they hit the Force-empty ysalamari bubble around Mount Tantiss, Covell's mind is so totally dependent on C'Baoth's control of it that it breaks (as Thrawn theorizes shortly thereafter).

C'Baoth criticizes the late Emperor for not having the skill in the Force to bend another's mind to his will as completely as C'Baoth does but what if the Emperor did have that power but was much wiser in his application of it? What if he used his wiser application of the ability on Mara Jade, his Hand, who could "hear his voice from anywhere in the Empire?" What if he left her free will intact but became a part of her mind over a long period of time, insinuating himself into her consciousness without breaking or changing the essence of who she is?

Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand
Forgive me if these speculations seem obvious. I'll try to clarify. It's clear that Mara has been manipulated by the Emperor - how else would he have convinced her to serve him when she so clearly has a strong internal sense of ethics and morality that's counter to what the Emperor would have asked her to do? But then, consider her directive, "You will kill Luke Skywalker," and the powerful emotions that accompany it. It does make sense that she'd be angry at Luke's part in the Emperor's death, which did "destroy her life." It doesn't make sense that she's so totally devistated and single-minded in her goal of killing him, even after it becomes clear that she doesn't really know the whole story, nor Luke himself.

I know an obvious counter-argument here is that Mara was raised by the Emperor from girlhood. During formative years, the Empire was her life and her home, and the Emperor, her parent. Without the Force, the Emperor would still have had a great deal of influence over the formation of her beliefs and understanding of the universe. Having said that, to take a child away from her parents and convince her to work as hard as Mara would have had to to become the Emperor's Hand in the first place implies an intensive and long-term application of Force manipulation on Mara, simply to convince her to leave her parents and then to train in a gruelling and possibly cruel way throughout her child and teeage-hood.

Mara Jade, Smuggler
It's pretty clear that Mara is never really in danger of succumbing to C'Baoth's Dark Side overtures - in an ironic twist of fate, she even begs Luke to kill her, rather than let her join C'Baoth. Luke himself nearly falls to the Dark Side on Jomark because he has no way of recognizing the subtlety of C'Baoth's manipulation. Mara recognizes it and revolts against it from her first meeting with him, also on Jomark. Part of it is, of course, that she knows whose side C'Baoth is on. But I speculate that part of it is also that she understands, somewhere inside herself, what it means to be manipulated and to lose control of herself. From her first meeting with C'Baoth onward, she fights the Emperor's last command and, too, his hold on her. By the time she faces her battle with Luke's clone in Mount Tantiss, Mara is almost free of its influence. In fact, when she finally gives in to the voice and kills the Luuke clone, she's actually subverting the Emperor's obvious intent by saving the real Luke's life.

More on Mara and her fabulous storyline to come. In the meantime, I need to start working on a post for "Scoundrels," which I just finished this afternoon!


  1. A very interesting post my friend!! I just finished reading the scene in "Dark Force Rising" where Mara dreams of Luke and Darth Vader killing the Emperor while on her way, for the first time, to Jomark. I was struck completely by how inaccurate the dream/memory was that I knew at once the Emperor was still influencing Mara. Perhaps in the way that Obi-Wan visited Luke until he faded at the beginning of the trilogy. Anyone indoctrinated from such a young age would be susceptible to manipulations from a ghostly Emperor Palpatine. This whole post made me realize that we've read many of Mara's adventures, both as the Emperor's Hand, and after. But we've never read the story of how the Emperor found her and trained her. Or perhaps Mara sought out the Emperor as a girl? We've never had so many questions answered. For all of her stories, do we really know the true Mara Jade? A giant part of me really wants to know, and a similar large part really doesn't. Perhaps someday Timothy Zahn will come full circle with his most famous character?

  2. PS: I LOVE all of the Mara Jade drawings!! ^_^

  3. There are indeed a lot of fabulous drawings of Mara Jade out there (some AMAZING fan-made ones too).

    You and I were talking about this during my visit, I remember. The mystery of where Mara came from has never really been addressed. Mara says a few things about it in "The Last Command" (and since you're not there yet I won't ruin it for you because it takes place during a wonderful series of conversations between her and Luke) but apart from that, for some reason no one seems to have addressed them at all, not even Zahn. In this case, I'm not really content to let it sit. We get to see literally Mara's entire life from about eighteen years old on but there's zero (or so I think) about her early years.

    Actually, now you've brought it up, I'm going to go straight off to Zahn's Facebook page and ask him about it. He's really good about answering questions there and I have another one to put to him anyway ^_^

  4. Oooo, what did he say? What was your other question?

  5. Well, I asked if there was actually any definitive info out there about Mara's beginnings and I also wanted to know if there were any plans for the incomparable Marc Thompson to do unabridged audiobooks for the Hand of Thrawn duology. I'm waiting for him to get back to me (which, in previous experiences, he has) ... I'll link you if I hear anything!

  6. Oh, that would be amazing!! I've only listened to Heir on audio, but I loved it!

    I think the time is close to right for an origin story about Mara Jade! I'm noticing the one thing I really get stuck on, as an adult reading TZahn's books, is that we don't know much about how she and the Emperor found each other, and what her life was like before her training as the Emperor's Hand. I sort of have visions of her being from Alderaan actually... Maybe someone who once upon a time know Leia. They ran in the same circles. Or she tried to break into the Organa residence? It's a daydream, I know, but I love the idea of her being connected to the Skywalkers from a young age...

  7. It's a great idea!! I actually sort of amused myself with the idea that she might be from Naboo, which is where Palpatine was originally from before he became Darth Sidious ... I always liked the idea that her family might have been connected with Luke and Leia's maternal side in some way (through Padme's family, maybe?). I also really like the idea of Mara coming from humble routes, like from a farming family or something. Something simple and honest and generally happy. I feel like the fact that she grew up serving the Emperor and somehow still never turned to the Dark Side (something she and Luke discuss at length in Vision of the Future) indicates that she had a really stable upbringing up to the point the Emperor found her.

    I'm absolutely with you, though, it's definitely time for an origin story about Mara!! Come on, TZahn, let's go!