Rebel Heroes: Mon Mothma, the Inspiring Leader

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Female characters in the old trilogy of Star Wars can easily be counted with fingers of one hand. Although it can be successfully argued that princess Leia can easily make up for five or ten random characters, it is good that the minor, however still significant characters like Aunt Beru and Mon Mothma make an appearance. It is the latter one, the leader of the Rebel Alliance, who has been announced to appear in the upcoming Rogue One movie. The makers have also promised that Mon Mothma will have more significant role than her half a minute long appearance in Episode VI. We are therefore undoubtedly going to learn a lot more about her. But what we know so far is not necessarily very little either. So, who is she?

On the screen, Mon Mothma has so far appeared in one and half films. What I mean by that is that aside from her single scene in the Return of the Jedi (the Alliance assembly before the attack on second Death Star), we see her younger self in two scenes in Revenge of the Sith (discussing with future Rebel leaders in Padmé’s apartment), but neither of those scenes made it to the final cut. They are still available, however, for instance among DVD bonuses, and you can probably find them elsewhere by yourselves. Aside from this, the future leader of the Rebel Alliance makes a couple of appearances in the Clone Wars animated series and much more in the Star Wars literature, both old and new. The character’s portrayal is consistent throughout and presents a calm and collected, strong, rational yet empathetic woman, for whom democracy is the highest ideal and war is something that should be only a passing stage.

Mon Mothma, the leader of the Rebel Alliance, in Episode VI
Mon Mothma, the leader of the Rebel Alliance, in Episode VI

Now, if we go back to her first film appearance in Episode VI, where she is portrayed by Caroline Blakiston, tell me all this isn’t what you would have thought about her already based on that brief appearance. It is one of the cases where an actor takes their role – however minor – very seriously and you can see it in the result. Imagine, on top of everything, that upon her arrival to film this one scene, Caroline Blakiston learned that her lines had been changed and she had to learn them anew. But if you are devoted to your character and know how they act and think and who they are, it is different from just repeating what you have read in the script. Caroline Blakiston, as she had confessed, made up a kind of background for her character just for her own purposes, so that she knew who she was when she entered the set. Using the name as a starting point, she thought it resembled the words “Moon Mother”, so she figured out the character would have a “calm exterior” and worked out her personality from there.

In Episode III, the same character was of course not portrayed by the same actress. Mon Mothma is some twenty years younger by the end of the Clone Wars, she is not yet a Rebel leader, she is a senator for her homeworld of Chandrila (one of the Expanded Universe details which was picked up and found its home in the canon), although the scenes in Revenge of the Sith show exactly her hand (along with senator Bail Organa) in the beginnings of dissent against Palpatine (so far on the legal basis. After the dissolution of Imperial Senate at the beginning of Episode IV and the death of senator Organa in the destruction of Alderaan, Mon Mothma would become the only leading face of the Rebellion, one who has been with it since the beginning).

The senators Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala on a private meeting in Episode III
The senators Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala on a private meeting in Episode III

The actress Genevieve O’Reilly, who portrays Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith also in the new Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, was picked for the role specifically because of her likeness to her predecessor, but already from the RotS footage you can tell that we need not fear it would be all about looks and no acting skills. Genevieve O’Reilly has also devoted considerable effort to study Caroline Blakiston’s way of acting, so that she might bring back the Mon Mothma we all know. As a sidenote, I find the story of both of these actresses and their relationship with the role of Mon Mothma fascinating. When it comes to Genevieve O’Reilly, how many people are lucky enough tobe cast in Star Wars, twice, even after at first their role was essentially cut from the film? Likewise, Caroline Blakiston has been known to be very happy – and rightfully so – that her “twenty-six and half second” performance, as she had always reminded people, has created a character who lived on and on – and still lives, as Rogue One can testify.

Mon Mothma’s Episode III concept art and costume (source: Starwars.com)

If you are wondering where Mon Mothma stands in relation to Episode VII and the new canon, there is already enough material to give an answer. Being two decades older than Leia, one could not really expect her to be around. But she had left important mark in the galactic history, and it is in a way that we could probably easily predict by ourselves: given her role as the Rebel leader, she would be the first choice as the head of the New Republic. That is a trope which appeared already in the first Star Wars novels situated after Episode VI. If you leaf through any of them, whenever politics are concerned, the triangle Mon Mothma-Leia-Admiral Ackbar somehow surfaces. And whereas Ackbar is mostly portrayed as the military commander of the New Republic forces (quite in line with the film presentation of his character), and Leia is the voice concerned with specific issues which rise to trouble the nascent democracy, it is Mon Mothma who deals with the big picture.

In the new canon, Mon Mothma’s position is defined by her desire to bring the war to an end as soon as possible, eventually leading to signing a peace treaty with the Imperial remnants, letting them go in order to avoid more unnecessary fighting (which eventually allows the First Order to take its resources to the Unknown Regions and rebuild its forces there). Mon Mothma also pushes for Republic decentralisation and disarmament – the latter of which in particular is something Leia does not endorse, as you can see from her role as military leader of the Resistance as a force outside the Republic. It is because of her devotion to the ideals she had always been standing for: democracy and peace. Of course, without people devoted enough to them, or without leaders able to inspire them to it, system based on these values is always open to attack. The rise of the First Order is blamed partly on the inability of Mon Mothma’s successors to maintain as effective leadership as she did.

Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma
Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma in Rogue One

But to end on a positive note, I daresay Mon Mothma is a great character, one of those who are often overlooked – and I hope now you agree with me that unjustly so. Not only is it remarkable that she represents a champion of democracy and peace – a senator opposing Palpatine’s autocracy since the Clone Wars up to his death on Endor; she is the white to his black. Undoubtedly, she is also a strong role model for young Leia, and would have substituted the example Leia’s mother otherwise would have provided. Put this all together – I am very much looking forward to learning more about her and seeing her in Rogue One.