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Wilhuff Tarkin was Palpatine's original military ally. His association extends back to a time before The Phantom Menace. In the novel, Cloak of Deception, he helped then-Senator Palpatine place Nute Gunray, a particularly incompetent second-tier administrator, in charge of the Trade Federation by murdering the whole of the then-sitting Trade Federation Directorate.
By the time of the establishment of the Empire, his long-term service to Palpatine paid off to the extent that he was made one of the first Regional Governors, and was shown overseeing the construction of the first Death Star. By the time the Death Star is completed, and the events of A New Hope begin, he was, according to George Lucas himself, the military equal to Darth Vader. Indeed, some Expanded Universe sources suggest that Tarkin was the Executor of Palpatine's will, meaning that, even in death, Palpatine intended to keep his two old allies balanced against each other.
His special relationship with Palpatine made him the most powerful Imperial military leader ever depicted in the films. He probably had more power than even Grand Admiral Thrawn (at least while Palpatine was alive). According to Star Wars Insider, Palpatine is thought, after Tarkin's failure at Yavin, to have believed too much power resided in Tarkin's hands and never let anyone amass as much again. Certainly, later "Grand Moffs" were never quite so "Grand" in their responsibilities again, and those that had been appointed "Grand Moffs" were typically replaced by mere Moffs when they died. For this reason, Jerjerrod, Commander of the Death Star II, was simply a Moff--and much more clearly beholden to Darth Vader and the Emperor.
Though publicly revered as a "fallen Hero" at the time of his death--garnering many memorials in his honor, and even a Star Destroyer named after him--it's clear that Palpatine laid the blame for the destruction of the Death Star at Tarkin's feet. He may have also discontinued the "Grand Moff" title simply because, by the time of Tarkin's death, there were no other relationships he had that were as long-lived--given his and Vader's penchant for killing subordinates.
After the war, of course, the predominating history taught in the Galaxy would change its view of Tarkin. With the coming of the New Republic, he was almost certainly seen as having committed the biggest war crime of them all--the extinguishing of billions of lives when he, on his own authority, destroyed Alderaan. It didn't help his place in history that the eventual leader of the New Republic, Leia Organa-Solo, was a witness to his crime, and that he destroyed her own home world.
There is a possible subtle conflict between Lucas' vision of the development of the Imperial military and that of the Expanded Universe, centering around Tarkin's status as "Grand Moff". The implication from the movies alone is that command of the Death Star II was deliberately given to an officer of junior rank to the commander of the Death Star I so that he would be more "pliable" to the Emperor's will. It could be assumed from the movies that the experience with Tarkin was that, by the Battle of Endor, the policies of the Emperor and Vader were to gradually weed out those who chose to act independently in any regard. A natural conclusion of this line of thought is that by Endor, the title of "Grand Moff" had been all but eliminated from the Imperial ranks.
However, the Expanded Universe posits a number of additional Grand Moffs, including one, Ardus Kaine, who directly succeeded Tarkin, being elevated from Moff to Grand Moff on Tarkin's death.
In many ways, Tarkin's character is pivotal to one's understanding of the Imperial military. Was he "Grand" because he had a very special, and complicated, relationship to the Emperor? This would seem to be the interpretation offered by the completed film trilogy--and those key EU novels that Lucas was said to have personally overseen and tied into the prequel films. Or was "Grand" just a step on the rank ladder, indicating that any number of people could have eventually earned the title? This would seem to be the predominating view of the popular Star Wars fiction written in the 90s and set after the Battle of Endor.
Take your pick. Shortpacked! (2005)
First Appearance: Star Wars (1977) #1
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Jawa Force (1997)
Star Wars (1977)
#1 Star Wars Rebels Magazin (2015)
- 'Star Wars'#2
- 'Six Against the Galaxy'#3
- 'Death Star!'#5
- 'Lo, the Moons of Yavin!'#6
- 'Is This--The Final Chapter?'#53
- 'The Last Gift From Alderaan!'#53 (Direct Market Edition)
- 'The Last Gift From Alderaan!'
Star Wars Tales (1999)
Star Wars: A New Hope - Manga (1998)
Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command (2011)
Star Wars: Droids (1986)
#7 Star Wars: Empire (2002)
- 'Darth Vader's Vengeance'#8
- 'The Star Wars Adventure Book 3: The Last Jedi!'
#8 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
- 'Darklighter, Part 1'
Star Wars: Union (1999)
Galactic Empire (First)
Galactic Republic (Old)
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