From Mara Jade to Vi Moradi, some beloved heroes and villains began their stories on the page.
One of the great things about Star Wars is that there are multiple ways to enjoy the stories of the galaxy far, far way -- through nearly every conceivable medium. A television series has the advantage of having time to develop minor characters that a film might not be able to focus on, while the written word or a comic book can easily peer into the mind of heroes and villains alike. Since Star Wars stories are all connected in one sweeping saga, characters from one story sometimes return in later stories, even if those later stories are in a different format -- after all, a great character is a great character! In celebration of Star Wars Reads this month, let’s honor some fan-favorite characters that started out on the pages of books and comics, old and new.
First appearing in the Legends story Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn in 1991, Grand Admiral Thrawn was a superb foil to our heroes -- the Chiss strategist more formally known as Mitth'raw'nuruodo wasn’t a sinister villain but a super competent Imperial leader, outthinking his opponents through his observations of individuals and cultures through their actions and art, and inspiring loyalty among those under his command. Though he was defeated by the end of his namesake trilogy, the white-clad alien admiral quickly jumped from the novels to comic adaptations and video game appearances, and returned for a new generation in Star Wars Rebels in 2017 and with a new trilogy of novels by Zahn, focusing on his career at the height of the Empire. Plus, there’s even more Thrawn stories on the horizon.
Doctor Chelli Aphra became a breakout star soon after she was introduced in 2015 in Marvel’s Darth Vader #3, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Salvador Larroca. A criminal archaeologist of questionable morals, and accompanied by her murder-happy droids BT-1 and 0-0-0, she is first seen on a mission for Darth Vader, and manages to escape with her life. She received instant popularity among fans for being a complicated character, unpredictable in her ethics, fun-loving, flawed, and diverse.
She soon appeared in the main Marvel Star Wars title before getting her own ongoing monthly series in late 2016, becoming the first original character not from the movies to get her own ongoing series by Marvel -- now with over 40 issues, including annuals, written first by Gillen and then later by Simon Spurrier. Aphra was even the focus of a short story in the Star Wars: A New Hope-themed anthology From a Certain Point of View (2017), and got her own action figure in 2018.
Quinlan Vos & Aayla Secura
Before her appearance in the Geonosian arena in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and her last stand on Felucia in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the Twi’lek Jedi Aayla Secura and her mentor, the unorthodox Jedi Master Quinlan Vos, were fan-favorite characters of the Dark Horse Comics' ongoing Star Wars series, later retitled Legends Republic, under the writing of Jon Ostrander with artwork by Jan Duursema. Starting in the “Twilight” arc in 2000, where Aayla has been kidnapped and Quinlan has had his memory erased, the two eventually reunite to stop a conspiracy leading from the spice mines of Ryloth all the way to the Senate. Constantly edging closer and closer to the dark side, Quinlan undertook many undercover missions for the Jedi, and was kept from straying too far by his friendship with his former Padawan, Aayla, now a general during the Clone Wars.
Aayla’s character moved to the big screen in the prequels after her introduction in the comics. But Quinlan Vos, based on a split-second background character in Mos Espa in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, got a mention in dialogue in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, and later appeared in an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, helping Obi-Wan in “The Hunt for Ziro” in 2010, before becoming one of the lead characters in the 2015 novel Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. The novel was based on unproduced The Clone Wars scripts by Katie Lucas, in which Quinlan Vos teams up with Asajj Ventress in an undercover plot to assassinate Count Dooku.
Vi Moradi & Cardinal
Fans first met Vi Moradi on the page in Phasma (2017) by Delilah S. Dawson, but can now see the flesh-and-blood character in Black Spire Outpost at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. As one of General Organa’s top Resistance spies and a knitting enthusiast, Vi recounts the secret story of how Phasma came to join the First Order while being interrogated by Phasma’s rival, the ruthlessly loyal red-armored soldier Cardinal. The adventures of Cardinal and Vi resumed in the post-Star Wars: The Last Jedi timeframe with this summer’s release of Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire, also written by Dawson. The latest sees Vi, put in charge while still recovering from her torture, and Cardinal, now a jaded defector from the First Order, attempt to establish a base on Batuu and begin recruiting for the Resistance while being hunted by Cardinal’s former colleagues.
Rae Sloane is another Star Wars villain that readers ended up rooting for and clamoring to see again. Competent, ambitious, and yet strongly loyal to the Empire, she is able to see the larger picture of how some Imperial policies (and some Imperial leaders) are detrimental to the overall success of the Empire. First appearing as a young but capable Star Destroyer captain in A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller, in 2014, Sloane works against and even briefly in collaboration with Kanan Jarrus when the former Jedi comes out of hiding to fight Imperial injustice. In Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, after being the senior naval officer to survive the Battle of Endor, she allies with Gallius Rax in building up the Empire in order to keep fighting the Rebels. After disagreeing with his overall leadership (and having him use her aide to assassinate her), Grand Admiral Sloane and Rax turn on each other while the Imperial forces get hammered at Jakku, and she emerges to survive and withdraw as one of the leaders of the Contingency -- the beginnings of the First Order. Like Thrawn, she represents the best of the Empire -- loyal, ambitious, calculating, willing to be ruthless, but not evil or willing to squander her troops or resources. But unlike her Chiss colleague, she is able to play the political game as well.
So far, we’ve covered several bad guys (and gals) and a couple of heroes, but where’s the love for scoundrels? Marn Hierogryph aka “Gryph” is a favorite rogue to root for. This Snivvian con man is always looking for the next hustle, but ends up on the lam with his one-time pursuer, the Padawan Zayne Carrick, when the two are wrongfully framed for the murder of Zayne’s Jedi classmates, at the start of the Legends Knights of the Old Republic comic series written by John Jackson Miller for Dark Horse Comics. As a smooth liar and self-proclaimed mastermind, Gryph uses his illicit skill set to help Carrick and their friends survive being hunted by Jedi, getting caught up in the Mandalorian Wars, and more harrowing adventures. As the smart mouth of the team, Gryph adds a little levity when things get serious, and is quick to complain when notoriety goes from getting respect to getting shot at.
Readers first got to know Legends character Tenel Ka as a red-haired teenager -- best friend and humorless classmate at Luke Skywalker’s Jedi academy to Jacen and Jaina Solo, and Lowbacca in the Young Jedi Knights series of junior novels by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, published from 1995 to 1998. While she was heir to the Hapan throne through her father’s side, she was more comfortable in her mother’s culture of Dathomiran light side witches, and even made her lightsaber hilt from a rancor’s tooth. While a lightsaber mishap left her with one arm, she was still a warrior and Jedi to be reckoned with as the teens battled new threats to the galaxy. Later, during the events of the New Jedi Order series, Tenel Ka fought on a key strike mission against the Yuuzhan Vong, and later was selected as the Hapan Queen Mother. With a rebuilt Hapan fleet under her command, she became a key member of the Galactic Alliance. After the Vong were defeated, she and Jacen Solo secretly had a baby girl, Allana, and she left the Jedi Order to rule Hapes. Tenel Ka’s love for Jacen turned to loathing as he slipped into the dark side and turned against and her and their child in the Fate of the Jedi series.
On their own, B1 battle droids aren’t very scary -- but when a young Temmin Wexley builds his own droid bodyguard and friend out of a junked battle droid, the result is Mister Bones, a lethal protector with a vibroblade arm. Programmed with multiple martial arts styles and a warped sensibility, Bones would often hum or sing while rampaging through foes, or as he calls it, “committing violence.” A key member of the team in the Aftermath trilogy by Chuck Wendig, Mister Bones was obedient and loyal to his maker, and even a little affectionate to Temmin and his mother, Norra. Able to repair himself and upgraded several times after losing limbs in battle, Bones is a formidable fighter, but it is the combination of his almost childlike comic view of the world and his penchant for dealing death that made him a fan favorite.
Emperor’s Hand. Smuggler. Jedi. Love of Luke Skywalker. All-around badass. Fan-favorite Mara Jade has been all these things in her life, and cemented her place in Star Wars Legends as a main character on par with Luke, Leia, and Han. When she was first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in 1991, she had already restarted her life after Endor from being a secret agent and assassin reporting directly to the Emperor via the Force to rising to second in command of Talon Karrde’s smuggling organization. Mara Jade continued to appear in novels, starred in her own comic mini-series, Mara Jade: By The Emperor’s Hand (by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, with art by the late Carlos Ezquerra), and eventually grew closer to the one she once was compelled to kill -- the Jedi who saw past her background and helped her heal, Luke Skywalker. They eventually married (in the Star Wars: Union comic by Stackpole and artists Robert Teranishi and Christopher Chuckry) and she became a full Jedi, taking Jaina Solo as an apprentice before she and Luke had a son, Ben Skywalker, during the New Jedi Order series, before falling to the Sith Lord Darth Caedus, her own nephew, in the Fate of the Jedi series in 2007. Just how popular is Mara Jade? When Star Wars Insider magazine ran a poll of favorite characters in 1997, Mara Jade was the only non-movie character to make the list. She has appeared in numerous video games, and her red-haired green-eyed likeness has graced several action figures, gaming miniatures, and more, often portrayed by model Shannon McRandle.
James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.
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