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Villain Overview

Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
~ Grand Moff Tarkin's most famous quote.
You may fire when ready.
~ Grand Moff Tarkin ordering the firing of the Death Star's superlaser at planets.
Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!
~ Tarkin dismisses his lieutenant's plea to evacuate the Death Star, after the latter analyzed that the battle station itself does indeed have a dangerous weakness in which the Rebels attempt to exploit, ironically leading to his downfall.

Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, also referred to as Governor Tarkin or better known as Grand Moff Tarkin, is a major antagonist in the Star Wars franchise. He is the commander of the Death Star, the Galactic Empire's moon-sized battle station. 

He is the main antagonist of the first film of the original trilogy A New Hope; a cameo character in the last film of the prequel trilogy Revenge of the Sith, a recurring anti-hero in the 2008-2020 animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the titular villainous protagonist of the novel Tarkin, a major antagonist in the 2014-2018 animated TV series Star Wars Rebels, and the secondary antagonist of the 2016 stand-alone film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

He was an Imperial governor and in charge of the Imperial military battle station known as the Death Star. He acted as Darth Vader's superior and attempted to use the Death Star to destroy the Rebel Alliance and keep the galaxy in line through fear and force. He was killed by Luke Skywalker when he destroyed the Death Star while Tarkin was on it, avenging Alderaan.

Portrayals

  • He was portrayed by the late Peter Cushing in A New Hope, which also played Dr. Victor Frankenstein.
  • In Revenge of the Sith, the producers considered using CGI or existing footage to re-create Tarkin, but decided the technology was not advanced enough to make Tarkin look convincing. So instead, Tarkin was portrayed by Wayne Pygram.
  • In Rogue One, he was portrayed by Guy Henry, with CGI being used to superimpose Cushing's face over Henry.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, he was voiced by Stephen Stanton.
  • In Star Wars: Empire at Dawn, he was voiced by the late Paul Darrow.

Biography

Chronology in order:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Tarkin first met Darth Vader as his past self Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. Prior to the Empire's formation, Tarkin was an officer of the Republic Military who held the rank of Captain in the Republic Navy. He fought in the Clone Wars and was eventually captured by the Separatists along with Even Piell and other Republic Navy personnel in 20 BBY. he later took Barriss Offee into cusdy once she was responsible for the boming of the Jedi temble

Revenge of the Sith

After the Clone Wars, he is briefly seen along with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, supervising the construction of the Death Star on board of a Venator-class Star Destroyer.

Star Wars Rebels

Some years later during the era of the Empire, Tarkin became Grand Moff and traveled to the planet Lothal to find a way to hunt the rebels of the planet.

Rogue One

Tarkin in Rogue One.

Sometime later, after Imperial Director Orson Krennic has succeeded in building the Death Star, Tarkin arrived on the station to have its powers demonstrated to him. Nearing the planet Jedha, Krennic offers to use the Death Star to destroy the entire moon. However, Tarkin tells him to merely use a low-powered blast on the planet's capital Jedha City. After the Death Star used a single ignition blast to annihilate the capital and the nearby area, and impressed Tarkin reveals to Krennic that he will be taking command of the station as of now, using the security breach under Krennic's command as a pretext to remove Krennic from his position. He also tells Krennic to spread the story that Jedha City was destroyed in a mining accident, as he does not want the Senate to find out about the Death Star.

When the Imperial base on Scarif (where all information on the Death Star is stored) is attacked by rebels, Tarkin orders the jump to hyperspace, just as Rebel maverick Jyn Erso (the protagonist of the film) managed to retrieve the plans and send them to the nearby Rebel fleet before confronting Krennic. Arriving in the moment of the Rebels' moment of triumph, Tarkin activates the Death Star to destroy the Imperial base on Scarif in order to prevent any information leak, which ultimately kills all the remaining Rebels and Imperial forces (including Jyn and Krennic). Despite having destroyed the base, Tarkin is furious to hear that the plans have fallen to Rebel's hands' thanks to Jyn's efforts.

A New Hope

Shortly after the plans are sent to the rebels, Grand Moff Tarkin is determined to get them back. He appears with Darth Vader, at a meeting of the joint chiefs where General Tagge and Admiral Motti were arguing over the theft of the plans by the Rebellion. Tarkin announced to the joint chiefs that Emperor Palpatine had just dissolved the Senate and left the power to all regional governors of the systems, and that fear of the Death Star would keep the population in line.

When Vader warned the chiefs about the station's power being insignificant compared to the Force, Motti mocked Vader for his scorer’s ways. Vader responded by using the Force to choke Motti. Seeing that Vader fully intended to kill Motti, Tarkin ordered Vader to let him go, Vader did as he wished. Tarkin put an end to the pointless bickering, saying that Lord Vader would retrieve the plans and that the Death Star would crush the Rebellion.

Tarkin and Lord Vader held Leia Organa captive on board the Death Star. They attempted to interrogate her to reveal the location of the Rebel Base. After Leia told him the base was on the planet of Dantooine, Tarkin decides to destroy the princess's home planet Alderaan anyway, and then deal with her "rebel friends" later. This makes him cross the Moral Event Horizon like he's driving a spaceship into it.

After the truth is revealed that the rebel base was not at Dantooine, Tarkin planned to have Leia Organa killed. However, after the Millennium Falcon had landed on one of the Death Star bays, Vader convinced Tarkin to wait as he feels the presence of his old master Obi-Wan Kenobi. Tarkin reassures him that the Jedi are extinct, despite Vader informing that Obi-Wan and many other Jedi survived Order 66. Tarkin demands that Obi-Wan can't be allowed to escape, to which Vader assures him that Obi-Wan isn't planning to escape and that he must face him alone.

After Princess Leia is rescued by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo while Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to let them escape, Tarkin has the Death Star follow the Millennium Falcon thanks to a signal beacon planted on the Falcon before they escaped. They go to the Yavin system, where he plots with Vader the destruction of the Rebel base on Yavin 4 once in range.

During the Battle of Yavin, Chief Bast learned from his subordinates that they analyzed the attack and found there could be a danger. Bast suggested Tarkin evacuate but Tarkin refuses, confident that the Death Star will annihilate the Rebel base with success. However Bast's warning is proven correct, Luke uses the Force to guide his proton torpedoes to the exhaust port in order to destroy the Death Star, killing Tarkin and all remaining Imperial personnel on board while Vader escapes in his TIE Advanced x1 after being sent spiraling away by one his wingmen. With Tarkin's death, Alderaan was avenged.

Legacy

Following his death with the destruction of the Death Star, a large hole emerged within the Imperial High Command as Tarkin was one of many high-ranking and professional generals and officers of the Imperial Military to have perished in the space station's destruction. Tarkin's death leads to the rise of Cassio Tagge as Grand General who instituted new policies that were meant to make up for the loss of the battle station. Tagge referred to the Death Star as "Tarkin's folly" and saw to divert resources away from costly battle stations towards constructing more new capital ships. Darth Vader, who was blamed for the station's destruction, had honored Tarkin posthumously for his vision and was opposed to Tagge's policies and more practical methods.

Tarkin would be reviled by the Rebel Alliance and later the New Repulic as a vile war criminal who was one of the worst people in the Imperial regime. His actions with the destruction of Alderaan were used by the rebellion as propaganda to rally for more support and the planet's destruction unintentionally rallied more to the rebel cause. Thirty years later, the Galactic Empire was succeeded by the First Order and Tarkin would be honored as a heroic figure with his name being placed on the insignias of majors in the First Order military along with other Imperial Military leaders who were labeled heroes of the Galactic Civil War

Personality

Wilhuff Tarkin was an extremely manipulative, relentless, calculating, intense, sly, and ruthless man and was known for his sharp memory. Since he was a child, he was taught by his family that life was a constant struggle for survival and that the strong and intelligent should be in command of the weak. He never forgot a favor or a slight and he even was capable of recalling people from meetings that took place over a decade before, including he had only met them once. For example, when Cienna Ree greeted him in the Death Star, he was easily able to recognize her from the encounter he had with her when she was a child.

After Princess Leia has been captured by the Empire and has been brought onto the Death Star, Tarkin manages to convince her to tell him the location of the rebel base, threatening Leia's home planet Alderaan. However, after Leia lies to him by telling him that the base is on Dantooine, though he believes her, Tarkin activates the Death Star nonetheless under the pretext that Dantooine is too remote for an effective demonstration, destroying Alderaan and killing billions. When he becomes aware that Leia lied to him, Tarkin orders her immediate execution. He then has the Death Star take a course on Yavin 4 where he intends to wipe out the rebels once and for all.

Despite his absolutely monstrous nature, Tarkin used to have some standards back when he was younger. Though he was willing to sentence Ahsoka Tano with the death penalty if he found her guilty of the bombing at the Jedi Temple hangar, Tarkin was shown to be horrified upon realizing that Barriss Offee was the one responsible for the bombing and not Ahsoka. Likewise, when he learned that the citizens of Salient II had burnt their houses and fled the system, he expressed his hopes that they had taken their pets with them. He was also fond of his own homeworld and his uncle Jova. That said, it's unknown when and why Tarkin disposed of all his positive and redeeming qualities to turn into the genocidal monster he became in the last years of his life. Thus, one might assume that he let his thirst for power consume him completely and get in the way of the morals he once had.

Relationships

Darth Vader

Tarkin and Anakin developed a mutual respect for each other due to the fact both were hardliners, and Anakin was the only Jedi to whom Tarkin showed any form of respect, regarding them as an archaic sect whose code kept them from doing what was necessary to win the Clone Wars. This became strained after Anakin's padawan Ahsoka Tano was framed by Barriss Offee for the bombing of the Jedi Temple and murder of a conspirator in the custody of the Republic military. Anakin saw right away that Ahsoka had been framed and had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Tarkin refused to even see this and viciously and relentlessly prosecuted Ahsoka, despite the fact that the evidence against was only circumstantial.

After Anakin became Darth Vader, Tarkin was the first to meet the newborn Sith Lord. Tarkin first met Vader after the Emperor placed him in charge of the construction of the first Death Star. They began working together after some lost Jedi were traced to Kashyyyk. Tarkin urged Vader to let the Jedi land on the world so they could use their presence as a pretext to invade the planet and enslave the Wookies so they could be used to help construct the Death Star. Tarkin was impressed by Vader's leadership during the Subjugation of Kashyyyk and asked the Emperor if he could call on Vader's services when he needed them.

Although Tarkin had a good working relationship with Vader, whom he found efficient and considered an ally in the Imperial hierarchy, he was also unsettled by Vader's supernatural powers and mysterious nature and disliked it when Palpatine used Vader as a check on Tarkin himself. Although Tarkin mutually respected Vader, he secretly did not trust or personally like him, possibly because Vader relied heavily on the Force. Tarkin was one of the few people who knew that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were the same people.

Darth Sidious

Tarkin swore his loyalty to Chancellor Palpatine during the Clone Wars even going as far as to want to give important information to him after being rescued from the Citadel. After the war had ended with the execution of Order 66, the destruction of the Jedi Order, and the dissolution of the Galactic Republic, Tarkin became a high ranking officer within the newly formed Galactic Empire and was present with Sidious and Vader on a Star Destroyer along with other members of the Imperial Military. Tarkin carried out Palpatine's demands without question during the early rebellions against the Empire and later the Galactic Civil War and was in support of his policies such as the dissolution of the Imperial Senate. 

Quotes

Gentlemen. Sit. I understand you have experience dealing with these insurgents. (Aresko: Oh, yes, sir.) And your efforts have been less than successful? (Aresko: W...Well, I, uh I wouldn't say...) Commandant, if your efforts had been successful, we would not be having this little chat. Now, when was the last activity reported? (Grint: Sir, we, uh, responded personally to an attack last night in one of the outlying towns.) And the details of this attack? (Aresko: Uh, nothing of note. The insurgents stole some supplies and escaped on speeder bikes. No casualties.) Ah, but you see, Commandant, there is something of note in that report "no casualties." Your rebel cell is more principled than others. (Grint: Others, sir? You mean there are other cells?) Cells, factions, tribes Call them what you will. They lack the one thing that would make them a credible threat to the Empire unity. While your cell seems uninterested in violence, it does present a specific threat the Jedi. (Aresko: We have encountered him, sir, and he lives up to their reputation.) Oh, I doubt that very much. But I am not concerned with his skills as a warrior. I am concerned with what he represents. Or perhaps I should say, I am concerned by what you allow him to represent by failing to stop him hope. There are whispers of this alleged Jedi in the streets. In time, such whispers might spark belief in something other than the strength and security of the Empire. And that, gentlemen, is something I cannot have.
~ Tarkin's heartless nature before he executed Grint and Aresko for their repeated failure against the Lothal rebels.
Make no mistakes. From now on failure will have it's consequences.
~ Tarkin warning Agent Kallus and Maketh Tua after Aresko and Grint's execution
Your TIE Defender program is at risk. Orson Krennic has been quite persuasive about diverting the funding to his own project: Stardust. (Thrawn: The Emperor has assured me that he supports my project.) In my view, Director Krennic's project has been nothing but expenses and excuses for years on end. If construction of the Defender is to continue, you must make your case directly to the Emperor himself. I have already arranged the meeting. (Thrawn: I'll leave immediately, Moff Tarkin.)
~ Tarkin to Thrawn.
Most unfortunate about the security breach on Jedha, Director Krennic. After so many setbacks and delays, and now this. We’ve heard word of rumors circulating through the city. Apparently you’ve lost a rather talkative cargo pilot. If the Senate gets wind of our project, countless systems will flock to the Rebellion. (Orson Krennic: When the battle station is finished, Governor Tarkin, the Senate will be of little concern.) When has become now, Director Krennic. The Emperor will tolerate no further delay, you have made time an ally of the Rebellion. I suggest, we solve both problems simultaneously with an immediate test of the weapon. Failure will find you explaining why to a far less patient audience. (Orson Krennic: I will not fail.)
~ Tarkin to Krennic.
I believe I owe you an apology, Director Krennic. Your work exceeds all expectations. (Orson Krennic: And you’ll tell the Emperor as much?) I will tell him his patience with your misadventures has been rewarded with a weapon that will bring a swift end to the Rebellion. (Orson Krennic: But that was only an inkling of it’s destructive potential.) I will tell him that I will be taking control over the weapon I first spoke of years ago effective immediately. (Orson Krennic: We stand here amidst my achievement! Not yours!) I’m afraid these recent security breaches have laid bare your inadequacies as a military director. (Orson Krennic: The breaches have been filled. Jedha has been silenced.) You think this pilot acted alone? He was dispatched from the installation on Eadu. Galen Erso’s facility. (Orson Krennic: We’ll see about this.)
~ Tarkin takes control of the Death Star.

Trivia

  • Peter Cushing got along quite well with both Darth Vader's actor David Prowse and Princess Leia's actress Carrie Fisher. Fisher later said she found it difficult to act as though she hated Tarkin due to how much she liked Cushing. To do so, she had to think of another person. Mark Hamill was also a great fan of Cushing despite them not having any scenes together.
  • Tarkin was promoted as the main antagonist of Rogue One, but that role was given to Orson Krennic since he has a more prominent role in the movie and poses a more immediate threat to the film's protagonists for most of the movie. However, Krennic was as evil as Tarkin.
  • It's questionable when Tarkin crosses the Moral Event Horizon: In addition to his most notorious act of ordering the Death Star to destroy Alderaan and kill billions of innocent civilians (which in itself is enough to render him Pure Evil), he also tested the Death Star by destroying the entire city of Jedha and killing its entire population and later destroyed the entire Scarif facility, killing thousands of loyal Imperials.
  • Despite his respect for Emperor Palpatine, Tarkin does not seem to care about Palpatine's fate and is more eager to gain the Galactic Empire for himself than to serve Palpatine (In fact, Palpatine made sure to play Vader and Tarkin against each other to some degree, in order to keep either one from commandeering the Death Star and using it against him).
  • Tarkin's evil is regarded with close respect to Palpatine, and despite far smaller screentime, his destruction of Alderaan is regarded as one of the worst actions of the saga. 
  • Tarkin is easily one of the most dangerous villains in Star Wars because, despite not being as physically or mystically powerful as Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine, he has control over the first Death Star, allowing him to destroy entire planets and even the Rebel Alliance in one shot. That said, had Vader not been stationed on the battle station, Tarkin could have had the power to eliminate both Vader and the Emperor in a blink of an eye with the Death Star and take over the Empire for himself.
  • In Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas briefly considered using CGI and existing footage of Cushing to recreate Tarkin before deciding the footage wasn't good enough nor was the technology quite advanced enough yet. He instead cast a heavily made-up Wayne Pygram as Tarkin due to Pygram's strong resemblance to Cushing. In 2015, director Gareth Edwards felt the technology had advanced far enough to use CGI to superimpose Cushing's face over Tarkin actor Guy Henry's face in the film Rogue One. Cushing's family was heavily involved in the recreation of CGI Tarkin and provided input to Rogue One producers.
  • In the Legends continuity of Star Wars, Tarkin was less evil than his Canon counterpart. He loved his son Garoche and it was Garoche's death that pushed Tarkin to become a cold-hearted person. In addition, while he engaged in an affair with Natasi Daala, he felt that she was the only woman who understood him and who made him laugh. In contrast, his Canon counterpart never married and just joined the Empire for the sake of more power.
  • Tarkin is one of the few Star Wars antagonists to have killed main characters, as he is responsible for the deaths of Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, despite the fact that he is not a Sith nor a Force handler.
  • General Hux is his counterpart in the sequel trilogy. In contrast to Tarkin, however, Hux is more tragic and delusional.
  • After Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader, Tarkin suspected that Skywalker had become Vader but was never able to confirm it (even though he was right). Likewise, Tarkin suspected that Emperor Palpatine was a Sith, but was unable to confirm that as well.
  • The scene where Tarkin interrogates Princess Leia for the whereabouts of the rebel base was later parodied in the Pixar film Toy Story when Sid Phillips burns Woody's head.
  • He is often compared to Gihren Zabi from the Gundam franchise, given their shared Machiavellian tactics and usage of superweapons to crush dissent. Interestingly, Gihren's usage of the Sovereign of Zeon as a figurehead mirrors an earlier plan in Star Wars for the Emperor to be a figurehead for the Imperial Moffs.

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