It’s a name that inspired dread in rebels and freedom fighters in that beloved galaxy “far, far away.” And it’s a performance by the late Peter Cushing that left an indelible mark on the now decades-old Star Wars saga.
Cushing imbued Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin with a cold, calculated menace that allowed him to hold his own in scenes with Darth Vader himself. In fact, in that original film, it is Tarkin, not Vader, who is the true face of the Empire’s evil, and its relentless efforts to snuff out all resistance in the galaxy.
New movies, TV shows, books, comics and video games are constantly expanding the Star Wars saga into new areas and time periods (and re-examining familiar ones). Thanks to his appearances in The Clone Wars and Rebels, as well as James Luceno’s novel Tarkin, we have gradually come to learn more about the man who served as the Empire’s iron fist.
Beware spoilers for the Tarkin novel, as well as some episodes of Rebels and The Clone Wars – here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Grand Moff Tarkin.
15. Wrote a Memoir
People in that galaxy far, far away are like us, and they need entertainment just like we do. Surely someone must have written a book on how great the Emperor was. Maybe he wrote it himself. Heck, Han Solo’s life could have inspired a blockbuster series of adventure novels!
In Luceno’s novel, an offhand mention is made to a memoir that Tarkin himself wrote, albeit one that wasn’t published until after he had perished aboard the Death Star.
It’s an intriguing idea; an autobiography written by such an iconic character. From an in-universe perspective, the Empire’s most loyal citizens must have relished the chance to learn the story of Tarkin’s rise to prominence; to learn, in his own words, what made him the man he was. It was probably a bestseller too, as are many posthumously published books in our world.
Readers of Luceno’s novel learn a lot about Tarkin, too, albeit in the standard storytelling format. One wonders, though, if Disney and Lucasfilm will ever commission an actual complete version of this ‘in-universe’ Tarkin book. It wouldn’t be the first book written from a perspective within the Star Wars galaxy, and with a talented writer like Luceno holding the pen, it could be a great read.
14. Slippers On Set
Let’s step away from the character for a moment and examine the man who played him.
Cushing was an iconic actor before he ever wore an Imperial uniform, appearing in a number of classic horror films for Hammer Studios. His illustrious career spanned over 100 films, though it was Star Wars that gave him his greatest fame.
By all accounts a gentleman and completely unlike the malicious character he played, Cushing would later rave about his time on the set of Star Wars and his appreciation for the film. Ironically, Cushing’s menacing performance was counterbalanced on set by a pair of slippers. The boots provided for Cushing were uncomfortably small for his feet, and the frantic shooting schedule left no time to find a new pair. As a result, Cushing wore his comfortable slippers and he was only shot from the waist up. The audience, of course, was none the wiser, which is good; Tarkin would have had a hard time bossing Darth Vader around in his slippers!
13. Friendship With Christopher Lee
Cushing passed away in 1994, just five years before Star Wars would take over the world again with the debut of the prequel trilogy. Little did he know that one of his dearest friends, Christopher Lee, would come to play a significant role in those new films.
Having worked together on a number of Hammer films, as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles (Cushing played Sherlock Holmes while Lee was Henry Baskerville), the two became fast friends and stayed close throughout their lives.
Interestingly (and perhaps intentionally) they both played trusted advisors and servants of the Emperor who were feared throughout the galaxy for their ruthlessness and cunning. Both of their characters also met violent ends, which was certainly in keeping with their horror legacy.
Perhaps as a nod to this friendship, Luceno’s novel includes flashbacks to meetings between Tarkin and Lee’s Count Dooku. The pair enjoyed a friendly relationship, with Dooku repeatedly entreating Tarkin to side with him in the Clone Wars.
12. Expert In Deduction
It’s doubtful anyone could have ascended to the rank of Grand Moff without possessing great intelligence, and Tarkin had that in spades.
Throughout Luceno’s novel, there are numerous instances of Tarkin’s strategic genius, and he is constantly using deductive reasoning to get to the heart of whatever problem he is facing.
The novel deals with a rogue faction sowing confusion and discord in the Empire by hijacking the HoloNet and broadcasting false messages. Tarkin is one of the first targets of such a message, but he immediately recognizes it as counterfeit due to a telltale noise hidden within the transmission.
Later in the novel, he is performing an inspection of the crew serving on his ship when he identifies one of them as a spice addict based on the condition of his teeth, the discoloration of his fingers and even stains on his shoe from a hangar known to be used for spice smuggling.
11. Palpatine’s Pupil
The Emperor was a strategic genius on a level all his own, treating the galaxy like his own personal chess board and moving countless pieces into place during his decades-long rise from senator to Chancellor to Emperor, all while bringing down the Jedi Order.
One of the more important pieces in this galactic chess game was Tarkin. As a senator, Palpatine immediately identified the young Tarkin as a man to watch during his rise in the Outland Regions Security Force. Before Tarkin embarked on careers in the Judicial Department (the galaxy’s police force) and later the Republic military, Palpatine planted the seed of politics in his mind, arguing he could accomplish more for his home world of Eriadu (and the galaxy at large) from a seat of power.
Tarkin did not immediately follow Palpatine’s advice, but the two cultivated a friendship and the soon-to-be Chancellor kept an eye on the younger man’s progress. Tarkin would eventually come around to Palpatine’s way of thinking, entering politics and serving as Eriadu’s governor. While in this role, he helped Senator Palpatine block a few key initiatives of Chancellor Finis Valorum, heightening dissatisfaction with the figurehead and paving the way for Palpatine’s ascension.
10. Regional Governor of the Outer Rim
The Outer Rim Territories was a largely lawless segment of the galaxy during the time of the Old Republic, with gangsters, pirates and smugglers taking full advantage of their distance from the Galactic Core.
With Palpatine’s desire for absolute control, it’s no surprise he sought to bring the Outer Rim to heel, and the ruthless and uncompromising Tarkin was just the man for the job.
The Empire’s treatment of the Outer Rim was especially brutal. They enslaved some planets, like Ryloth, and decimated others, like Lasan. They all but wiped out the native population of Geonosis, in orbit of which the first Death Star was constructed. On other remote planets, they tested chemical weapons, and mined natural resources until none were left. Tarkin was at the forefront of all these initiatives, earning him the fearsome reputation that would define his Imperial service.
9. The Empire’s First Grand Moff
Tarkin received a number of honors during his distinguished career, none more so than being named the Empire’s first Grand Moff.
As noted earlier, Palpatine groomed Tarkin for a long time, recognizing his capabilities and preparing a role for him in his new order. But it was Tarkin’s own capabilities and accomplishments that ensured that role would be as critical as it became.
In Luceno’s novel, Tarkin unravels a plot by a disgruntled Vice Admiral who is working with a group of rebels with plans to then betray them and bring them to justice, in the hopes of gaining the Emperor’s recognition and appreciation. Thanks to the combined efforts of Tarkin and Darth Vader, the plot is discovered, the traitor executed and the rebels defeated. As a reward for his service, the Emperor creates the new title of Grand Moff and grants it to Tarkin, officially placing him in charge of the Outer Rim territories and all of the Empire’s business there.
As Grand Moff with oversight of the Outer Rim, one of Tarkin’s key responsibilities was ensuring that the Empire profited from the natural resources of the galaxy’s far-flung planets, and he approached this task with typical ruthlessness.
One of Tarkin’s key initiatives was on the planet Lothal, where the Empire seized land and resources to furnish the Imperial war machine. With the trademark efficiency of the Empire, farmers were expelled from their lands, jailed or killed if they resisted, and placed in resettlement camps. One of these camps came to be known by the derisive title of Tarkintown, a sarcastic reference to the famed Imperial governor (and itself a reference to the ‘Hooverville’ shanty towns that were widespread during the Great Depression).
On the show Rebels, the titular characters offered food and support to the residents of Tarkintown, which the Empire punished severely by destroying the camp and relocating the residents to detention facilities.
Tarkin’s home world was Eriadu, an Outer Rim planet known for its rugged landscape. Before the Tarkin name was known throughout the galaxy, it was spoken in hushed tones on Eriadu.
In the early days of the Old Republic, the new galactic government was in constant need of resources, so daring settlers set out into the void to discover and inhabit new worlds. Eriadu was one such planet, at the time an untamed wilderness. The planet was deemed valuable for its rich deposits of lommite ore, and so adventurous settlers battled back against the harsh jungle and its rabid inhabitants. Among these early settlers were Tarkin’s ancestors, who were instrumental in establishing civilization on the planet, and who would go on to be among its most powerful and influential citizens.
This had not changed by the time of Wilhuff Tarkin’s birth, and so he was raised in privilege. His family had not forgotten the lessons of the past, however, and the young Tarkin was taught to respect the planet and the work it took to establish dominance over the land.
6. Wilderness Training
Tarkin’s earliest lessons were not solely of the academic sort. Though born into privilege, Wilhuff was raised by parents who had a deep respect for the work their ancestors had done in settling the planet. They believed that one had to be fiercely protective of everything he possessed, and always be ready to fight for it.
Thus, like generations of Tarkin men before him, a young Wilhuff would spend a number of his youthful summers living in the wilderness, surviving off the land that his family had fought so hard to claim for themselves.
Learning at the feet of his Uncle Jova, who lived his whole life in the wilderness, Wilhuff learned to defend himself against predators, track and kill prey, and establish his own dominance over the land.
The lesson that Tarkin learned in the wilderness was simple; to achieve domination over a rugged planet, or an entire galaxy, you need to bring order to chaos, and establish yourself at the very top of the food chain.
5. The Clone Wars
A rising figure in the Republic military, Tarkin served with distinction during the Clone Wars, setting the stage for his prominent role in the Galactic Empire.
As seen in episodes of The Clone Wars, Tarkin and Jedi Master Even Piell were captured during the course of the war and imprisoned in the famed Citadel. Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka Tano and a host of clone troopers would be sent to rescue them. During the ensuing operation, Tarkin and the future Darth Vader worked together for the first time and developed a mutual respect, as Skywalker shared Tarkin’s disdain for certain Jedi principles that held back the war effort. Already walking a dark path, Skywalker, like Tarkin, was open to more brutal and direct methods than the Jedi Order would allow.
Tarkin’s distrust for the Jedi, Skywalker excluded, would only grow as the war raged on. He remained convinced that the Jedi, being peace keepers, were unable to properly lead a war effort, and he made his feelings on the matter known to Chancellor Palpatine.
4. Trial of Ahsoka Tano
Tarkin’s dislike for the Jedi grew later in the war when he presided over the trial of Ahsoka Tano, who was accused of organizing a bombing of the Jedi Temple that killed a number of clone troopers as well as Jedi. Tano was expelled from the Jedi Order so that she could face Republic justice, which Tarkin devoted himself to meting out.
Tano was ultimately proven to be innocent, but it was another Jedi Padawan, Barris Offee, who was revealed to be the mastermind behind the plot. Brought before Tarkin and the Senators presiding over the trial, Offee confessed to the crimes and decried the Jedi Order for abandoning its principles during the Clone Wars. Tarkin had a front row seat for the tirade, and no doubt it contributed to his growing distaste for the Jedi. Not long after, Order 66 would be enacted and the Jedi would be labelled traitors to the Empire, a pronouncement Tarkin was happy to believe.
3. Darth Vader’s True Identity
As noted, Tarkin and Anakin Skywalker worked together during the Clone Wars and developed a mutual respect, though that admiration was strained as a result of Tarkin’s role in Ahsoka’s trial. After his fateful battle with Obi-Wan on Mustafar, Anakin was consumed by the vengeful Darth Vader, and once again he and Tarkin found themselves on the same side, servants to the same master.
Obviously Vader retained the memories of his life as Anakin, so Tarkin was well known to him. At first, Tarkin had no reason to believe he had ever encountered Vader before, but in time he began to formulate theories as to just who was under the black mask.
Working in concert with Vader on a number of operations, Tarkin noted the way the Sith used his lightsaber as well as his camaraderie with the stormtroopers under his command; both reminded him of Anakin Skywalker. He also took note of certain speech patterns Vader would use, as well as the unshakable feeling that Vader recalled a previous history with Tarkin which he declined to share. Though he never shared his suspicions with Vader or the Emperor, Tarkin ultimately became fairly certain of Vader’s true identity, but to him it was largely irrelevant; whoever he once was, Vader was a servant of the Emperor, just like him.
2. The Death Star
Tarkin had a number of responsibilities in the growing Empire, but the one that was most important to him was oversight of the Death Star. Tarkin understood how critical the battle station would be to the Empire’s domination over the galaxy, and he made safeguarding its construction his top priority.
To that end, Tarkin spent a number of years overseeing Sentinel Base, which served as a base of operations while the Death Star was being constructed over nearby Geonosis. Tarkin ensured that the vast resources needed to construct the massive weapon were delivered on time, and that the countless beings working on the station’s construction were putting their best efforts forward.
Tarkin considered the Death Star to be a symbol of the Empire’s glory, and crucial in ensuring that Imperial rule would last for centuries to come. Given the extent of his role in creating the Death Star, and his fervent belief in its purpose, it’s fitting that he ultimately met his end during the station’s destruction.
1. The Tarkin Doctrine
Upon his rise to the rank of Grand Moff, Tarkin granted numerous interviews to the galactic media as he set about governing the Outer Rim Territories. In doing so he shared his personal philosophy and goals for the Empire in a speech that would become known as the Tarkin Doctrine. For those seeking to understand the Galactic Empire, the Doctrine was as revealing as anything the Emperor himself ever said.
In it, he described how selfishness and decadence had doomed the Republic, and how under the Emperor’s guidance, a new golden age was in the offing; how splitting the galaxy into sectors (each to be governed by someone like him) would create a sense of unity across the galaxy, where once there had been planets acting solely in their own interests; and how only a powerful military could ensure law and order in the new era.
More visible than the Emperor, and more human than Darth Vader, Tarkin became the voice of the Empire to many; a rallying point for those who believed in the Empire, and a hated enemy of those who fought against it.