SEEKING SFH – Mara Jade Skywalker in the Star Wars EU
Seeking SFH is a series highlighting stories with Strong Female Heroines. These are great reads with a heroic female character who is relatable to women. I’ve encouraged my blog readers to discuss what this means to them personally, and it can be something different to each reader. To me, a strong female heroine should be independent but not a loner, powerful in body and spirit, a woman (as opposed to a man-with-boobs) in word and deed, and she must be portrayed as an equal to her male counterparts. There is a lot of nuance to my opinion, which would take volumes to summarize, but a second good example from the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a character who epitomizes this notion: Mara Jade.
The Star Wars Adventure Reborn in Literature – The Thrawn Trilogy
Heir to the Empire, the first book in the Thrawn Trilogy, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year with a special edition hardcover release filled with annotations from author Timothy Zahn. To some, HTTE is still the best Star Wars book. Zahn set his book five years after the end of Return of the Jedi, then took a lesson from Lucas and filled it with an incredible cast of characters who could hold their own against the likes of Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, and Chewie.
Mara Jade, former Emperor’s Hand, enters the EU as a rival to the saga’s greatest hero, and she quickly proves a worthy adversary. Mara seems to be everything that Luke isn’t – worldly, quick-tempered, methodical, deliberate, and learned in many skills. At the same time, she is loyal, a great pilot, and gifted fighter much like Luke Skywalker. She has all the makings of a perfectly crafted foil, but those ingredients didn’t necessarily guarantee characterization magic. Interestingly, while there has been a lot of discussion and stories these days in EU circles about villains, anti-heroes, and anti-villains, there is no doubt that Zahn crafted Mara with a heroine’s heart from the beginning, and that’s what completed the recipe for delivering the most popular Star Wars character outside the movie sagas.
The Thrawn Trilogy, which also includes Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, was recently voted into NPR’s list of the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books, and many Star Wars fans have said that these three books are their Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. It’s not just Mara who gets a great portrayal as a female heroine in the trilogy, though; you’ll find Leia continuing her role to bring peace to the galaxy while preparing for her new role as mother. For female fans, these books portray women fairly and heroically and tell an epic story.
More From Zahn
Zahn fans had to wait quite a while to read his next entries into Star Wars – The Hand of Thrawn, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. All the old favorites, and some new ones too, appear in this duology. Luke and Mara keep finding their way back to each other, but unlike many science fiction and fantasy romances, they each manage to rescue the other, and it always feels to the reader like together the pair will be stronger. And considering who Luke Skywalker is in the mythology of Star Wars, that’s saying something about Mara Jade’s character. A year after the duology was released, Michael Stackpole wrote Union – a four-comic arc about the marriage of Luke and Mara. It’s Star Wars mayhem and fun that will just leave you smiling.
Since writing The Hand of Thrawn, Zahn has steadily added to the Star Wars EU, maybe not as fast as some fans would have liked, with the books Survivor’s Quest, Outbound Flight, and Allegiance. His latest book, Choices of One, was released this year and is featured in my Review section. All these books are suspense-driven, twisting stories that make you pay attention and want to flip to the next page. Mara is featured heavily throughout.
The NJO and Beyond
While Zahn knew how to handle a female character’s pregnancy without diminishing her role, as he did with Leia in The Thrawn Trilogy, the creative team behind the NJO struggled with Mara’s impending motherhood. She is sidelined for some of the nineteen-book series with a mysterious illness, but her role still expands in the earlier books as a mentor to Jaina and Anakin and in the later books as a mother in her own right to her son Ben. Even as she’s proving to be one of the most powerful Jedi in Luke’s new Order, her struggle to stay by her son’s side in the present while fighting to protect his future is played out respectfully within the Enemy Lines duology, which also features my first SSFH character – Jaina Solo. Finally, if you like to read about mature romances, Mara’s partnership with Luke is fleshed out in more detail during the Force Heretic trilogy.
Unfortunately, the Legacy era is punctuated by the death of Mara Jade Skywalker. In the middle book of the Legacy of the Force series, titled Sacrifice and featuring a beautiful depiction of Mara in a classic hero’s pose on the cover, her life is ended in a brutal showdown with her nephew, Jacen Solo. From interviews it’s obvious author Karen Traviss wanted to treat the death of this character with reverence, and she does write her as a fierce warrior and passionate mother. But Traviss’ decision to use character profiling in place of reading the previous EU books resulted in skewed, off-center representation of the heroine many EU fans had come to know and love. Mara’s death is a tragedy for what it does to the characters in-universe, and for how it affected the relationship of the EU with female fans out of universe. Still, I don’t think that should stop people from enjoying her adventures in the Star Wars EU. Her role in the books did what Leia achieved in the original trilogy and Padmé is still doing in The Clone Wars: it gives women a heroine to inspire them to greatness.
Last week Star Wars Books hosted a chat with Timothy Zahn on Facebook. I took the opportunity to follow up on something he’d said at the SDCC panel.
Tricia Barr Tim, at SDCC you described Mara Jade as a “useful” character. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it is about her character that makes her useful to a storyteller.
Timothy Zahn ?@Tricia: I think of Mara as useful because she’s a former Imperial, with all the baggage that implies, a Jedi, and a good foil for Luke. All that makes her a character you can do lots of things with and put in lots of different situations.
Today FANgirl’s Choices of One review was cross-posted at Geek Girl Network. I would like to thank the ladies at GGN for their hard work on behalf of fangirls, and for the opportunity to review a great book on their site.
A graduate of Duke University, Tricia is a registered Professional Engineer who designs transportation systems as a consultant. In her free time, she shows horses and maintains a website for Star Wars EU fans that creates a safe place for women and men to discuss literature and all things pertaining to geek culture. She is currently writing her first full-length original novel, a space opera based around the heroic journey of a young woman who finds herself in the middle of a deadly terrorist attack by an invading alien force. For information on the book, please check out TriciaBarr.com.
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6 thoughts on “SEEKING SFH – Mara Jade Skywalker in the Star Wars EU”
Interesting overview of why Mara draws so many fangirls. One question, and forgive me if this has been brought up in previous posts: what would you say it is exactly that makes a “strong female hero” different from a “man-with-boobs”?
A “man-with-boobs” is a female character that acts like a man, or is at least unrelatable to how most women feel they would act. Often this happens when a man writes a female character in a way he thinks a woman would/should act as opposed to how she actually would. Not to say that female authors haven’t created these type of characters as well. Kerra Holt in the Knight Errant novel is a good example that comes to mind of “man-with-boobs” – you can find a review on this site that goes into more detail. Jaina, as written from DN onward in the SWEU also has some of these traits (with the exception of how she’s portrayed by Allston).
The Her Universe panel at SDCC on Strong Female Characters in scifi covered this topic. Check out my tag Her Universe for a recap on what Gail Simone (Batgirl) and Dave Filoni (The Clone Wars) said on the topic.
Very well-said. :)
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