Greetings sentients, and welcome to The Sarlacc Pit! This week’s discussion will be all about everyone’s favorite tyrannical Imperial governor: Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. A lot of this content will come from the novel Star Wars: Tarkin, as well as “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Star Wars: Rebels,” and of course “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” There will be spoilers, so as always, read at your own risk!
“It’ll look even better with blood on it.” – Jova Tarkin, Star Wars: Tarkin
Wilhuff Tarkin was a human male born on the planet Eriadu, located in the Seswenna Sector of the Outer Rim. Eriadu had been, as was the case with most Outer Rim planets, untamed wilderness with violent predators and the occasional pirate or marauder group. That was until the Tarkin family had settled on the planet, helping to tame the wilderness and form a militia for protection against pirates and marauders over a millennium before Wilhuff was born. By the time Wilhuff came around the Tarkin family were very wealthy and essentially ran the affairs of the entire planet. However, the authority and wealth bestowed on the family did not make them soft, as all members were required to go through wilderness and survival training beginning at a young age. Those who did not succeed in this early training did not come out of it alive.
As was tradition, Wilhuff began this survival training at an early age. His uncle, Jova Tarkin, along with a couple other relatives and two Rodian guides led Tarkin out to the Carrion Plateau, a stretch of land that remained untouched wilderness for use by the Tarkin family only. During their time on the Plateau, Wilhuff was taught survival lessons. How to track and hunt animals, how to use a blaster or vibroknife, how to survive with the bare minimum of tools, how to outsmart predators and prey. These lessons stuck with Wilhuff throughout his life.
This training culminated when Wilhuff turned 16. Jova and the group that normally led Tarkin through the Carrion Plateau left Wilhuff at the Carrion Spike, a large rock formation in the middle of the Carrion Plateau that was occupied by a particularly violent breed of veermok (a monkey-like creature). Wilhuff was left there alone and weaponless will the goal of survival. While it can be assumed that the Tarkins who had passed this test before had done so through the use of makeshift tools or strength, Wilhuff used the most dangerous weapon he possessed: his mind. Wilhuff, through prior reconnaissance of the Carrion Spike, had singled out a group of veermoks who were low in the social hierarchy. Wilhuff spent time with these low-standing veermoks, befriending them and gaining their trust. During his test on the Spike, these low-standing veermoks turned on the head of the veermok group, killing him and thus gaining control of the Carrion Spike veermoks. Wilhuff then walked up to the newly made alpha veermok, unbothered as he had gained the animal’s trust, and killed him with a rock. The veermoks, leaderless, dispersed, never to return to the Carrion Spike. Which ultimately, was kind of a jerk move on Wilhuff’s part as it completely ruined the family tradition for later generations.
Early Military Career
After his lessons on the Carrion Plateau, Tarkin began training in space combat. He eventually joined the Outlands Region Security Force, which had the job of protecting the Greater Seswenna Sector. Tarkin made a name for himself here for his brilliant, and brutal, tactics. This was particularly shown when he destroyed the pirate group, Q’anah’s Marauders, by decoding their leader’s method of attacking cargo freighters and sending their leader’s ship into a nearby sun. In order to make an example of Q’anah, Tarkin broadcast the suffering of the ship’s crew and destroyed any ship that attempt to rescue them. This was all before the age of 19.
Eventually, Tarkin met Sheev Palpatine, senator of Naboo, during training at the Sullust Sector Spacefarers Academy. Palpatine, recognizing Tarkin’s cunning and brutality as a potential future asset, attempted to persuade Tarkin to enter politics. Tarkin declined, instead using Palpatine’s favor to grant him entrance into the Republic’s Judicial Academy.
At the Judicial Academy, Tarkin had a difficult time fitting in due to the differences in the culture he grew up in and the culture of the Core Worlds. This went on until he was assigned to a mission alongside a group of Jedi. The Jedi and Tarkin’s team split up, but when Tarkin’s commanding officer refused to follow the Jedi’s orders, the team found themselves in over their heads in the deep jungles of Halcyon. Tarkin led his team through the wilderness safely with the training he gained on the Carrion Plateau. When Tarkin and his team returned, those that witnessed Tarkin’s exploits that day spread stories about him and his notoriety grew. About this time Tarkin began to take an interest in politics, determining that success can come from both military and political actions.
The Clone Wars
“The Jedi Code prevents them from going far enough to achieve victory, to do whatever it takes to win, the very reason peacekeepers should not be leading a war.” -Wilhuff Tarkin, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
Tarkin remained a friend and supporter of Palpatine’s and joined the Grand Army of the Republic (yes, non-clones could join the Grand Army of the Republic), gaining early note after spearheading the assault against Separatist forces on Murkhana.
On one mission, Tarkin served under Jedi Master Even Piell as the captain of the Jedi’s flagship. The two were captured on a mission to secure an important hyperspace route. Both Piell and Tarkin were able to memorize half the information pertinent to the route navigation before being taken to the Citadel, a highly fortified Separatist prison designed to hold Jedi. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Ahsoka Tano were assigned to their rescue, along with the 501st Clone Squadron.
During their rescue, Tarkin and Anakin spoke a lot about the Jedi’s involvement in the Clone Wars, both agreeing that the Jedi should not be leading the war effort, and that their code does not allow the Jedi to go as far as needed. Anakin gained Tarkin’s respect, as Tarkin saw that Anakin had a mind for military operations, and despite being a Jedi, was willing to do whatever it took to achieve his goals. Master Piell died during the escape attempt, but passed on the information he held to Ahsoka. Once the group had returned to Coruscant, Ahsoka insisted they give the information to the Jedi High Council. Tarkin, on the other hand insisted on taking his piece of the information directly to Chancellor Palpatine.
In a later mission, Tarkin once again expressed disdain at the Jedi’s inability to properly handle leading a military after a squadron of droids (D-Squadron led by Colonel Meebur Gascon) just narrowly prevented a meeting of Republic officials and Jedi from being bombed. Although no one was killed, Tarkin sent note to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine stating that the Jedi had failed to prevent the attack, and should be removed from their military role.
While Anakin and Tarkin had originally gotten off to a good start, Their relationship soured after Tarkin served as the prosecutor against Ahsoka Tano when she was framed for bombing the Jedi Order. While Ahsoka’s innocence was eventually proved, this caused her to leave the Jedi Order, and caused tensions between Anakin and Tarkin.
The Rise of the Empire and the Title of Grand Moff
At the end of the Clone Wars, when the Republic died off and the Empire rose from its ashes, Tarkin was put in charge of making an example of Antar 4, which had sided with the Separatists. Tarkin carried out mass executions, arrests, and massacres, and did not worry about separating the Separatists from Republic loyalists. After this mission he was sent to the Western Reaches (possible Jakku connection?) before being given the command over the construction of the Death Star (which Tarkin knew started as a Separatist project) at Sentinel Base and the title of Moff.
During these early days Palpatine attempted to facilitate a working relationship between Darth Vader and Tarkin, however between Vader’s distrust of Tarkin after Ahsoka’s trial and Tarkin’s distrust of Vader (whom he suspected was Anakin Skywalker) for being a Force user, a relationship did not come easily. However, after working together to crush a terrorist group who stole Tarkin’s ship (the Carrion Spike) and attacked several Imperial bases, the two built up common respect for each other. Furthermore, after this incident Tarkin was given the title of Grand Moff, the first time this title was given, and the authority over several galactic sectors and their governments.
Tarkin used this authority to squeeze as many resources out of the planets within his grasp as possible, often evicting people off their land for Imperial use (many of the people evicted in this way created shanty towns named “Tarkintowns”). Tarkin also worked in the Outer Rim around Lothal to brutally crush any cells of rebels, attempting to crush any whisper of full fledged rebellion before it began. He was able to capture the Jedi Kanan Jarrus, though Jarrus was able to escape with the help of the crew of the Ghost, an early rebel cell.
Tarkin continued to work towards completing the Death Star, as well as crushing early rebels alongside the Inquisitorius throughout these early years of the Empire.
The Death Star’s Completion, and Tarkin’s Death
“Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?” – Grand Moff Tarkin, “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”
Nineteen years after the rise of the Empire, the Alliance to Restore the Republic (or the Rebel Alliance) was able to steal the plans to the Death Star (the specifics of how we will see in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”). While they were little concerned about the damage that could be done by the rebels, Tarkin and Darth Vader teamed up to track the plans down, capturing Princess Leia Organa aboard the Alderaanian Tantive IV.
Vader led the torture and interrogation of Leia (father of the year right here) but the Princess proved to be resistant to the mind probe of the interrogation droid. During this time the Death Star became fully operational. Tarkin commanded the Death Star to be moved to Alderaan, where he told Leia she had a choice: divulge the location of the rebel base, or have her homeworld destroy. Leia complied, telling Tarkin that the base was on Dantooine. Tarkin, as cunning and brutal as ever, destroyed Alderaan anyways.
Soon after the destruction of Alderaan, the Millennium Falcon, carrying Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a couple of rebel droids arrived on their way to deliver the Death Star plans to the rebels. They were able to break out Princess Leia from her captivity and escape, though not without losing Kenobi to his former apprentice, and having a tracking beacon placed on the Falcon.
Following the homing beacon, Tarkin led the Death Star to the real rebel base on Yavin 4, aiming the superlaser at the planet. However, as the superlaser powered up after its earlier use on Alderaan, the Rebels were given enough time for a counterattack. Using the stolen plans from the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance was able to exploit a flaw in the design, and after a new pilot landed a one in a million shot into an exhaust port the space station was destroyed, taking Wilhuff Tarkin down with it.
While he was a short-lived character in the movies, Wilhuff Tarkin has a backsory littered with the bodies of his enemies. He lived a life that left a trail of blood wherever he went, truly earning the title of Grand Moff of the Empire. Almost just as feared as Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, without needing to rely on mystical powers. Decades after his death, Tarkin was revered by the First Order, who placed the name “Tarkin” on the armband for the rank of Major.
Tarkin’s backstory, told in the novel Star Wars: Tarkin, was one of the main reasons I became so interested in Star Wars extended canon. Here is a character who, in the grand scheme of things, had very little impact in the Star Wars franchise. However, his backstory and history of ruthless victories really fleshes out the character we see in “A New Hope.” Star Wars has some of the best villains and Tarkin earns his place near the top of the list.
Next week I am going to do something a little different than usual. As we continue to see more about “Rogue One” and the Han Solo movie, there is a lot of talk about what other Star Wars stories we might see come out on the big screen alongside the new trilogy. One big rumor is about whether or not Ewan McGregor might reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a standalone movie. So next week I am going to discuss why an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie would be an awesome idea! Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!