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Was Tarkin the main villain in Star Wars?

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I looked and couldn't find any discussion on this, so I decided to create a thread about this.  Was Tarkin in fact the main villain in the original SW, and was he also Vader's boss?  Or were he and Vader equals?

 

 

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The Indiana Jones movies tend to have multiple villains, filling different roles.  I would say much of the same applies to Star Wars I think.  I wouldn't say they are necessarily equal in the Imperial hierarchy (much to my chagrin), but they are equal in that they have different but important villainous roles to play: one as the intimidating darkness who engages in actual battle, the other as the smooth-talking, slimy, disengaged sort.

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Lucas implies on the DVD and Blu commentaries that Vader is a subordinate in SW. Tarkin is the only person to give Vader orders beside the Emperor. Leia also throws out the insult that he is "holding Vader's leash".

Even pre-CW I thought they had an interesting relationship and probably a long working history together. Vader doesn't converse with any other Imperials that way in the rest of the OT.

Tarkin seems to respect Vader's abilities more than a certain General Motti does!

One of my favorite Marvel comic issues involves the Death Star's successor, (yes, they beat ROTJ to that idea!) and it's named the Tarkin. A secret group of high ranking Imperial officers have had enough of Vader throttling their peers left and right, and try to assassinate Vader by opening an airlock on the station. That would have made one heck of a scene in the movies!

originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Where were you in '77?

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 (Edited)

I don't think Tarkin is Vader's boss.  Lucas seems to have done a strange re-interpretation of his own movies lately, whereby he thinks that Vader is forced to play a sort of pathetic subordinate role, but that comes from viewing it through the lens of the prequels where he's supposedly been 'degraded' and can't live up to his potential.  In the intention of the original films I don't see it that way at all—far from 'taking orders' from Tarkin, they're both important enough so as to be on approximately equal footing.

Just listen when Tarkin tells him to stop strangling the guy: I'm sure I'm not imagining the indifferent shrug in Vader's voice when he agrees.  That's not the tone of someone obeying a superior, it's acquiescence to the request of a colleague.  It makes no difference whether he lived or died; he just had to be taught a lesson.  Notice too that Tarkin didn't intercede until it seemed that things were starting to go too far: if he were really completely in charge, he wouldn't have let it go on as long as he did.

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I don't care much for the subordinate role concept either.

In the absence of Tarkin, Vader seems to have more authority though.

originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Where were you in '77?

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I think it was. Vader took the role of henchman, black rider, whatever... He was the second in command. Only on the sequels and prequels he started to get the spotlight.

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My interpretation is in line with ender's. It struck me that Vader was purely a military leader, while Tarkin and the other Moffs were more political figures. In the Empire, the line between political and military leaders was greatly blurred, but not non-existent. Consider Vader the highest ranking general while the moffs are secretaries of the navy, army, airforce, etc with Tarkin as secretary of defense.

Vader was not a vice-emperor or a political leader in any sense. He couldn't go around killing high-ranking members of the imperial hierarchy. Vader carried out military orders. He did so ruthlessly and with a certain amount of latitude, but they were orders handed down by others (the Emperor, the Moffs).

Tarkin was clearly the leader of the decision makers (beneath the Emperor). He had the power to order the destruction of Alderaan (perhaps after conferring with the Emperor). Tarkin and Vader simply played different roles.

The fact that Vader's role was somewhat limited does not at all diminish his character. Throughout history, great military leaders have had to answer to those who govern. After the Senate was dissolved, after Tarkin was killed, it certainly created a vacuum for Vader to fill and exercise even greater power.

That Vader should embody pure evil and total power is one of my SW pet peeves (a thread topic I've been meaning to make). Vader was the main villain in SW, but the universe was richer and more complex than it might seem at first glance.

The blue elephant in the room.

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I'd disagree with Mrebo's assessment of the situation. Tarkin & Co are distinctly military leaders. They refer to the Senate (the political power) as being quite separate from themselves. They have titles like "Commander" and "Admiral". They use possessive pronouns like "your" when talking about the starfleet. They are the military.

Vader, on the other hand, is a bit of an outsider. He's not subordinate to them, not even to Tarkin, but he's not exactly above them in the chain of command either. He's separate from both the political and military structures, except that it's well known that his authority comes from the Emperor. The script goes so far as to call him "right hand of the Emperor". As the films progress, particularly in ESB where he's been given use of the fleet to hunt down Luke, he has greater explicit command of the military, but he's never actually part of their system. As the Emperor's right hand man, however, he's almost always obeyed.

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it was always my understanding that Tarkin was in charge of the death-star and that Vader was overseeing things as the Emperors right hand ensuring things ran smoothly, the two obviously respected each others position and leadership, but if Tarkin overstepped the mark I'm sure he'd have to answer to Vader and ultimately the Emperor.

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 (Edited)

I think that SW as originally embodied in 1977 left a lot of details like this ambiguous, and presented a universe that was huge and varied and an Empire that was complex.  The universe and its characters got smaller and smaller in subsequent movies as everything got explained and linked, to the detriment of the "saga".

"Close the blast doors!"
Puggo’s website | Rescuing Star Wars

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 (Edited)

In Star Wars I think of Tarkin as the main villain, with Vader as a subordinate. I thought it worked perfectly and made for a much better story.

Lucas started to morph the character as soon as his pop culture weight grew.  In The Empire Strikes Back, he's just suddenly a person who answers to no one other than the emperor, unlike Star Wars where he was part of the Empire and participated in strategies and discussions.  In the second film he's just someone who people are terrified of. 

He runs the Empire in it's entirety other than an occasional conversation with the emperor.  It's like the Empire was restructured between films.  It became a two-person operation with thousands of minions, not the stratocracy it was in Star Wars.

His flippant killing of anyone he dislikes and his full authority to promote anyone to commander seems uneven with how he was written in Star Wars. By the second film, there's no depth to the Empire.  To me, it comes across as more of Lucas' letting marketing and revenue stream drive the films.

 

[shameless EU plug]
Yet another way in which the EU has far surpassed Lucas Star Wars.  In Zahn's EU, the Empire is multi-layered, much the same way an actual military is. There are personalities and hierarchies to deal with. Levels of authority that have to be coordinated.   It makes for much more interesting reading.  Daley's NPR version of Star Wars also has that layered depth of the Empire with Vader as part of it, not the sole voice of it. With Lucas (post-77), the Empire became one-dimensional.  Vader sold tons of toys, so Vader became The Empire
[/shameless EU plug]

originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Listen, it don’t really matter to me, baby.
You believe what you want to believe.

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^Good point, though I like the change in many ways.  I like how it actually weakened the Empire, and is reminiscent of true dictatorships where authority figures take more and more power and leave less and less in the hands of those more capable.

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timdiggerm said:

I'd disagree with Mrebo's assessment of the situation. Tarkin & Co are distinctly military leaders. They refer to the Senate (the political power) as being quite separate from themselves. They have titles like "Commander" and "Admiral". They use possessive pronouns like "your" when talking about the starfleet. They are the military.

I totally agree. I only meant to draw a distinction between Vader's executive role and the governing role of the moffs. In the Empire, the military and the government are one entity. But I never got the sense in any of the movies that Vader was deciding anything about governance. Tarkin references the "regional governors" but even those would fit into the same militaristic hierarchy as the moffs.

Vader, on the other hand, is a bit of an outsider. He's not subordinate to them, not even to Tarkin, but he's not exactly above them in the chain of command either. He's separate from both the political and military structures, except that it's well known that his authority comes from the Emperor. The script goes so far as to call him "right hand of the Emperor". As the films progress, particularly in ESB where he's been given use of the fleet to hunt down Luke, he has greater explicit command of the military, but he's never actually part of their system. As the Emperor's right hand man, however, he's almost always obeyed.

I think this is a good way of describing Vader's role.

The blue elephant in the room.

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I agree with a lot of the ideas in this thread. To me, The Emperor is a bit like a mob boss. Tarkin is the head of his "legal" power, working within and through the government structure. Vader is his enforcer who does the nasty work that is clearly outside even the faintest hint of lawfulness. They have a mutual respect for each other because they're two sides of the same coin.

As for Vader's role-shift in Empire, I really like it and think it works very well. He clearly knows who Luke is long before his conversation with the Emperor (to whom he feigns ignorance of that very knowledge). And with this knoweldge, he has gone on a sort of mad, Ahab-like quest to find Luke at all costs.

In his efforts to do so he has used and begun to clearly abuse both the vaccuum left by Tarkin and the power given to him by the Emperor. I don't think Vader's in charge of the ENTIRE Imperial fleet in ESB, but he's used the lenience granted him by the Emperor as well as his own ability to intimidate the navy commanders to take command of small armada for his personal quest and is using the search for the rebels as a sort of cover to justify his real mission.

I think it's also pretty cool how icily cold and in control Vader appears to be on the outside, when inside he's clearly spiraling out of control on a lunatic's mission to find his son & convince him to join and take charge of everything he has been fighting so hard against.

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Interesting thread. I never really gave this much thought outside of just assuming that it was something of a gaffe that we were supposed to pretend didn't happen (i.e. Vader was kinda wimpy originally, but was given more importance later on).

I like a lot of the theories here. Especially Mrebo's.

Keep Circulating the Tapes.

END OF LINE

(It hasn’t happened yet)

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I imagined Vader to be one of many Imperial inquisitors/enforcers (just the only one who used to be a Jedi).

He is a bit like a high ranking SS officer.

He hunts down Rebels, he personally interrogates them (using his special skills) and is ruthlessly devoted to the ideology of the state.

Tarkin is more like a member of Hitler's inner circle (also one of many).

He is a pragmatic strategist, he coldly calculates the means to realise the Emperor's whims and is ruthlessly devoted to maintaining order as represented by the state.

They are both at the top of their branches of the Imperial machine but perform different roles.

High ranking military types like Motti look down on Vader because he isn't in their club, Tarkin by allowing Vader to get that far with his lesson and no further is just playing his conductor role.

When Vader is out in the field he has Imperial assets under his command but on the Death Star he is the outsider charged with retrieving the plans and finding the Rebels so the station can fulfill it's primary function.

In the center of the web is the Emperor who is the composer of the tune everyone else has to dance to.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Dp2OfIT_M

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A lot of fun speculation in this thread. There have been so many changes as the SW canon has expanded in terms of Vader's position. Remember, it is entirely possible that Vader was originally intended as one of many Sith Lords in service to the Empire. As late as the 90s Lucas was okay with the idea of the Emperor having other darkside users in his service

But when watching SW77, it is clear that both Tarkin and Vader are given relatively equal weight as the main antagonists. Their exact place within the Empire is interesting. Vader's power seems to be very much in the vein of how Mara Jade is later depicted by Zahn; a special envoy of the Emperor who has power and authority only at the behest of the Emperor. Tarkin has traditional authority via his position as a Governor, but is also a "Grand Moff" and had been granted (from the Emperor) widespread dictatorial power over a vast amount of territory in order to suppress dissidents. Tarkin is very similar to certain figures in Roman history in this respect.

 

“It is only through interaction, through decision and choice, through confrontation, physical or mental, that the Force can grow within you.”
-Kreia, Jedi Master and Sith Lord

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I really like this thread too.  It's very interesting to read all your theories and speculation, especially when trying to imagine it in the light of 1977 and only one movie.  Who would have thought such a simple question could stimulate such an interesting discussion.  I like clap-clap-N-G-O's analogy to SS and inner circle.

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I think Anchorhead should start a website called www.originalstarwars77withaspectsoftheempirestrikesbackallowedbutverylittlereturnofthejedi.com.  He could then have a subsection that allows for Zahn EU :)

He does always provide good insight, I must agree.  I think it's interesting that Tarkin's role is not really replaced in ESB (the Emperor and his influence are present, but really Vader is the scary baddie in this movie).  However, Boba Fett's frief appearances are in a similar vein, as Fett shows no fear when addressing or being addressed by Vader.

Unlike many on this site, I really enjoy ROTJ, but I do wish Vader were still a stronger character.  He starts out tough when addressing Jerjerrod, but Palpatine comes and it's sissy Vader from then on.  I wish we could see the defiant Dark Lord who was secretly willing to overthrow the Emperor or something.  I guess that would give away the power of the moment when he hurls Palps down the shaft, but still, I just wish he were a tougher guy, and for that reason I actually wouldn't mind seeing the choking Jerjerrod scene reincorporated.

I like movies that show multiple villains with different roles.  I like the trio in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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The interesting thing about Star Wars (taken in context without sequels) is that there are so many things in that Lucas gives from a military perspective, but there are just as many things he gives you from a fantasy perspective.

Tarkin is pure military, Vader is pure fantasy.  The whole empire is really taken from WWII fascist dictatorships (Lucas and Spielberg are huge WWII buffs)  Heck the stormtroopers are just like the SS as someone mentioned earlier.

I don't know who was the 'true' villain of Star Wars, but I think that is the brillance of the Original Star Wars:  As you get older, and understand miilitary history, you sort of understand the hiearchy of dictators and Tarkin seems like the real bad guy.  But as a kid, I was geared to the fantasy end more and I thought Vader was the real bad guy.

For whatever you want to say about Lucas and his later failings in the series, the Original Star Wars has alot of depth to it for a simple fairy tale movie.

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You can find all sorts of quirks with Vader in a ANH in contrast with ESB. He seems much more emotional in the former, and while ruthless doesn't seem like he would kill his own officers at the drop of hat. (In fact given that Vader only kills officers via force choke in ESB, you could easily imagine that he's just really desperate to find Luke and typically wasn't like that through out his entire run in the Empire). 

Thinking about it, Darth in ESB and on is really a combination of the physically intimidating Vader and the cold, ruthless Tarkin from the first film. 

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CWBorne said:


You can find all sorts of quirks with Vader in a ANH in contrast with ESB. He seems much more emotional in the former, and while ruthless doesn't seem like he would kill his own officers at the drop of hat. (In fact given that Vader only kills officers via force choke in ESB, you could easily imagine that he's just really desperate to find Luke and typically wasn't like that through out his entire run in the Empire).


This ties in perfectly (and actually helps make my point) of Vader as a Captain Ahab type character in ESB, going mad on his quest to find something that will ultimately destroy him.

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On the subject of Vader Force choking Imperials it's interesting to note he only ever did this with high ranking officers (well at least on screen).

The only instance of him choking a lower rank officer is Captain Antilles (if the you believe a Captain of a small consular ship to be lower than the Captain of an Imperial Stardestroyer) and there he did it with his hands, while interrogating him.

The one thing that seems to be consistent between the PT Anakin and the OT Vader is a general dislike of authority figures, especially incompetent ones.

His quick promotion of Piett was as much a response to his pushing against Ozzel's closed mind after locating the Rebel generator as it was Ozzel own incompetence in entering the Hoth system too soon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Dp2OfIT_M