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Warning: The following falls into the realm of rumor and speculation, but if you want to avoid any and all potential SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode IX, you should take your pod and race out of here!
Fandom is the path to dark side... of rampant speculation. Fandom leads to speculation. Speculation leads to theorizing. Theorizing leads to rumors. And there is perhaps no greater fandom in terms of pure passion than that of Star Wars. That fandom currently has its sights set on the critically important end of the Skywalker Saga, J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode IX.
The next Star Wars film is shrouded in intense secrecy; information is scarce and we have very little confirmed to go on. But the rumor mill requires very little coaxium to fuel it and thus there are enough rumors to give Star Wars fans plenty to think about as we await the first trailer. So reach down and grab a handful of salt from the surface of Crait as we speculate about one of those rumors.
This rumor is a particularly fun one and its unlikelihood is matched only by how massive it would be if it actually came to pass. According to the rumor, director J.J. Abrams and casting director Nina Gold were looking for an actress between 40 and 50 to play one of the leads in Episode IX. That is interesting as any new casting is, but not especially so.
However, the character was supposedly identified as "Mara." That name holds a ton of meaning for Star Wars fans because it is also the name of the former Expanded Universe and current Legends character Mara Jade. Naturally, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, this bit of possible info led to the inevitable assumption that Mara Jade will make her canon debut in Star Wars: Episode IX.
Before we get into what that would mean and how likely it is to actually happen, let's first do a refresher on who Mara Jade is, because her story directly impacts how well she would fit in to the existing sequel trilogy.
Mara Jade was first introduced in 1991 in Timothy Zahn's Expanded Universe novel Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, which took place five years after the Return of the Jedi. We first meet her as a smuggler working under Talon Karrde on the planet Myrkr but eventually learn that she was once an agent of Emperor Palpatine. As the "Emperor's Hand," using her advanced skills and Force powers, she carried out his will, assassinating targets of both Imperial and Rebel persuasions.
After the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Palpatine, Mara Jade was determined to avenge her master, motivated in part by a final telepathic command sent to her by the Dark Lord of the Sith to kill Luke Skywalker. Luke helped break the Emperor's hold on her and over the books and years the two grew closer and eventually married and had a son, Ben Skywalker. Luke trained Mara to become a Jedi Master before her death at the hands of her nephew, Jacen Solo, who had fallen to the Dark Side.
Alongside Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade Skywalker is one of the most popular Legends characters thanks to her compelling arc, sarcastic manner and the fact that she is a total badass. She is one of the things fans most lament about the EU being stricken from canon. So, what does this rumor and what we know about Mara Jade say about her chances of becoming canon in Episode IX?
First, it should be said that one the whole, this rumor is pretty thin. It is a conclusion drawn from a casting rumor. "Mara" could simply be a codename given to the character for the purposes of casting and auditions so as not to give away her real name. To that end "Mara" could have been chosen specifically as a fun nod to the Expanded Universe with perhaps the knowledge that if the name leaked, there would be a feeding frenzy among Star Wars fans.
The most likely reality, if the casting rumor is true, is that "Mara" is just a placeholder name that means nothing and Mara Jade will not be in the movie.
And yet, a few months after this rumor broke, actress Keri Russell was cast in the film in a mysterious role. Given the actress's age, she would seem likely to have gotten the rumored "Mara" role. The casting news provided no details about her character, but the role is said to call for "action-heavy fight scenes." That would certainly apply if she were playing Mara Jade.
The question is, how could Mara Jade possibly fit into the sequel trilogy given its diversions from the Expanded Universe? With Luke dead, her story as we know it would have to take place primarily in flashbacks before possibly jumping to the present. We've speculated about Star Wars: Episode IX possibly featuring an ultra-powerful Luke Skywalker, which would presumably be via flashbacks, so that would provide an opportunity for us to discover that the Jedi Master did find love.
Maybe Kylo Ren killed or kills Mara Jade just like his Legends counterpart Jacen Solo did. I think there is enough wiggle room in this sequel trilogy for Luke to have found love with Mara Jade and us not to have heard about it in the first two films. After all, there were 30 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Luke wasn't just living that lonely hermit lifestyle on Ahch-To or running his Jedi temple all that time.
The thing is, the focus of Episode IX needs to be closing out this Saga, so focusing too much on the past with Luke seems unlikely just from a storytelling perspective. If this were a limited series set post-Return of the Jedi featuring Sebastian Stan as Luke, I could see a real Mara Jade story.
But as things stand it would seem difficult to achieve and given how different the sequel trilogy is from Legends, the Mara Jade that would be in Episode IX would have to have an extremely different story arc and she might be unrecognizable from the Mara Star Wars fans have longed to see on the big screen.
Still though, there is precedent for taking a popular Expanded Universe character and bringing him into the fold of the new canon. Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was also introduced in Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire made the jump to the current canon in the Star Wars Rebels animated series. His story was very different and took place at a different time, but he was still the same character from the EU novels. So the powers that be aren't opposed to bringing these characters back.
Therefore Mara Jade could show up in Star Wars: Episode IX with a completely different story, but still be recognizable as Mara Jade. Perhaps instead of being a former agent of Darth Sidious she could be Snoke's other apprentice before Kylo Ren. There are ways that her story could be made to work that would be true to the character while fitting in to an Episode IX story. But as this is the last film in the Saga, making it work while closing all the other narrative threads would probably be a herculean task.
Another possibility is that the character named "Mara" in the casting rumor is not the actual Mara Jade from the Expanded Universe, but a Mara-esque character. A woman who is a badass and has traits that make her similar to Mara Jade, and is perhaps inspired by the Legends character, but is an all-new creation for Star Wars: Episode IX. Next to this rumor being completely false or nothing more than an audition name, this to me seems the likeliest option.
So what do you think? Will Mara Jade at last make her canon debut in Episode IX or is this rumor just making a mountain out of a molehill? And do you even want to see her? Let us know below.
Star Wars: Episode IX blasts into theaters on December 20, 2019. For all of next year's biggest movies, check out our 2019 Release Schedule.