Much like the last entry on the list of scoundrels, thanks to the Disney buy-out, this particular Star Wars character doesn’t exist anymore, but I don’t care. Heir to the Empire was the first Star Wars novel I read, and Talon Karrde played a big role in the Thrawn trilogy and he definitely made an impression on me when I first met him there. Timothy Zahn created some great characters during the time he wrote in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and in my opinion, Talon Karrde was probably his best.
Though he first appeared in a book set after the fall of the Empire, Talon Karrde’s backstory stretches back to the pre-Rebellion days. Talon Karrde was basically a scoundrel since birth. He first started working for a crime boss named Jorj Car’das and became one of his go-to smugglers and information brokers. Early in his career, while fleeing from Imperial pursuit, Karrde blindly jumped into hyperspace and when his ship reverted back to real space, he found himself staring down a fleet of old Dreadnaught-class cruisers. Thinking he was toast, Karrde immediately jumped away again. Analyzing the data after he reached safety, Karrde realized he had actually found the legendary Katana fleet, a fleet of Dreadnaughts that were designed modified to be run with a fraction of the necessary crew that disappeared after the lead ship’s computer malfunctioned and had the entire fleet jump into hyperspace while unmanned. Karrde kept this information a secret for many years because he knew it was worth money, but he didn’t have the resources to exploit it at that time in his career. It would be the first of many times Talon Karrde realized that sometimes the right information can be more useful than the biggest blaster. Karrde worked for Car’das for many years until Car’das mysteriously disappeared with his entire cache of information. This lead to a power struggle within Car’das’s organization that could have turned bloody had Karrde, as one of Car’das’s most trusted lieutenants, made the offer of splitting Car’das’s organization only to take it all over himself in a bloodless coup. Though the organization was not as large as the Hutts’ cartel or Black Sun, Karrde’s reputation as an honest and trustworthy scoundrel meant that doors were open to him that weren’t open to these more ruthless organizations. During the Galactic Civil War, Karrde’s organization remained neutral, aiding whichever side could pay him. Jabba’s death opened up the galactic underworld and Karrde recruited quite a few members of Jabba’s inner circle and expanded his organization. It was at this time he moved his base of operations to Myrkr, which is where we first met him in Heir to the Empire. Karrde remained very hands-on in the underworld despite being a major player. His hands-on approach led him to cross paths with Mara Jade while investigating a rival crime lord’s operation. Karrde had hoped to take it over, but once he realized that the crime lord’s safari business was engaged in hunting sentient beings and was being used as a cover to illegally extract resources from the planet, Karrde decided to act to take the operation down. It was at this point Karrde first met the woman who would become his most trusted lieutenant, Mara Jade.
A few months after meeting Mara Jade, Karrde decided to make her his second in command, but at around the same time, Karrde’s organization drew the attention of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn went to Myrkr to harvest a creature native to the planet called ysalamiri. These creatures could naturally suppress the Force within a few meters of it. Karrde aided Thrawn in safely removing the delicate creatures from the planet and felt that something was up and began carrying the creatures in his ship as well. Despite assisting Thrawn in this instance, though, he was still very reluctant to get involved with either the Empire or the New Republic and continually acted in a way that kept him neutral in the conflict. However, when Luke Skywalker came into Thrawn’s hands, his neutrality soon came to an end. Karrde didn’t want to turn Skywalker over to Thrawn for fear the New Republic finding out but he also couldn’t let Skywalker go because that would surely get back to Thrawn and that would be the end of any peaceful relationship he had with the remnants of the Empire. While Skywalker was in Karrde’s possession, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian gained an audience with him to try and bring Karrde’s organization into the New Republic, but once again, he refused. Unfortunately, while Solo and Calrissian were on their mission, Thrawn returned again with another job for Karrde. The chaos caused by trying to hide Solo and Calrissian from Thrawn and Skywalker from both parties afforded Skywalker a chance to escape. Skywalker’s escape and subsequent rescue by Han made it clear to Thrawn that Karrde had been working with the New Republic and Karrde knew he needed to go on the run now that he’d made an enemy of the Empire.
Karrde was forced to go on the run, though he did have the perfect bargaining chip to buy himself out of trouble with Thrawn—the location of the Katana fleet. Thrawn came to Myrkr to get Karrde’s assistance in finding large warships and no one but Karrde knew the location of this fleet of over 100 Dreadnaughts. Despite Mara Jade’s counsel to sell Thrawn the information, though, Karrde refused because he knew that selling that information would only buy him out of problems in the short term. He believed the New Republic would outlast Thrawn’s attacks even if the Empire got the Katana fleet and he did not want to make an enemy of what would likely be the next galactic government. Mara Jade, acting on her own, sold Thrawn the location of the Katana fleet but was captured after doing so. Thrawn attempted to use Jade as a bargaining chip with Karrde and captured him when he came to retrieve her. This ambush was enough to turn Karrde against the Empire. Karrde was subsequently rescued by Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade and then attempted to sell the location of the Katana fleet to the New Republic. Several high-ranking politicians, most notably a Bothan named Borsk Fey’lya, distrusted Karrde and used bureaucratic red tape to slow down the deal. Karrde convinced Leia Organa Solo to trust him and the two launched a secret mission ahead of Fey’lya’s own group to prevent Fey’lya from getting control of the Katana fleet by crewing them with New Republic officers loyal to him. Karrde also used his resources to exonerate Admiral Ackbar, who was currently being held on charges of treason partly orchestrated by Fey’lya. The New Republic and Empire arrived at the Katana fleet’s location at almost the same time. Fey’lya ordered the New Republic to abandon the fleet and leave the soldiers already on the ships to die. However, Karrde, along with Leia Organa Solo, managed to turn Fey’lya’s soldiers against him when they broadcast out his statement that he didn’t care about the soldiers who supported him and that they were pawns he could sacrifice for his own political ambitions. Not only did this turn the tide of the battle, but it severely weakened Fey’lya’s political strength for many years, protecting Karrde from the Bothan’s retribution. Karrde being Karrde, he continued to remain neutral after this battle, though he would continue to assist the New Republic in bringing down Thrawn by using his resources to follow the money trail and find Thrawn’s secret cloning facility.
Though not officially working with the New Republic in any capacity, Karrde helped create Smugglers’ Alliance. Smugglers are a notoriously shifty bunch, but Karrde managed to bring a large group of smugglers together for a time to work for the New Republic. However, even when working for the New Republic, not everything was on the up and up. To pay his smugglers, he had his tech hack into New Republic files to pay them. The Smugglers’ Alliance was a boon to the New Republic and though Karrde never acted directly for them, his involvement gave it the legitimacy in the underworld community for it to work.
Several years after the fall of Thrawn, Karrde’s notoriety as an information broker would benefit the New Republic once again. Grand Admiral Thrawn apparently returned from the dead and released damning information about the Bothans. According to a document in his possession, Bothans assisted Emperor Palpatine in committing genocide against the Caamasi people. The Caamasi were proponents of non-violent resistance to the Empire and the people of Caamas were all but wiped out when the planet’s shields mysteriously failed as the Empire arrived to bring them in line. With the shields down, Star Destroyers bombarded the planet and killed nearly everyone on the planet. The document revealed that it was a group of Bothan spies that assisted the Empire in bringing the shields down. This information threw the New Republic into chaos as Bothans, while a key part of the Rebel Alliance, always had a reputation of being cunning and duplicitous. Considering Bothan politician Borsk Fey’lya was now a high-ranking member of the New Republic government, such conflict could be bad for the entire government. Leia Organa Solo tasked Karrde with finding an original copy of the document Thrawn released to see if there were alterations made to it. To do so, Karrde would have to find his old boss and mentor, Jorj Car’das. Karrde was reluctant to track down Car’das, considering he took over his organization, but Car’das was surprisingly welcoming. Though Car’das did not have an original copy of the Caamas Document in his cache of information, he did give Karrde a datacard with information the New Republic would find useful. The datacard revealed that Thrawn was not alive and in fact was being impersonated by a con man. With “Thrawn” exposed as a fake, Supreme Commander Pellaeon (Thrawn’s former second-in-command) reasserted control over Imperial forces and called a truce with the New Republic. Karrde assisted in negotiating the treaty between the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant, which was his first step down the road of legitimacy. Karrde began working more closely with the New Republic and provided vital intelligence during the Yuuzhan Vong War and the Second Galactic Civil War.
Karrde’s biography reads as your classic scoundrel. He was content at playing both sides for as long as he could, but he still had a clear code of ethics and morality. Like many scoundrels, he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, at one point even killing a bounty hunter that was coming after him on his own, but like many genteel scoundrel types, he tried to avoid violence whenever possible. He would use his knowledge and information to get him out of trouble, but when pressed, he wasn’t exactly afraid to throw down. However, this nature often tended to rub people the wrong way. Since Karrde was always looking out for his bottom line, many outside the fringe community saw him as a mercenary who would sell his services to the highest bidder. However, that interpretation ignored the fact that Karrde was loyal to his people, even beyond their worth to him as assets. Inside the fringe community, though, Karrde’s hatred of kidnapping and slavery showed that he was as trustworthy as someone in their line of work could be. Karrde also extended protection to any who were under his roof as guests and would not sell them out, even if the money was good. Once again, all the elements of a classic scoundrel are there. Add in that he was a sharp dresser and had some pretty impressive facial hair and you have another clear scoundrel. Karrde was such a popular character, he even made an appearance in the somewhat obscure Star Wars Collectable Card Game. The game relied largely on movie footage for still images of characters, but they dabbled in the Expanded Universe from time to time, and Karrde was one of the first. Karrde is well loved by fans of Zahn’s work (myself included) and Zahn loved him so much that he even posed for the card image of Karrde for the Star Wars Collectable Card Game. That’s some dedication to a character you created yourself.