The villain of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not a new cad; you’ve seen him before. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is the first villain to launch non-episodic Star Wars films, which is fitting because he was also there in the very beginning, back in 1977 in Episode 1: A New Hope. Though overshadowed literally and figuratively in every scene by Darth Vader, Tarkin’s actions in the first Star Wars movie dwarf even Vader’s evil. Tarkin is the commanding officer of the Death Star in A New Hope, and the one who coldly gives the order to use the Empire’s super weapon to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.
A Hew Hope and Rogue One aren’t the only screen time Tarkin has beclouded. He has a non-speaking cameo in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, overseeing the equally skeletal framework of the Death Star beside Vader and the Emperor. It’s the same construction site he will oversee in Rogue One and then command in A New Hope. In the animated Clone Wars, Tarkin was a Republic captain and later admiral, serving under Jedis Even Piell and Ahsoka Tano. Continuing his aloof, ambitious Imperial march across the animated sector of the Star Wars universe as a recurring character in Star Wars Rebels, the skeletal features of A Hew Hope actor Peter Cushing are deepened and darkened into a somehow even more sinister look.
So vile is Tarkin that he’s a favorite villain of fans and authors alike. Besides his many appearances on the big and small screens, Tarkin has been featured or mentioned in more than a dozen novels, nearly every sourcebook and companion to Star Wars table-top role-playing and collectable card games, and in several video games including, Star Wars: Empire at War, Star Wars: X-Wing, LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, and even Angry Birds Star Wars in which Grand Moff Tarkin is depicted in his brown uniform with the odd addition of reddish-brown eyebrows and moustache. The novels provide the most insight into the one not-Force-sensitive man so bold as to order, and be obeyed by, Darth Vader.
In Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, a primer that recounts the events leading up to the Rogue One film, Wilhuff Takin is an ambitious Imperial officer maneuvering to be awarded command over the construction of the Emperor’s new super weapon. The story of Tarkin’s political machinations is interesting despite his single-minded goal of self-service. How he became such a magnificent sociopath in service to a regime of evil is the subject of James Luceno’s simply titled novel, Tarkin. In it, Luceno chronicles Tarkin’s early life coming from a wealthy family that had, a millennium before, helped settle and civilise the planet Eriadu. It then follows young Tarkin’s enlistment in a local military force, including his first acts of cruelty and abuse of power, through his first fateful assignment working with Jedi and then joining the Republic forces during the Clone Wars, and eventually entering politics at the behest of then-Senator Palpatine.
The no-longer-canon novel Death Star penned by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry, is a fascinating story of the construction of the Death Star, including Tarkin’s assignment to, and management of, the project. An example of Star Wars storytelling at its best, with intrigue, action, and revelations, Death Star was moved to the Legends classification to make way for new stories. Rogue One, Catalyst, and Tarkin are the new in-canon history of that period.
Prior to his cold-blooded and almost indifferent destruction of Alderaan, Tarkin’s crimes were already numerous and nefarious. Shortly after starting his military service at the age of 18 in the Outland Regional Security Force based on his home world of Eriadu, Tarkin stopped a group of pirates operating in the sector. Upon capturing the pirate leader, Tarkin sent her and her entire crew on a slow descent into the system’s sun. He ordered the comms left open and rebroadcast by the ORSF ships to the rest of the pirate fleet so that they would hear every utterance of terror and pain by the doomed ship’s crew. Years later he would employ the same tactic again. When a junior officer made a disparaging remark about Tarkin’s protégé and lover, an officer named Natasi Daala, Tarkin had the author of the denunciation ejected over a nearby planet. Encased in an environment suit with its comm channel locked open and broadcast throughout the fleet, the man floated above the planet for a full day as his orbit gradually decayed until he ultimately burned up upon entering the planet’s atmosphere.
He commanded the invasion of the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk as well as the occupation of Mon Calamari. It was during the latter he accepted as a gift, and owned as a slave, Admiral Ackbar, the red-faced Mon Calamari commander of the Battle of Endor in Episode VI: The Return of Jedi who so famously proclaimed “it’s a trap!” On the planet Ghorman, Tarkin squashed hundreds of peaceful protestors by ordering his ship landed on them. Practising his belief of quelling dissent and civil unrest with hardline, almost-terrorist violent response, Tarkin perpetrated additional massacres in the Atravis Sector against separatist and anti-Empire protestors. His policies, voiced to the Emperor in a message that advised the Emperor “rule through the fear of force rather than through force itself,” became the foundation of the Tarkin Doctrine. Tarkin earned the rank of Grand Moff after forcing an Imperial defector, Vice Admiral Dodd Rancit, to give the fire order in his own execution.
Moff, or Sector Moff, is a political rank signifying a sector governor. Under Emperor Palpatine Moffs had been assigned to oversee nearly one thousand sectors that often included multiple star systems and inhabited planets. Only a few years after the creation of the Galactic Empire, Emperor Palpatine enacted an idea proposed by Moff Tarkin, creating the higher rank of Grand Moff. Grand Moffs were governor-generals of Oversectors or Priority Sectors, areas of the galaxy where civil unrest or Rebel Alliance activities were proving too much for their Moffs to handle. Some Moffs were promoted to Grand Moff and given access to greater military and intelligence assets for governing their sectors. Other sectors were restructured, placing trouble areas under the control of newly installed Grand Moffs. Tarkin’s assignment to the Oversector Outer was such a restructuring.
From Rogue One to A New Hope, Clone Wars to Star Wars Rebels, from the Legends Death Star to Jame’s Luceno’s Tarkin, and all the appearances in comic, novels, and games, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is a character whose villainy fascinates Star Wars fans in every media, across all forty years of Star Wars.
What in the Galaxy are those Symbols?
Throughout Who in the Galaxy is That? profiles you may encounter one or more of the following symbols.
Here’s what they mean:
- Sources and media cited as canon contain information that is officially part of the Star Wars film universe, which also includes non-film media such as books, comic books, games, and more. This means the information is officially part of the history of Star Wars that appears in the films. It came from, or may appear within or influence, the events of a Star Wars film.
- Following Return of the Jedi, George Lucas stated that he would not make other Star Wars movies. He then opened Star Wars to other creators and media. Carefully overseen by Lucas’s company, Lucas Arts, hundreds of new Star Wars novels, comic books and graphic novels, video games, and television shows were created to expand the Star Wars universe and tell stories in all directions—from thousands of years before Luke Skywalker was born to thousands of years after, from filling in the histories of the greatest Star Wars legends to bringing life to every background alien in the Cantina scene. This was the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it was all canon until new Star Wars films were once again possible. Disney and Lucas Arts then found themselves penned in by the massive amount of material from other creators and projects. They simply couldn’t make Episode VII and beyond because every moment in the lives of the major characters of Han, Luke, Leia, and others had already been chronicled in the Expanded Universe, and very little of that could easily be translated to feature films easily followed by, and appealing to, the many different types of Star Wars fans who loved the Original Trilogy. As a result, a large portion of the formerly-canon Expanded Universe stories were declared non-canon, unofficial in terms of the film continuity. The stories still exist and continue to expand, but now in an alternate reality called Star Wars Legends while other new stories are created alongside them within the universe of the films.
- Though rare, you’ll see this symbol appear from time-to-time in Who in the Galaxy is That? Star Wars fans are many and varied, and they like to create their own movies, stories, comics, artwork, and more based in the Star Wars universe. Occasionally, a fan-created work is so good and becomes so popular that it gains super star status all on its own. When such rarities relate to the characters profiled in Who in the Galaxy is That?, they are identified by the Fandom-Created symbol.
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Have you ever wondered, “who in the galaxy is that?” Tell us in the comments who you’ve wondered about in the Star Wars universe of films, books, comics, games, and even toys. If you know the character’s name, tell us, but if you don’t know a name, tell us where we can find the character that has piqued your curiosity. Something like “the third bounty hunter from the left in the Star Destroyer scene in Empire Strikes Back” works quite well in directing us to who you’re thinking about. Whomever you wonder about, we might just profile in Who in the Galaxy is That?