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Is Star Wars: Episode IX casting a major Expanded Universe character?

Star Wars: Episode IX might not be content to let the past die after all.

The next movie in Disney's revived Star Wars franchise, SoloA Star Wars Story, isn't even out in theaters yet, but development on the next mainline entry in the series is already well underway.

Casting notices for the ninth episode of the so-called Skywalker Saga are beginning to leak out, revealing enticing details about new characters for the next movie, set to be written and directed by J. J. Abrams.

One such casting notice that's emerged regarding a new lead character in Episode IX is raising eyebrows in the Star Wars fan community, given that it seems to hint at the arrival of a very important character from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe.

According to a report by That Hashtag Show, the casting director for Episode IX is searching for a female performer between the ages of 40 and 50 to play a lead character in the movie named "Mara", raising the possibility that the final entry in the new Star Wars trilogy may be bringing in a version of the EU Force-user Mara Jade.

The character was created by the writer Timothy Zahn, making her debut in the 1991 Expanded Universe Novel Heir to the Empire. Originally the Hand of Emperor Palpatine, she was introduced being sent on a mission to assassinate Luke Skywalker following the events of Return of the Jedi

Instead of killing Luke, Mara instead softened on him, breaking away from Palpatine's influence and ultimately letting her target live. She later grew to respect Luke, eventually marrying him and giving birth to their son, Ben Skywalker. Over time, she also became a Jedi Master herself, going on to train a number of apprentices in the ways of the Force.

That Hashtag Show went on to speculate that the character could serve as a teacher to finish Rey's training as a Jedi in Episode IX, now that Luke has exited the physical realm.

However, it's also important to consider that the name used in the casting notice may just be a gigantic ruse, meant to stoke fan speculation and stories just like this one. 

Often, casting for high-profile projects like Star Wars is done with fake character names and the vaguest descriptions possible, in an effort to keep the information in widely-circulated casting notices under some measure of control. 

Reportedly, the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren were presented in casting notices as being named "Rachel" and "Thomas", neither of which held any clues or foreshadowing regarding the actual events of The Force Awakens. It remains to be seen if that will hold true for "Mara". Either way, in the event she does show up on screen, she'll be a very different version from the character EU fans grew to know over the years.

The old Star Wars Expanded Universe refers to a 30-plus-year canon of stories told by many writers to flesh out the world of the series beyond its mainline movies. In the years before the prequel trilogy, it was all a wayward Star Wars fan had to keep them engaged with the universe, with stories of Luke, Leia, Han and their children continuing a narrative that was not, at the time, being explored on screen. 

Many of these stories, be they comic books, novels, TV shows, or something else, were essentially "official", allowing fans to appreciate the Expanded Universe adventures as being legitimate, canonical extensions of the original Star Wars trilogy.

After Disney purchased Lucasfilm to produce new media in the Star Wars franchise in 2012, the Expanded Universe was purged, relegating almost all of the elements from the Expanded Universe into the realm of fan-fiction — or "Legends", as they were afterwards renamed.

Since the Expanded Universe was reset, Disney and Lucasfilm have been slowly re-introducing elements from the old stories into the new canon, from characters like the Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn to many of the Expanded Universe's planets

If Mara Jade is next in line to be called up to the new Star Wars canon, it would be a thrilling and controversial decision, and a fantastic hook for the still-untitled Episode IX, set for release on December 20, 2019.