Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars saga. In his first appearance, A New Hope, he actually commands enough respect to stop Vader from choking a fellow officer! Once Tarkin is dead, Imperial officers start dropping like flies, thanks to that darling Sith. What got him in to such a prestigious position? Well, to an extent, it depends on the canon you’re looking at. The canon reset made a lot of characters lose most of their backstory, and that is true for Tarkin, but the new canon has been incredibly kind to him, with both his own novel and a recurring role on Rebels. Tarkin’s character hasn’t undergone a drastic transformation in the new canon. In the old and the new, he rises through the ranks in service of the Republic, distinguishes himself in the Clone Wars, and then becomes a major figure in the Empire’s military. In both, he creates the Tarkin Doctrine, a guiding principle of the Galactic Empire’s policy, and is a major proponent of the Death Star as a symbol of the Empire and his own doctrine in particular. Now, the basics are the same, but there is some variation in the details (especially those surrounding the Tarkin Doctrine), so for convenience I’ll separate sources from the new canon and the EU. That said, there is one source that is relevant in both canons, and that would be The Clone Wars.
The Citadel Arc: The Citadel, Counterattack, and Citadel Rescue
The Citadel Arc is Tarkin’s first appearance in The Clone Wars, and it’s a very solid introduction. The episodes themselves are exciting, with Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan leading a jailbreak at the titular Citadel prison, but they also do a good job of establishing Tarkin’s character and relationship with Anakin. Tarkin views the Jedi methods as generally ineffectual, and notes that the Jedi code prevents them from making the hard calls that may be needed to win the war. Anakin and Tarkin create a sense of mutual respect, even friendship, between the two of them that gets further developed in later episodes. Tarkin isn’t quite the man we’ll come to see in A New Hope yet, but the seeds are clearly there.
The Ahsoka On the Run Arc: Sabotage, The Jedi Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Jedi, and The Wrong Jedi
Tarkin makes one other appearance in The Clone Wars besides this arc, but this and the Citadel arc constitute his only major appearances. In this rightfully lauded arc, Ahsoka is framed for a murder and goes on the run. When she’s brought in and stands trial, it’s Tarkin who serves as the prosecutor. It feels fitting to have Tarkin serve as a major figure of the Republic military as he does here, and while his rift with the Jedi is furthered the arc still takes time to show that he and Anakin agree on several matters. The continuation of his feud with the Jedi serves to explain his quick rise within the New Order, allowing him to easily curry favor with Palpatine.
Chronologically speaking, Tarkin’s appears earlier in James Luceno’s Cloak of Deception. However, Rogue Planet is a much more important novel for the character. It functions primarily as a prequel era tie-in to the events of the New Jedi Order series, but it does feature Tarkin in an antagonistic role. It also features Tarkin first learning of the idea that would eventually become the Death Star (the battle station was originally proposed by Raith Sienar, who, despite only physically appearing in this novel, is a major figure in the EU due to his ownership of Sienar Fleet Systems). Since the Death Star and Tarkin are as intertwined as Veers and the AT-AT, that’s kind of a big deal.
Darth Vader and the Lost Command
Taking place shortly after Revenge of the Sith, the series features Darth Vader hunting for Grand Moff Tarkin’s missing son (despite being married, Tarkin’s wife featured little in the EU. His more famous paramour will be discussed shortly). I’ll confess to never having read this series, however, I did read writer Haden Blackman’s second Vader miniseries, Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison, which was excellent. If the quality of that was any indication, this is worth a read. Tarkin actually shows up in that other collection, but from what I gather he’s far more important in this collection. Summaries for the collection describe Tarkin as Vader’s rival, and that’s very accurate to their eventual relationship. While the two had a respect for each other during the Clone Wars, and the fact that in both the new and old canons Tarkin suspected Vader’s true identity, by this point both Vader and Tarkin are vying for Palpatine’s favor. By the time of A New Hope, Palpatine favors Tarkin so strongly that Vader is willing to give deference to him. The new Marvel comics have shifted that role on to Grand General Tagge, but in the old continuity no one else gets that sort of authority.
If you’re surprised that a novel called “Death Star” wouldn’t feature Tarkin heavily, you haven’t been paying attention. About the construction and eventual destruction of the Death Star, the novel features low level contractors and troopers as well as intrigue at the highest level of Imperial command. This is the first inclusion on this list to include Natasi Daala, Tarkin’s protege and lover. She catches a lot of flak as a character, and perhaps rightfully so, but she’s nonetheless a key EU figure. She was introduced in Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy, and since I mentioned there it won’t get its own entry later (which is fair, since it doesn’t actually feature Tarkin, just the results of some of his scheming).
Death Star Technical Companion
Now, lucky you, I don’t actually advocate tracking down a copy of this 20 year old roleplaying supplement, because the only truly important thing you need to read from it is available online. It features the complete text of the Tarkin Doctrine, or at least the message to the Emperor that would form its genesis. It’s all available here, on Wookieepedia. The general gist of it? Rule through fear, not through force itself. Tarkin himself alludes to it in A New Hope.
Originally published in the 11th issue of Star Wars Tales, “The Princess Leia Diaries” feature, of course, a young Leia Organa growing up on Alderaan. It features her first meeting with Tarkin, which serves to set up the animosity between them in A New Hope rather well. It also references the Ghorman Massacre, a key event in both Tarkin’s history and the history of the Rebellion. The Massacre never actually appeared but was referenced in several different works (including the aforementioned Jedi Academy Trilogy). Essentially, peaceful protestors were staging a sit-in on the landing pad for Tarkin’s shuttle. Tarkin, with the implied consent of Palpatine, landed anyway. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people didn’t take too kindly to this, and the sparks of rebellion were fanned. Palpatine, unsurprisingly, was not one of those people, and Tarkin was promoted shortly after the incident. That wraps up the EU, which then brings us to our first entry from the new canon.
Author James Luceno is known for delving in to the histories and backgrounds of characters who had previously remained somewhat mysterious. Palpatine and Plagueis got it in Darth Plagueis, and Tarkin got it here (indeed, the book was billed as Tarkin getting “the Plagueis treatment”). Though the meat of the story takes place not too long after Revenge of the Sith, the novel features numerous flashbacks to Tarkin’s childhood and early adulthood on his homeworld. Though it has a distinct narrative arc, it also at times reads like a military biography, which I found to be a very fitting and clever construction. Featuring the new canon’s rendition of the Tarkin Doctrine, it also features Vader and Tarkin working together at length, and it’s interesting to see how the new canon handles it. It’s a great glimpse into the character, and is probably my favorite book from the new canon. If you read one thing from this spotlight, it should be this. It’s actually not too long, either (274 pages), and is pretty breezy at points as well, so it shouldn’t take too long to read, either. It’s receiving a paperback release soon, along with A New Dawn, featuring Hera and Kanan from Rebels, and several new short stories, at least one of which will star Tarkin, so that could maybe be of interest to you?
Star Wars Rebels: Call to Action, Rebel Resolve, Fire Across the Galaxy
Rebels had, in my opinion, a generally solid first season, but Tarkin’s appearance in the last three episodes really kicked things into high gear. Brought in to assist the Imperials on Lothal who had up til then had no success dealing with the Rebels, Tarkin cleans house, executing two incompetent officers, and, without getting too much in to it, immediately starts to get results. Though the Rebels emerge victorious by season’s end, it’s nice to have Tarkin be the one who finally starts getting things done. Vader’s been brought on for the upcoming season, and I’d enjoy seeing the two of them working together again (now if they’d only bring Veers on…).
-I started writing this post before it was reported, but it has since been rumored that Lucasfilm will be recreating Tarkin for Rogue One using CGI, in what is suppoesdly going to be a massively expensive endeavor. That, I think, could be pretty cool.
-Though it’s a blink and you miss it sort of thing, Tarkin is visible in Revenge of the Sith. You never get a good look at him, but actor Wayne Pygram underwent extensive makeup to get the look just right.
-Tarkin has gotten a fair bit of collectible coverage (including a very well done Gentle Giant bust), he famously never got an action figure in the original line, despite being a major villain in A New Hope. To rectify the mistake, when Kenner proposed their “The Epic Continues” extension of their Star Wars toy line in the mid eighties, they actually planned on bringing back Tarkin from the dead to lead Imperial forces. The line never came to fruition, but Tarkin got his due in 1997, 20 years after his only movie appearance.