It’s another edition of our regular Character Corner series; this time we’re looking at a character that was in both the original trilogy and the prequels, but only one of each: Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. From a Republic naval officer to the head of the Death Star, this character has run the gamut of command.
Born to a wealthy family in the outer rim, Wilhuff Tarkin joined his family with great ambition and entered a military academy, going along with the Tarkin military tradition. While in attendance, Tarkin proved himself a talent in multiple studies, but began to see the Republic as a decaying institution. In 33 BBY, Tarkin left the military to pursue a political career in his home system. He became acquainted with Naboo Senator Palpatine, and became a driving force of his planet. When Palpatine became Chancellor in 32 BBY, Tarkin aligned himself accordingly, feeling a political shift.
In 29 BBY, Tarkin began a mission to find and control the planet Zonama Sekot, a partially mythical planet that can produce living starships. He contacted an old friend, a genius engineer named Raith Sienar. While conversing, Sienar showed Tarkin plans for a huge, planetary battleship, featuring a turbolaser powered by the battleship’s core. After tracking down the Zonoma Sekot, Tarkin attacked with his forces in an attempt to capture it, only to watch the planet engage massive hyperdrives and jump away. Later on Palpatine expressed great interest in the planet battleship concept.
During the Clone War, Tarkin was commissioned as an officer in the Republic Navy. He interacted with Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano on a number of occasions, and even accused Tano of sabotage at her trial. After the war ended with the attempted eradication of the Jedi, Tarkin was placed in charge of the project to build Sienar’s plans for a planet-ship, though he didn’t approve of the name, Death Star, believing it was too melodramatic. The project quickly fell behind schedule. Tarkin was a driving intellectual force behind the regime, and used his military genius and mercenary tactics to hold control of the galaxy.
Through Tarkin’s command, the Death Star neared completion. The Rebels tried their best to both capture the plans for the Death Star, and kill Tarkin, but were only successful in the former. The events of Episode IV led to Tarkin, on board the Death Star, observing the battle of Yavin as Luke Skywalker ran the battlestation’s trench and destroy it, killing him and countless others.
Played by veteran actor Peter Cushing in Episode IV and Wayne Pygram portrays young Tarkin in Episode III.
Cushing, the more famous portrayal, was extremely pleasant to his co-stars, and, during shots that wouldn’t show his feet, requested a pair of slippers to wear, which ended up being women’s slippers. These facts made it difficult for heroic characters to correctly portray animosity toward a character that, in-universe, was supposed to be a heartless monster. Tarkin was originally going to be a CGI character with old footage of Cushing, but actor Christopher Lee, a friend of the then-deceased Cushing, stood firm against it.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Character Corner. Come back next week for more fun information!