From Concept to Screen: Mon Mothma, Rebel Leader

Learn how the commanding Rebel leader was conceived and created in film and animation.

Welcome to From Concept to Screen, an ongoing article series about the various stages of production that your favorite character, vehicle, creature, location, or scene of the Star Wars saga had to undergo before arriving on the silver screen.

While she appears only briefly in Return of the Jedi, the character of Mon Mothma quickly grew in importance. She became one of the few returning characters of the original trilogy who would appear in the prequels (Revenge of the Sith). Expanding further on her character, she even appeared quite a few times in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Let’s take a look how this senator turned leader of the Rebel Alliance came to our screen!

Costume & Casting

Mon Mothma concept art

Mon Mothma concept art by Rodis-Jamero for Return of the Jedi.

With the big attack on the second Death Star, which in various early script drafts was accompanied by another Death Star and floating above Coruscant, it was clear that the Rebel Alliance would be expanded big time from what we saw previously, creating the need for military leaders like General Madine, Admiral Ackbar, and Mon Mothma. The first time Mon Mothma appeared in the scripts was in the revised rough draft from June 12, 1981. In a newly-added scene, she was to make an inspirational speech in a war room of a Rebel frigate while “a pale blue non-human creature” named Ackbar would give a strategy briefing. The second draft from September 21, 1981, would include Mothma bringing news that the Emperor himself is onboard the disarmed Death Star. With the second draft in hand and production already well underway, attention turned to the concept of Mothma, and it was costume designer Nilo Rodis-Jamero who would make the first sketch. With Ralph McQuarrie doing less work for Return of the Jedi, he made no sketches for Mon Mothma but would draw her later in a piece called “Rebels Plot Attack,” which is often confused as an actual painting from the production of the movie. This piece was made for the Return of the Jedi portfolio, but ended up not being included. It saw a later release as a giclée called “Plan of Attack.” While there were previous casting interviews, with Kate Harper (who would appear in the 1989 Batman movie as an anchorwoman) being the first to audition for the role of Mon Mothma, it was on December 15, 1982, that Caroline Blakiston had her turn. It was noted that she could cry on command if needed, and ended up winning the role.

Mon Mothma's costume for Return of the Jedi

Mon Mothma’s costume for Return of the Jedi.

Described in the script as a “stern but beautiful woman,” Mon Mothma’s outfit was designed by Rodis-Jamero to be simple and pure, not unlike the Leia outfit from A New Hope. With all the Rebels being neutral in color, he designed the costume in all earth tones, including an off-white color that wouldn’t come across so cold. The costume was a cloak made with soft natural fabrics — again befitting with the philosophy of the Rebels — and had billowing, oversized kimono sleeves with a muslin lining. A dark jersey gown was worn under the cloak, which exposed the jersey’s sleeves. While the character was not someone who was extravagant, the costume did receive a necklace that hung low from the shoulders. The pendant was a greeblie. Blakiston had her costume fitting in a hotel in Manchester, where she was staying while filming a TV series at the time. During that fitting it was also decided that they would use her own short red hair for the shoot. Because of her limited screen time, only one costume was made.

Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi

Director Richard Marquand shoots the Rebel briefing scene.

Live-Action Shooting

Filming for the Rebel briefing room scenes took place in Elstree, on Stage 5 in early February 1982. With Stage 5 normally used as a storage shed, it meant that the walls and roof were not soundproofed. This led to problems with a nest of pigeons in the rafters who left their droppings behind on the pristine white set and created background noise. Another problem arose for Blakiston when she realized that her lines were changed in the third-draft revisions that Lucas had written. Blakiston, already nervous, had trouble understanding the story, but like a true professional managed to learn her new lines despite unfamiliar words such as a “Bothan.” Her role was finished after two days of filming, and nearly a year later on January 25, 1983, she would arrive at the Mayflower Recording Studios in London to rerecord her lines so that it could be added to the final sound mix of the movie.

Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, from concept art to costumes. 

Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, from concept art to costumes.

Returning for Revenge of the Sith

When George Lucas decided during the preproduction of Revenge of the Sith that he wanted to better bridge the prequel movies with the original trilogy, he added many familiar elements like Chewbacca, Darth Vader, the Death Star, and ships like the Rebel Blockade Runner. One of the biggest returns would be that of the Rebel Alliance. Lucas intended to show the origins of how it started with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma leading a group of senators who were dissatisfied with how Supreme Chancellor Palpatine circumvented the senate and ignored the core principles the Republic was founded on. With this decision, the whole progress of bringing Mon Mothma to the screen started all over again, beginning with concept art.

As seen above in the designs of Stian Dahlslett, who worked on costume and character concepts under the supervision of Trisha Biggar and Iain McCaig, Mon Mothma’s new costume was similar to the extravagant outfits worn by some of the other senators in the prequels. Genevieve O’Reilly was cast for the role due to her resemblance to Caroline Blakiston, who would later remark that O’Reilly did look a lot like her when they were the same age. O’Reilly’s first day of shooting was on July 22, 2003, the scene in which the senators are awaiting the return of the recently-rescued Chancellor Palpatine. Eight days later, she would film a scene in Bail Organa’s office in which the senators meet in secret and tell Padmé for the first time about their plans to oppose Palpatine. With Padmé in doubt considering her Naboo connection to Palpatine, the senators would later meet with her again in her own apartment to discuss how to proceed further. The reason behind the deletion of these scenes was that the movie was running too long and that the focus of it should be on Anakin. The deleted scenes can still be seen on the DVD of Revenge of the Sith. Mon Mothma still appears in the movie on the senate landing platform, a scene turned over to be completed by ILM in mid-March of 2004.

What’s interesting to note is that while O’Reilly only appears briefly in the movie, she wears two different yet similar white costumes. The one she wore at the landing platform was a pin-tucked silk outfit with a tabard and a headdress. The other, which she wore in one of the two deleted scenes, was a more detailed felted wool robes variation instead of the smooth tabard. Both were completed with the same necklace inspired by what she wore in Return of the Jedi.

 Mon Mothma model image for The Clone Wars

Character model image for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

The Clone Wars

The creation of an animated movie or an episode for an animated TV series share many similarities with real actors and sets. They both start with a preproduction phase that involves writing scripts and drawing concept art. Mon Mothma first appeared in the script for the The Clone Wars Season Two episodes “Duchess of Mandalore,” “Senate Murders,” and “The Zillo Beast Strikes Back.” “Senate Murders” was the first in the production schedule, and the episode where the above model image was made for. The production numbers would often differ in the early seasons from the release numbers, with “Senate Murders” becoming episode 15 and not the labeled episode 10. This episode would also be the only one in Season Two that would feature dialogue for Mon Mothma. The character was played by Kath Soucie, a well-known voice actor in Star Wars games with her biggest role being that of Tavion Axmis in Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy. Soucie would voice Mon Mothma two more times, during Season Three’s “Heroes on Both Sides” and “Pursuit of Peace,” even though the character appeared a lot more throughout Season Three and made a few cameos during Seasons Four, Five, and Six. Interestingly enough, this was accomplished by reusing the character model that had been made for her Season Two appearance. (“Re-using” happens often during the making of an animated movie or series because it is a money-saving solution to fill the background with existing models rather than creating new ones.) However, Mothma did receive a new character model for Season Four’s episode “Deception,” in which her usual white dress was made into black to depict her mourning during the mock funeral of Obi-Wan Kenobi. For more images featuring Mon Mothma, please visit StarWars.com’s official Tumblr and Instagram pages.

Mon Mothma remains a fan favorite: her calmness and confidence make her a unique figure in a galaxy far, far away. And while she may seem like a somewhat minor character in terms of her screen time, that’s only a testament to Mothma’s impact and the work that went into creating her.

Sander de Lange (Exar Xan) from the Netherlands, worked on the “Rogues Gallery” feature in Star Wars Insider and wrote the backstory for Niai Fieso through “What’s the Story?”. He is an editor for TeeKay-421 — the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub — and is an administrator for the Star Wars Sourcebooks page on Facebook. Being born in Deventer, a city used to shoot the world-famous movie A Bridge Too Far, he’s always had a passion for shooting locations and tourism, in which he hopes to find a job.

TAGS: , ,