The Resurrection of Mara Jade

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By techgnotic
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Like millions of kids growing up in the 1980s, I spent many happy hours imagining what it would be like in the rosy future when George Lucas made new Star Wars movies. It was almost as difficult and delicious to imagine as adulthood.

Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, but many, many years would pass before we had new stories. In the meantime, we created our own stories with fan art, fan fiction and epic action figure play sessions.

But the real change came in 1991, when science fiction novelist Timothy Zahn published Heir to the Empire, the first in a trilogy of books telling the story of what happened to the Star Wars heroes after the events of the original movie series. Those books steadily climbed bestseller lists, giving fans like me the new Star Wars stories we craved.

This trilogy was one of the first bricks in a mighty mythology that became known as the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” (or EU, as abbreviated by many fans). The EU filled gaps in the Star Wars story for millions of fans like me—a huge bookshelf of novels, comics and fan art. You can see examples in every corner of DeviantArt.

DeviantArt creator and illustrator Grant Gould (grantgoboom) has worked on Star Wars kid’s books, trading cards and web comics.

At the recent Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim, California, he created an exclusive licensed tribute to these classic Star Wars novels.

Grant told me about the moment he discovered those books:

I remember the excitement. We hadn’t had Star Wars in a long time, and all of a sudden, there’s this great book and the adventures continue. I just fell in love with the series.”

I devoured the trilogy as well back in the 1990s, but I forgot the stories as I grew older. Then I re-explored the Expanded Universe while preparing for the Anaheim Star Wars convention. Once again, I was captivated by one character in particular: Mara Jade.

Mara is one of the most beloved characters from this trilogy. Early in her life, she worked as the “Emperor’s Hand,” a trained killer serving the most loathsome villain from the original trilogy. She entered the Expanded Universe by trying to kill Luke Skywalker, but she would finish her epic character arc by falling in love with the great Jedi.

My first DeviantArt search turned up more than 2,000 results for Mara Jade fan art. Author Chris Taylor described Jade in his excellent history, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. He wrote:

She would inspire the first online mailing group (and later the first blog) to cover the Expanded Universe, Club Jade … she offers all of the feisty, fiery personality that Leia should have developed, but ultimately lacked.”

— Chris Taylor

You can still visit Club Jade online, a busy site with a pointed mission: “Club Jade is a group of (mostly) female fans who love Star Wars - particularly the Expanded Universe novels - and other things of that nature.”

When Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise and created a new slate of films, the media company praised this epic collection of novels, role-playing games, comic books and fan art:

For over 35 years, the Expanded Universe has enriched the Star Wars experience for fans seeking to continue the adventure beyond what is seen on the screen. When he created Star Wars, George Lucas built a universe that sparked the imagination, and inspired others to create. He opened up that universe to be a creative space for other people to tell their own tales.”

Despite all of the excitement online about the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser released last month (47 million YouTube views and counting), thousands of fans were heartbroken at what they did not see in these new stories about a galaxy far, far away: Mara Jade and the rest of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

In fact, Disney nearly destroyed this imaginary universe in a single press release. The Expanded Universe characters were exiled in a single sentence:

In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe.”

At the Star Wars Celebration, I spoke with a 17-year-old fan dressed as Mara Jade. She had a passionate response to Disney’s Expanded Universe decision:

I found out about that in school, I actually screamed ‘WHAT THE ACTUAL F***!?!’ Then I started getting louder and louder and my teacher said that we need to either stop this conversation or take it into the hall because people weren’t able to work with me screaming about this. Then I went home and cried a lot.”

— 17-year-old fan

While the Star Wars universe is changing, the EU is not being discarded. Disney has dubbed the Expanded Universe “legends,” but also noted: “Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe.”

So there is always the possibility that these great characters will return in some form, someday. But judging by the most recent trailer, none of the Heir to the Empire characters made the cut this time.

Illustrator Grant Gould dreams that Star Wars storytellers will bring back Grand Admiral Thrawn.

I’m hoping Disney will realize what a great character he is and maybe bring him back in a similar capacity somehow. That would be awesome.”

Thrawn was a brilliant and blue-skinned villain who brought back the Empire after its defeat at the end of The Return of the Jedi. He has inspired many pages of DeviantArt creations as well.

“I don’t think this will stop artists from making more EU art,” Gould concluded when I asked him about Disney’s Expanded Universe policy.

“When we were submitting ideas for our prints, I emailed my contact at Lucas Film and I was like, ‘would I be allowed to draw Thrawn?’ And they were like, ‘why not?’ So even though they’ve declared that it’s ‘legends,’ they are still all about letting us draw the characters. So who knows? As of now, my Thrawn print is the only official Thrawn Celebration print ever, but who knows? Maybe there will be more in the future? I hope so, because I love it.”

Beyond books, comic books and art, cosplay has played a major role in the evolving legacy of the Expanded Universe. After spending a full day on the convention floor at Star Wars Celebration, I reached the unscientific conclusion that Mara Jade is the most popular EU character for cosplayers.

Freelance illustrator Annie McBeth used her Mara Jade costume to show me the essential elements of Mara Jade cosplay: red hair, a sleeveless black shirt, leather shoulder harness, a belt, goggles and a scarf.

You can see how hundreds of cosplayers interpreted the famous character on DeviantArt:

Annie told me that Disney’s decision will never influence her cosplay adventures:

I’ll still dress up like Mara Jade. Because she’s fun. I look at it the same way as dressing up like mash-up Disney characters. It’s fun to come to conventions and see the die-hard fans. You can definitely tell the difference between film fans and expanded universe fans. They give you a look up and down, you can tell that they immediately recognize the character.”

— Annie

Indeed, the convention was packed with cosplay fans wearing lovingly hand-crafted costume tributes to beloved character(s).

One group mashed up Stormtrooper suits with the white jumpsuits of Clockwork Orange hooligans; another crew combined Darth Vader and Santa Claus suits; or the stunning Snow White and Boba Fett costume that charmed my four-year-old daughter so much she ran across the courtyard shouting "Snow White! Snow White!”

Star Wars fans will never play by Disney rules. You can't control Star Wars mythology any more than you can refill a bottle of uncorked champagne. Mara Jade charmed millions of fans, and they will never be able to un-imagine her.

Watching my daughter run around with her Jedi robe and blue lightsaber, I vowed to teach her about the WHOLE Star Wars story—Mara Jade and the Expanded Universe are counting on these kids.

Your Thoughts

  1. Should massive media companies like Disney be able to re-write or erase massive parts of a beloved franchise? Should media companies do more to support fan art and fanfiction?
  2. What are your favorite Star Wars mash-ups on DeviantArt? What mash-ups would you like to see an artist create?
  3. How do you feel about the new Star wars trailer? Can it ever live up to your expectations?
  4. Who is your favorite Star Wars character? Have you ever created fan art or fan fiction about that character?
  5. Would you be open to allow other community members to write and create stories around your original Characters? If yes, what rules would you set in place for doing so?

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VorsichtStufe's avatar
Waaay late to the party here but well whatever:

  1. Should massive media companies like Disney be able to re-write or erase massive parts of a beloved franchise? Should media companies do more to support fan art and fanfiction?

    - I don't see why not. At this point it would have been impossible to recreate what we already have and if they would have tried there would have been complaints anyway.
    Comics do it all the time and we now have the Marvel Cinematic Universe which also started anew from scratch for the Movies.
    And I don't think they should really support Fanfictions or Art. The latter they could share on social mediafrom time to time but that is it.
    Community should take care of itself mostly.

  2. What are your favorite Star Wars mash-ups on DeviantArt? What mash-ups would you like to see an artist create?

    - There is one were Poison Ivy fights Mara Jade which I have always liked. As far as wishes go. Well it would be nice to have an ensamble artwork with the cast of the Force Awakens on one side and the cast of Heir to the Empire on the other side, looking at each other.

  3. How do you feel about the new Star wars trailer? Can it ever live up to your expectations?

    - Well there are two movies out now and I love 'em both.

  4. Who is your favorite Star Wars character? Have you ever created fan art or fan fiction about that character?

    - Mara probably. And now I never did. I can't draw and while I can write I prefer to write original characters who experience their own adventures even if they happen to take place in the Star Wars Universe for example.

  5. Would you be open to allow other community members to write and create stories around your original Characters? If yes, what rules would you set in place for doing so?
Probably, yes. As long as they A) ask me first, B) make it loud and clear that it is not "canon" for said character at the start of every chapter.
And I guess I would like to hear what they have in mind first. Wouldn't want my characters, whoever those would be, to fuck their step parents or fall in love with a crossdressing Sailor Moon who is there for some reason. ;)
SlayerWatcher237's avatar
This wasn't fanfic though, it was just as canon as the movies. It should have stayed.

Edit: sorry, misread your reply.
VorsichtStufe's avatar
No problem ;)

And yeah I get that thought. Back when I heard for the first time that Episode 7 would come out I immediately hoped it would be based on Timothy Zahn's books but I also get why they did not go for it and I accept and respect that..

Meanwhile I still choose to ignore that Darth Maul is canonically still alive and Ashoka exists.
RSH26oct88's avatar
Who likes Star Wars? Want to see a great Star Wars Action Packed Animated Film?…
HeroOfTengoku7K's avatar
I like Mara Jade and a host of the original expanded universe (never read the Thrawn Trilogy yet) I still hold the original expanded universe as canon while I view the new EU as alternate canon. 
BrigadierDarman's avatar
One of MANY reasons I will NEVER see episodes 7, 8, or 9.
Barkindji's avatar
I am looking forward to whatever the films end up being because I know they'll be good, well-made films, even minus all the fanfic.

But I do think the current state of how the world's content owners handle fan contributions to a property is out of line. It's like a parent who cuts down their child regardless of their success purely because they haven't taken the pre-determined path the parent had in mind. It's exactly like that. When in actual fact we'd have vastly more developed stories if content owners worked in unison with the masses in the development of their properties.


My favourite character was always Luke because he showed a wisdom in his power that is so typically lacking of most hero-types. Using every tool at his disposal to achieve his tasks. Which, you would by the way, if you were trying to lessen the grip of a galactic empire.

As far as my own characters go, I have developed a few, never published any, but have already allowed friends to develop them through artwork. I love it. I like that I can release an idea and others latch onto it and better it and rerelease it again for others and so on. I'm far more interested in seeing a grand story than a small story I can take 100% credit for. If I wanted credit for everything, credit for the original idea is enough, I don't really care how much of the story or character concepts ends up being made by other people as long as it respects the original ideas.
Ive never read a lot of the expanded universe, but Ive read the best stories that there are and these are Thrawn trilogy and Darth Plagueis. Plagueis could be left intact and still leave a lot of room for imagination unless they plan to change and improve Darth Maul's story that in this books it seals it as a very simple story (SPOILERS: A a runaway force witch gives it to Palpatine since in her clan, male babies are not allowed. He raises him as a war machine, but he was never meant to be the true successor of the rule of two... he had no social skills and knew almost nothing of the galaxy and the Sith plan to rule forever). Thrawn on the other hand could not fit the story line, but he is such a good character that he should be used somewhere. He could be the new leader of the empire or something. Use the character, but not what he did (Jorus Ceebaoth or whatever its spelled SUCKS). Mara Jade could be used in the same way.
Freeport's avatar
I will miss Jara and the other characters from the expanded universe dearly, but from a writer's and filmmaker's point of view, I have to say that Disney made the right move. The expanded universe worked well in writing, but many of the aspects would be very hard to translate into a watchable movie that neither cripples the backstory of the books nor makes the film unwatchable for people who didn't read them. Also, it is a vast and very dense story, so that any director/writer would have virtually no room to develop anything new without pissing off the fans.

As much as I would have loved to see Mara Jade come to live on the silver screen, I am also very curious where the new journey will take us. I find it very exciting that I have no idea what is waiting for me and I am more than willing to give JJ and his team a chance to create a unique and thrilling new Star Wars movie. What I have seen so far is very promising.

I really want to see a new Star Wars movie that breathes the excitement of the original films (I found the lack of the episode's quality in writing disturbing. :D ).
If the price is a clean slate and no expanded universe - so be it. :)
istickboy's avatar
" it is a vast and very dense story." This is an important point about the EU. I always a struggle to convey the backstory and character web of the EU to people who haven't explored it before...
Freeport's avatar
I love the EU for it, but you couldn't possibly transfer this into a film without making a soap or a documentary out of it. There is only so much backstory you can pack into 150 minutes of movie. The richness would suffer and it would never sacrifice the fans. ;) 
L3ynx's avatar
As a Star Wars fan who got into it in the early 90s, I can't overstate how important those early Expanded Universe novels were to me. Reading the Thrawn Trilogy is the greatest Star Wars experience that I have had, aside from watching the original trilogy for the first time. Timothy Zahn's stories and characters were a huge part of the feel and fabric of the saga, and for me nothing will ever truly replace them in that capacity. I welcome new stories and hope that characters like Mara Jade are reimagined in the new continuity, just as characters in other franchises exist to be born again, generation after generation, given different spins but still the same people.

1. Disney has simply created a new continuity. Both the old Expanded Universe and The Force Awakens are based on the classic film trilogy, which is the only real universal canon for Star Wars (or as close to such as thing as there will ever be). That is okay, although it does make me sad to see some of my favorite stories relegated to 'Legends.'
2. Honestly, Grant Gould's 'Thrawn: Legacy' is just about the coolest thing that my mind has ever processed. Such a great sci-fi pun brought to life. One idea for another mashup would be Hoth and John Carpenter's film The Thing, because there is great synergy already there.
3. The new trailer gave me a thrill that I haven't felt since...I was last in the presence of my old master? But seriously, it suggests a return to the sort of excitement that started it all. The film doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to have the right spirit. Hope so.
4. My favorite character growing up was Jaina Solo. I never did any fan-art, but I named my golden lab after her. She lived up to her namesake.
5. Complex issue, but I would have no problem with others creating their own stories with my characters, as long as intellectual property rights are respected and no one is profiting in violation of those rights.
istickboy's avatar
"I can't overstate how important those early Expanded Universe novels were to me." I remember that feeling so clearly as well when I read the novels for the first time. It is always cool to meet other fans of those stories, especially fans that experienced the release of the novels for the first time.
Dopplegager's avatar
Thanks for sharing my old Mara Jade picture. I remember being really proud of it back when I did it but looking back not so much. Maybe I should do a new one. 
istickboy's avatar
You should definitely do a new one! 
Dopplegager's avatar
Maybe someday. XD
BuffaloTrident's avatar
Im actually not familiar with mara jade but i know where this articlw is coming from i have similar feelings about dash rendar and darth revan .
I honestly believe though that the iconic characters from the star wars expanded universe (now legends) will make thier way into official star wars canon in some form considering how many projects are being worked on for star wars i would say its inevitsble actually
blonc1's avatar
I might be wrong about this but isn't SWTOR still considered canon.  The Powers That Be haven't come out and said it isn't as far as I know and since Darth Revan is a part of that doesn't that make him officially a canon character?
BuffaloTrident's avatar
as far as i know there isnt official word whether or not KOTOR is canon though they have said that all past games and novels are considered star wars legends.
though  i do know that george lucas wanted to make darth revan officially canon in the clone wars series and the mask worn in the force awakens has a striking similarity to revans so you never know.
AdrenalineRush1996's avatar
To answer the questions:
1. Yes and no for the first part because parts of the EU should remain part of the main canon such as the Thrawn Trilogy (but not Vector Prime since it caused a lot of controversy by killing off Chewie) and though I like how Disney is doing a good job with Star Wars, I hope they don't screw up the franchise like the prequel trilogy did. Yes for the second part.
2. I don't have any favourite Star Wars mash-ups on DeviantArt, sorry.
3. I liked it and it does live up to my expectations.
4. I'm not gonna lie but it is indeed Darth Vader since I enjoy James Earl Jones' voice role for the character. However, I have not done fan art nor fan fiction about the Sith Lord formerly known as Anakin Skywalker.
5. I haven't done any SW fanfics nor I have created OCs for them, however if I did do them, then I would give my blessing to allow other community members to write and create stories around my original characters. My rules is that they wouldn't screw up their personalities and that they wouldn't make them a spotlight stealing squad. 
istickboy's avatar
Thanks for reading and responding. I've seen so much great Darth Vader stuff on deviantART, but always interested to see more.
aetsiondur's avatar
Surprised but glad to stumble upon this post! Been a fan of Mara Jade since reading Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy years and years back.
istickboy's avatar
Glad you liked the article. I've been a Mara Jade fan too, but the DA community really helped me appreciate her a lot more.
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