Jade. Mara Jade.

Comments contain ***SPOILERS***

How do I love Mara Jade from Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels. Let me count the ways. (Oh, and this is going to be a *spoiler free* post for recent Star Wars novels, if you know what I mean. I’d prefer to keep it that way. And if you don’t know what I mean, this warning isn’t for you.)

When Timothy Zahn came out with Heir to the Empire in 1991, it was the first officially Lucas-licensed Star Wars tie-in novel in years. And it was the first time authors were given permission to explore what happened after the end of Return of the Jedi. Zahn was the first to introduce a collection of new original characters that would eventually become the foundation upon which future Expanded Universe (EU) action would be based– chief among whom were tactical genius Grand Admiral Thrawn, smuggler boss Talon Karrde… and Mara Jade.

A lot of readers roll their eyes at Mara Jade, calling her a Mary Sue (the quintessentially perfect character). She’s a redhead who has the Force. She used to be the Emperor’s secret apprentice. She gets to hang out with all the main characters from the Star Wars movies.

But to do so is to overlook all the great things about Jade. In a science fiction novel, she was a female character who was presented as cold, calculating, and capable. In fact, she is not presented as very likable at all. This is pretty rare for a female character. She is a loner, and isn’t accustomed to having friends. She’s bounced from job to job, becoming talented in a number of technical professions. She is sarcastic, and her manner can be off-putting. Often female characters are presented as “Miss Popular,” but Mara Jade wasn’t.

Another aspect of Mara I like is that she isn’t there to be rescued. Over the course of the three novels, she is rescued several times by Luke Skywalker, but this is presented as very back-and-forth. She rescues him just as many times. Neither trusts the other, but they come to each other’s aid repeatedly because they are both smart and recognize the need to work together to get out of a sticky situation. And as they gain trust in each other, this has a humanizing effect on Mara. Which is also a nice reverse, because usually it’s the love of a good woman who humanizes the cold-hearted male outlaw. In situations where Luke isn’t around, she always has an extra blaster up her sleeve and is portrayed as more than capable of outsmarting her enemies and taking care of herself.

Yes, she has red hair and green eyes, which are rather stereotypical for a female character, but nowhere does Zahn describe Mara as beautiful or pretty. I think this is the conclusion that some fans have reached, which certainly has a tendency to occur in fandoms relating to books, when we aren’t presented with a visual representation of characters (ie: “I love Mara Jade, she’s so hot!” when really the author has left everything except eye color, hair color, and body type up to the imagination). Here’s her intro in Heir to the Empire:

“The door slid open, and with her usual catlike grace Mara Jade walked into the room. ‘You didn’t say what–’ her green eyes flicked to the elaborately set table ‘–this was all about,’ she finished, her tone just noticeably different. The green eyes came back to him, cool and measuring.

None of the other characters comment much on her looks, either. You expect Mara to have a romance with Karrde, her boss, but she doesn’t. You expect her to have a romance with Luke, and she doesn’t. She’s not there for anyone else, but is instead portrayed as a character in her own right, with an emotional arc that has nothing to do with a man. It certainly defied my expectations when I was twelve.

Of course, the downside to being a media tie-in author is that other authors have permission to play in your sandbox. In my opinion, the character of Mara Jade deteriorates in subsequent novels. Honestly, I don’t think future authors “got” her voice. They just couldn’t write her as well as Zahn could. As a result, she’s gone through many disappointing character arcs. But, as presented in the Thrawn trilogy, she remains one of my favorite Star Wars EU characters.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, future authors didn’t get her – or they re-interpreted her to suit their own tastes. To be fair, I hold Lucasfilm responsible for not keeping everyone on the same page if they were going to use one another’s characters willy-nilly. (IIRC, Zahn had no idea anyone else was going to write Mara.)

    I very much agree with your post. There are some Mary Sue taints to her – the dramatic coloring, the way the first trilogy comes to center on her personal conflict and not on our main movie characters, etc. But for a lot of years, she and Xena were the only two intentionally unsympathetic females I knew of in fantasy/sci-fi. I loved how completely unlikeable Mara often was.

    I also felt during the first book like I was watching a bouncing ball of privilege when she argued with Luke: he’s a big hero, all-important to the new government, and she’s an outcast, living hand to mouth. Only, go back five years, and he was an orphan going through utter hell because of the very government that had made her one seriously privileged woman. It made perfect sense that eventually she would simply run out of reasons to hate him. Not because she came to see he was right and she was wrong or anything so trite, but because he was maybe the only person alive who could actually understand from firsthand experience why she’s so freaking enraged about what’s happened to her life.

  2. says

    That’s a great observation about Luke and privilege. You’ve articulated very well something that’s going on under the surface of their interaction. There are also very few characters with the Force at this point in the Star Wars galaxy, which is another reason they understand each other. They’re similar in some ways, but she’s also a foil for the “gee whiz!” naive attitude that is his weakness.

    I think it doesn’t help that the next author to write Mara was Kevin J Anderson, whose trilogy I think is the weakest of the early EU. He had her dating Lando, which apparently Zahn didn’t like, because he went back in later and retconned the whole storyline to say that, no, they weren’t really dating.

    Since the 90′s was the era (which is still going on, sigh) of the neurotic, flighty, “independent” woman a la Ally McBeal, a character like Mara who managed to have an emotional arc without being weak stands out.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    I agree about Anderson. It was too soon to start a new Jedi Academy, and he got it off to a bad start – not because mistakes were made, but because the WRONG mistakes were made and it was just way over the top.

    I’d forgotten, but you’re right – Zahn totally retconned the relationship between Mara and Lando to be a cover story instead of the real thing.

    You’re right that Mara was never, ever weak or flighty. Nor was there any chatter about how she needed to let down her defenses and let someone wuv her. She was just clever, a survivor, often mean and sometimes mistaken (as competent people can be).

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve marked in the post that the comments DO contain spoilers, so we can continue talking freely.

    I didn’t know they’d killed her off. I gave up on the books when they killed off Chewie in what should have been one of the funnier scenes I’d ever read because it was just so implausible. *sigh*

  5. says

    I only read a couple of the New Jedi Order ones, but I had heard about it. It came out last month. I didn’t know how many people who might be reading had heard about the death.

    People are… let us say… upset… about it.

  6. Shocked and Dismayed says

    Well at least they gave Chewie a proper death, I mean they did kind of drop a moon on him while he was shaking his fists at it and all bellowing spiteful rage. But they ruined Mara’s death, a poison dart to the leg while she was distracted for just a split second, and then she didn’t even get the chance to take her killer with her or even really do any serious damage to him. I thought is was lame. below is what I had attached to another forum.

    Come on how many major fights between a Sith and Jedi have gone on for several one on one battles, ie Obi-wan and Anican/Vader, Luke and Vader, Jedi and Lumiya, and how many others, they could have had him nearly kill her and have her just get away, like Luke and Vader in the Empire Strikes Back (Episode V), but no they had to have Jacen Kill Mara first time out period.
    Give me a break, and as far as immortalizing her character for the story line, I think the girl did enough without have to get killed like that.
    And if they needed to protect the integrity of the story like they could have had her get away and then fall into a coma without really being able to tell anyone anything. That would still have put Ben in about the same position and sent Luke on a vengeance rampage. But no again they just killed her period. I think the only proper way for either Luke and Mara to die in the book series would have been battling something overwhelming side by side. Call me a romantic but isn’t that what a big part of this is, all epics, epic battles against evil, and epic love stories.

    The only part of the story that I’m looking forward to now is watching Jaina become the Sword and kick the crap out of her brother, after that Star Wars is dead to me.
    They’ve ruined it, and as far as needing main characters to kill, well we’ve heard very little out of Lando and his wife in how many books.
    while I know they have little to do with the jedi, they are important characters and Lando has been around for a long time in the E.U. book series, not to mention good friends with the whole Solo/Skywalker clan. Who’s to say that either Luke or Leia don’t have any more kids to take the torch forward and save the family honor so to speak, and that’s even if they killed off Ben and/or Jaina.
    But no they had to kill what I’ve been finding is one of the most beloved E.U. series main characters(Mara).

    I found these on YouTube today thought some would like to see them Tributes to Mara Jade Skywalker, post death.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmhNQNPwT3I

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDC-dItaD4M&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAgklEzP9ns&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu5rdOxAfp0&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4Nw9pXRFsU&feature=related

    To those of you at Del Rey and the Writers who thought that killing this Character would be a good idea, well, you lost some of your fans over this one, myself included.

    You really dropped the ball on this one, you didn’t have to kill off what is probably the most beloved character of the EU series. But the Way you did it was even worse, it was LAME, it felt CHEAP & RUSHED. Then the Funeral in the next book, same LAME, CHEAP, RUSHED, CRAP!

    The way you guys portrayed the characters was like reading a LAME uninformed new fans fiction writing. It was like those who wrote it didn’t really know the characters they just did their own thing, and screwed up a story lines that has been in the works for what fifty plus books.
    If the Book series dies here with the Legacy of the Force stories, then it deserves to die. You should have really done your research on the characters better, not to mention the potential fan reactions, and oh yeah it’s supposed to be fiction, so how about a few more happy ending, or at least a truly great sad one, but you should have had Zahn write it instead of the losers you picked, now the fans lose, and if you watch you sales on after this for new up coming EU series I think you’ll notice that your losing too with a slight drop off after this stroke of brilliance. Way to go you laser brained Nimrods! Thanks for ruining what was potentially the greatest and longest epic story line EVER. We the Fans thank you so much for F**king it up.

  7. Rogue Jedi Jade says

    Mara Jade has been one of the greatest characters added to the Star Wars universe. She quickly became my favorite character. I remember the first time I read Heir to the Empire, thinking who is this woman who wants to see Luke dead, but she is so interesting that I have to know more about her.

    I too don’t think that she is a Mary Sue character. She did have her flaws. I think that the term Mary Sue is often over used with Mara. I feel that as Zahn designed her, she was a diverse character; it was just the other authors that kept getting her wrong.

    Mara was the first strong female character, other than Leia, that really contributed to the Star Wars universe on a grand scale. She gave female readers and fans a voice. As much as these other authors kept getting her wrong, Zahn could always come in and clean up their mess. This latest mess with Legacy of the Force is inexcusable. Not only did they kill off Mara, they have misused every character in the Star Wars universe. I have stopped buying the books as a result because I lost all interest in this series after Mara’s death. The story was already going on too long and the characters were being taken in directions that clearly showed the authors didn’t understand them or know what to do with them. I wouldn’t mind at all if the future of Star Wars books did die at this point. That is difficult to say as a life long Star Wars fan, but quanity doesn’t make up for the loss of quality and I see a lot of quality being sacrificed these days. I think the authors are trying too hard to make the Star Wars universe more closely resemble our own instead of remembering that their story takes place in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve resolved myself to forget that Legacy of the Force even exist. In my mind Mara lives on.

    I have already shared my thoughts on Mara’s death with Del Rey and the author who penned her death (and what a useless and waste of good character this death scene was). I find it hard to believe that anyone wanting to keep the fan base strong would approve of writing of this low caliber. First off, Mara is a stronger and smarter character than how she was protrayed. She also would not have kept something so important from her husband who opened her eyes to so much. Third, this character has evolved past the assassin aspect of her character. She has grown and found her inner strength, learned how to use it and let the force maintain her calm. Yes, she is a mother and mothers are protective, but that doesn’t mean that a mother (a smart mother) will lose control of herself every time her child is threatened. Let a strong woman be strong and let her live for once. Not every strong female has to die or end up as a stepping stone to a lesser male character. Jacen Solo is soooo boring and over played. He used to be interesting before the dark and brooding developments. How many times must the authors keep refering to him and how much he hates his parents? The droids have been all but lost in the new novels and Han, Leia, and Luke are all taken out of character. It saddens me to think that it has come to this. A saga with such depth and understanding.

    No, I don’t have a problem with characters going dark. I loved Episode 3. It is one of the best films of all time. I just have a problem with people trying to recapture something that has already been done and explored. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel here people. Fans are wise to that. Yes, it worked one time and it was magic. No, it doesn’t work in Legacy of the Force.

    I am just glad that we still have places like this to speak our minds and be respected for it. Also, if anyone is interested, I have a blog about Mara and how to contact Del Rey and the author to express yourself further if you would like to on my MySpace page. You can take a look at http://www.myspace.com/attitude_gifts and new friends are always welcome.

  8. Chaser says

    BRING MARA BACK OR THE EU FRANCHISE MAY NOT GET ANYMORE OF MY CASH IN THE FUTURE!

    WE LOVE MARA! BRING HER BACK!

  9. says

    It’s established that powerful Jedi get recreated as ghosty beings …she could return that way. Along with Qui whatever his name was, Yoda, and Anakin.

  10. says

    I completely agree with your comments. This also struck me when I first read the trilogy. Zahn is the best of the lot in my view. He presented a well thoughtout character, not relying on the fantasies of twelve yr old boys to make an action-packed adventure. Zahn even broadened Leia’s character, and filled in some of her story arc.

    Too bad someone felt the need to fall back on the pedestrian story model of killing off the hero’s woman, in the hopes of energizing the drama. :=(

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