by Ryan Reynolds
So by now, the lothcat’s out of the bag. Rogue One features not just a digital recreation of the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, but a resurrection of the character, effectively employing him as the primary villain of the film.
There’s been a clash between fandom. Is the CGI good? Should they have recast? The Trebel Bass will discuss the dilemma fans face over digital CGI character recreation in our upcoming first episode, but for this writing I’d like to ignore execution – both its flaws and achievements – and simply gush a bit about how FREAKING AWESOME it is to have a so much of the character in the film. Odds are, we probably won’t see him again outside of the remaining seasons of Star Wars: Rebels, the animated TV show on DisneyXD that has been using our grand Wilhuff in limited appearances since season 1.
While we now revel in his disconcerting presence on our 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th,… etc. viewings of Rogue One and the remaining episodes of Rebels, I wanted to point to a few more places we can all go to get our Tarkin fix. So hop on board our metaphorical Lambda Class Shuttle for a one way trip to Tarkintown!
Just kidding. No one wants to go to Tarkintown. Especially after it was burned to a crisp in Rebels season 1 after the rebels provided humanitarian aid to it.
But if we can’t go to Tarkintown, let’s start at the first chronological film appearance of Wilhuff Tarkin, regional Governor of the Outer Rim. Remember at the end of Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine reveals to Darth Vader his secret construction project? You may have been distracted by the gigantic half built death ball in the sky, but why don’t you take a closer look at who meets them on the bridge!
Unfortunately, this is the only time we see Tarkin in the prequels. And it’s brief. So brief. Painfully brief. BUT – nowadays, we have the added context of the The Clone Wars animated TV show, which ran on Cartoon Network/Netflix from 2008-2014. The show did some terrific things in exploring the early relationship between Tarkin and Anakin. Watch the following clip – which takes place sometime before the Revenge of the Sith clip – and just try to tell me you aren’t reading something new into the awkwardness of Tarkin and the mindset of Vader in that brief cameo.
In fact, Tarkin’s relationship with Anakin is further explored in James Luceno’s aptly titled novel, Tarkin. In this book, we have access to Tarkin’s train of thought from the 3rd person omniscient perspective, and we learn that he has some suspicions as to who poor the soul is under that imposing black armor. Hint: The lightsaber ability was a pretty big clue for Wilhuff, and I’m glad that Rogue One showed Vader absolutely DESTROYING with his lightsaber. It helps reinforce that it truly is Anakin in the suit during the OT, and also helps solidify that particular sticking point in the novel. Tarkin also muses that he hopes he and Vader/Anakin have earned each other’s trust and respect over the years… sounds familiar, eh? For now, Tarkin is the most instrumental resource for learning more about the man. It delves into the Grand Moff’s history: his time growing up on Eriadu, his recruitment and ascent through the Republic and Imperial war machines, and his relationships with several key characters.
We have another appearance for Tarkin in Claudia Gray’s sensational novel, Lost Stars. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s basically a Star Wars take on the Romeo and Juliet premise – lovers on two competing sides of a conflict – and Tarkin is the figure that basically sets the story into motion. The book gives a glimpse at the strategy Tarkin employs in his everyday thought process, and it also provides a strong depiction of the Empire’s recruiting of planets in the Outer Rim Territories.
Finally, we arrive at Tarkin’s original appearance in A New Hope. Perhaps the most defining moment for the character: as Vader force chokes the life out of Admiral Motti, Tarkin intervenes, “Enough of this. Vader, release him.”
When an unexpectedly submissive Vader does so, you KNOW that TARKIN IS A BOSS. One of the absolute best things that Rogue One does is earning that moment for Tarkin. After we see him orchestrate situations, manipulate characters, and ultimately commandeer THE DEATH STAR over the course of the film, the scene above is absolutely stuffed with context now. We understand why Vader defers.
Moving forward, it’s difficult to say if we will have any more significant presentations of Wilhuff Tarkin. I expect him to show up for a few more occasions on Rebels, but the show is rightly being selective of those opportunities, careful to avoid overuse. At the same time, the period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope has largely been explored with books and comics. With the time leap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens providing many opportunities for stories surrounding the events of the future and many of the new characters, combined with general fan apprehension of prequel-era storytelling, I can’t foresee too many more stories of the pre-Battle of Yavin era that could meaningfully involve Tarkin. And you know what? If Rogue One – a film that not only gives us some badass Tarkin-time, but also deepens his appearances everywhere else – is the last we get of the Grand Moff, I’m totally fine with that.