It's too late for Star Wars to reintroduce Mara Jade - there's sadly no room left in the canon for her. The Star Wars franchise has always involved a lot more than just movies; the first tie-in novel, Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye, was published all the way back in 1978. In the 1990s, Star Wars birthed an entire Expanded Universe of such tie-ins, including the popular Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, they made the difficult decision to wipe the slate clean. While the films and TV shows remained canon, all the Expanded Universe was erased. They understood that the continuity had become absolutely labyrinthine, that the EU included content of varied quality, and that the stories locked in their plans. The EU had continued the Star Wars Saga for over a century after the destruction of the First Death Star, making the Sequel Trilogy almost impossible without doing this kind of reset. That came at the cost of popular characters like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade.
Disney may have reset the canon, but they understood that the old EU - which they dubbed "Legends" - contained a lot of cool ideas. Since then, the new Star Wars canon has incorporated a whole host of ideas from the EU; even Luke Skywalker's new Force powers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi were lifted from a now non-canon handbook, while Thrawn has made his presence felt in Star Wars Rebels. Mara Jade, however, has yet to return, despite previous rumors of a Star Wars 9 appearance, or perhaps being in The Mandalorian. Unfortunately, for all Mara Jade's popularity, it can't really happen.
Why Mara Jade Was So Important To Star Wars' Expanded Universe
The Star Wars Expanded Universe may have existed since 1978, but it wasn't until Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy that it went mainstream. Zahn's books were set several years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and they established a new status quo in which the Rebel Alliance had transformed into the New Republic, which was still in battle with an Imperial Remnant. One of the key characters was Mara Jade, a Force-sensitive assassin who had worked with the Emperor himself. She had served as the Emperor's Hand, able to hear his voice from anywhere in the galaxy, and she'd actually been sent to kill Luke Skywalker; he was her first failure, and she was devastated at the Emperor's defeat. As the trilogy progressed, Mara began to realize that she'd been brainwashed into serving the Emperor since she was just a child. In the end, she found a measure of peace in killing a Luke clone (who, hilariously, was referred to as "Luuke").
Mara Jade became one of the most popular Star Wars characters, and a symbol of the Expanded Universe. Not every writer really knew what to do with the caustic, sarcastic Force-sensitive, and as a result she had as many low points as high ones over the years; in the end, it fell to Zahn himself to draw her story to a logical climax. His Hand of Thrawn Duology saw Luke and Mara finally admit their long-hidden feelings for one another, and they married. Mara committed herself to the Jedi Order, and became one of the Star Wars novels' lead characters over the next decade or so. Thanks to her personality, powers, and importance to the story, Jade was a cornerstone of the EU for years.
Disney may have relaunched the Star Wars franchise, but they've attempted to honor the best of the old EU as much as possible. They've paid particular attention to the Thrawn Trilogy, introducing two major characters - Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Noghri assassin Rukh - in Star Wars Rebels. Zahn himself has returned, writing a new trilogy focused around the new canon version of Thrawn, and in pretty much every interview the author has been asked about Mara Jade, who remains one of the most beloved figures from Star Wars Legends.
Star Wars Canon Has Eliminated All of Mara Jade's Important Traits
The problem, though, is that the new Star Wars canon has essentially eliminated all Mara Jade's roles. The Emperor's Hands do exist, but they're no longer spies and assassins who enforce Imperial justice; instead, they appear to be governors who are responsible for policing potential hotspots. An example was Gar Saxon, Acting Governor and Lord Protector of Mandalore, who was introduced in the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comics and played a major role in Star Wars Rebels. Meanwhile, although Darth Sidious is known to have collected Force-sensitive children as per Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the new canon has established that he handed these over to Darth Vader to serve as his Inquisitors. There's simply no room for Mara Jade in the days of the Empire.
Making matters even worse, the new canon's version of Luke Skywalker is a far more isolated figure. Disney's Luke Skywalker dedicated himself completely to rebuilding the Jedi Order, and then quit the galaxy after it all went horribly wrong. There's little room in that story for romance, still less for marriage. The novelization of Star Wars: The Last Jedi featured Luke's wife as a daydream, further making it impossible for a real wife to appear. So Mara's origin doesn't fit any more, nor does her ultimate role as Luke's wife and fellow Jedi Master.
Is There a Way to Bring Mara into Canon?
All this means that Disney is in something of a bind with Mara Jade. They could always introduce a character with the same name, powerset, and even character as Mara Jade; perhaps one of the Inquisitors, a member of Luke Skywalker's ill-fated Jedi Order, or simply a smuggler with historic ties to the Empire. The problem is, though, that this would naturally be an appeal to old-school Legends fans who want to see one of their beloved heroes brought back into the Star Wars canon. And none of these rewrites would really scratch that nostalgic itch, because the Disney version of Mara Jade would need a new backstory, and she could never serve the same role as the EU's Mara. That makes it pretty unlikely that Timothy Zahn, who always loved the character he created, would ever sign up to her being adapted like this. Zahn has cautioned that he'd veto anything like that.
The sad truth is that the new Star Wars canon has developed in such a way as to make Mara Jade impossible for Lucasfilm. The studio may be picking from the best bits of the old EU, and incorporating them into the new canon, but Mara is one character who can never make the jump. She will always be a symbol of Star Wars' past, and never a part of its present.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019