Phil explores the villains of the Star Wars franchise and reveals why Governor Tarkin is the most heinous of them all…
The Star Wars franchise has some of the most colourful and evil villains in cinematic history. The concept of the Hollywood villain was redefined throughout the original trilogy with icons like Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine who encapsulated the very essence of evil by manipulating and murdering their way through the saga. More recently, new characters like General Grievous, Count Dooku, Director Krennic, Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke have added their names to the list of notorious Star Wars evildoers but, are they truly the most villainous antagonists in the saga?
Emperor Palpatine is the obvious choice for the overall villain of the saga. From his original debut in The Empire Strikes Back, we were introduced to the silhouette of a quintessential villain, a being more dreaded than Darth Vader himself. Until that point, the benchmark for immorality was set by Vader, but with his introduction, we were presented with an individual far more menacing and from that point his presence loomed over the events of the trilogy like an axe waiting to fall.
His presence would be felt once again during the prequel trilogy in the guise of his Darth Sidious persona. Throughout the trilogy, Palpatine manoeuvred himself into a position of supreme power and systematically eliminated every threat to his reign; and in doing so manipulated many of the greatest of Jedi Masters of all time. The ramifications of Palpatine’s reign of terror would be felt throughout the events of the original six episodes and would directly influence many of the villains of future instalments. Truly, a franchise-defining legacy.
Darth Vader, on the other hand, is a far more complex individual. Despite being presented as the villain of Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, his overall redemption in the finale of Return of the Jedi reminded us that Anakin Skywalker’s character was devoted to the light until the moment of his tragic fall from grace. Ultimately, his decision to be consumed by the dark side of the force was propagated from his desire to keep his loved ones safe from harm, an act of a good and just hero. Not the motives of a true villain. Therefore, Vader can never be compared to Palpatine. Whereas Palpatine was pure evil, Anakin Skywalker’s legacy remains that of a fallen hero redeemed by his decision to save his son from his evil master.
Focussing on the secondary villains of the saga reveals them to be nowhere near the paradigm set by Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Most of them can be categorised by their remorseless and often foolhardy quest for power. Count Dooku and Darth Maul, though utterly sinister by nature were swept up in Sidious’ quest for galactic domination. Dooku would ultimately become little more than a pawn of Palpatine’s game, whereas Maul would go on to carve out a niche for himself in the criminal underworld governed by his quest for revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi. Maul’s sadistic quest for vengeance would claim many lives.
Through her association with Kenobi, Duchess Satine was mercilessly executed by Maul as punishment for Kenobi’s continued resistance, however, the Republic’s invasion of Mandalore curtailed any plans of planetary subjugation. Instead, Maul fought to free himself from Darth Sidious’ grip and found refuge amongst his criminal cohorts which resulted in the formation of the notorious Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Despite his overwhelming success in the seedy underbelly of the criminal underworld, the curse of Kenobi would once again rear its ugly head, but this time his quest for vengeance would prove to be his final act amongst the sand dunes of Tatooine.
General Grievous was a feared warrior on his homeworld of Kalee. Much in the same vein as the alien hunter from the Predator movies, Grievous committed himself to become the greatest warrior in the galaxy and routinely submitted to medical procedures to enhance his abilities. This surgical addiction drove him to undergo the procedure to become the cyborg we know and love from Revenge of the Sith, but his commitment to Darth Sidious’ plans would see his quest for power end at the hands of his long-time adversary Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Focussing on Rogue One, and Director Krennic was neither bad or maniacal. Krennic’s persona was that of a career-minded sociopath eager to move up the ranks of the Empire by any means necessary. Throughout the events of Rogue One, not only is Krennic desperate to remain in command of the Death Star project, but he seeks constant recognition from both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine for his accomplishments. His overstated enthusiasm was punished by Vader’s force choke and his relentless quest for power was ultimately curtailed by a blast from his own creation.
Until Star Wars: Episode IX is unleashed upon the world this coming December, the real intentions of Supreme Leader Snoke and his treacherous disciple Kylo Ren/Ben Solo will remain unclear. With so many blank spaces yet to be filled, their involvement in the league of villains should be withheld until the circle is complete and the full picture reveals their true place in the Star Wars universe.
With the temporary expulsion of Snoke and Kylo Ren taken into consideration, attention now turns to who I believe is the most understated villain of the Star Wars franchise. His rise to power was instigated during The Clone Wars and his lasting legacy would be one of maniacal cruelty, mercilessness, and galactic domination.
Governor Wilhuff Tarkin.
Throughout the events of A New Hope, Governor Tarkin was the supreme antagonist. Darth Vader’s screen presence assured a legacy of fear and terror amongst the fanbase, but Tarkin was nothing short of a genocidal madman bestowed with the power to destroy entire planets. Despite Emperor Palpatine being the supreme commander of the Empire, Tarkin was entrusted with the authority to drug and interrogate Princess Leia Organa, sign the order to terminate her life and even sanctioned the death of billions of innocent souls when he ordered the annihilation of her homeworld.
Not only was Leia Organa of royal lineage, she was an intricate member of the Imperial Senate, but despite the prestige attached to her name and title, Tarkin was merciless in his decree to have her executed. And all this was undertaken without seeking ratification from the Emperor. With the chain of command falling firmly in his favour, even Darth Vader deferred to his authority and stood by as Tarkin upheld the Emperor’s galactic oppression with an iron Death Star-shaped fist.
He was resolute in his quest to annihilate the Rebellion, and when their tracking of the Millennium Falcon revealed the location of the hidden rebel base, Tarkin was merciless in authorising the Death Star’s obliteration the entire planet and the countless innocent civilians living upon it. Sadly, the destruction of the Death Star brought his reign of terror to an end, and yet one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had survived. Dare we imagine a version of The Empire Strikes Back where Vader was seeking reunification with his son at a time when Tarkin was committed to exacting his revenge on Luke Skywalker and his struggling band of rebels.
Throughout his involvement in Star Wars: Rebels, Tarkin was remorseless in his quest to quash the resistance from the residents of the Lothal system, but it was amidst the events of Gareth Edwards’ sublime Rogue One: A Star Wars Story where the ruthlessness was demonstrated once again. Not only did he authorise an immediate test of the Death Star’s superweapon on the moon of Jedha, but it was Tarkin who orchestrated the downfall of Director Krennic. Not only did Tarkin take pleasure in superseding Krennic as commander of the Death Star, but he went as far as to use the weapon to obliterate him and Empire’s vast facility on Scarif.
Krennic was hardly a threat to his supremacy, but the slightest hint of insurrection was enough to call his loyalty into question and Tarkin took pleasure in eliminating his competition. But, to do so in such emphatic fashion demonstrated the length he was prepared to go to preserve his status in the Empire.
Even though Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are the obvious choices for the supreme villain of the Star Wars saga, I submit that Governor Tarkin is the rightful owner of the title. With his sheer ruthlessness and overriding remorselessness, his evil nature overrides that of even Emperor Palpatine himself. As Supreme Chancellor of the Senate, Palpatine was governed by a set of rules which forced him to communicate his will via various accepted channels. With the Imperial Senate being dissolved halfway through the events of A New Hope, Palpatine removed the last obstacle to his oppression and in doing so gave himself free rein to condone the construction of the dreaded Death Star.
However, whilst Palpatine was navigating the political minefield on Coruscant, Tarkin was already operating outside of the laws of the Imperial Senate and conducting tests of the Death Star’s fearsome superweapon. Tarkin was given free rein to use the Death Star as he pleased, and the results were planetary genocide and mass murder. Palpatine, on the other hand, sought to enslave the galaxy and make it bow to his will. His rule was based on oppression and subjugation. Tarkin’s rule was governed by some of the most heinous crimes in the galaxy.
It is these elements that make Tarkin so fascinating. And for me, he has earned the right to call himself the ultimate villain of the galaxy far, far away…
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