In the entire history of Star Wars publishing, no book has more significance, more influence on the franchise, or a more appropriate title than “A New Dawn” by the Scribe Award-winning author of “Kenobi,” John Jackson Miller. It is the first of the “new dawn” of the Star Wars expanded universe, as it is the first book to be acknowledged as official canon (which means it has as much weight and authenticity in that galaxy far, far away as any of the films) by the newly appointed Lucasfilm story group. As such, there’s a lot riding on this story, especially since it introduces two brand new characters essential to the upcoming animated series Star Wars Rebels (premiering October 3rd on Disney XD). But believe you me, if it’s Star Wars ala the fun and danger and Force of A New Hope you’re wanting, this is the new dawn you’re looking for!
Kanan Jarrus takes center-stage in this story, and I must mention the fact that: he’s fabulous. Quick on his feet and just as quick with his tongue, Kanan works nights at a bar on a planet that floats in eternal night, hauls explosives during the day, and doesn’t take any guff (unless the guff is coming from Imperials). In addition to all of this, he was a Jedi at one point in time. John Jackson Miller has said that many of his Star Wars novels are about what Jedi do on their own, how they deal with being away from the rest of their order. In “Kenobi,” we saw Obi Wan being forced into exile with full knowledge of what had happened to the Order after Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side, and also with a plan for what he should do in the future: look after the galaxy’s new hope, Luke Skywalker. In “Dawn,” Kanan has no plan, and he’s not even completely sure of what went on behind the scenes of Order 66. He just knows that being a Jedi and having the Force are threats to his survival, and so he spends most of his life post-Order 66 hopping from planet to planet, taking on odd jobs and trying not to be conspicuous in any way.
I really enjoyed seeing a Jedi from this perspective. The truth is, Kanan is a long way away from being the person we see igniting his lightsaber in the trailers for Star Wars Rebels. I was fascinated to read about a Jedi (or rather, an ex-Jedi) who didn’t really focus on anger or revenge for his brothers and sisters in the Force (in fact, it’s almost as if he doesn’t like the Jedi, by this point). A bit ironically, he was like a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the uptight, rule-stickling Masters of the Clone Wars era. He’s very relate-able and fun to read, and these attributes, combined with his sarcastic wit, serve as a callback to the Original Trilogy’s main characters, which I think works very well for bridging the gap between episodes III and IV.
Kanan’s purposefully event-less life is turned upside down, however, with the entrance of Hera Syndulla, a revolutionary tracking the movements and machinations of the Empire’s master of efficiency, the temperamental and brutish cyborg, Count Vidian. Together with some other anti-heroes, Kanan and Hera get thrown together into an adventure that is jam-packed with action, emotions, and of course, choices. Will the characters find the courage to stand up to the Empire? Or will they succumb to their fears and abandon the denizens of Gorse to Vidian’s greedy, Imperial-scale plans? That’s another aspect of this story that makes it remarkable; the inclusion of the debate about choice. The characters have a lot to think about when weighing their options, and it brings home how much courage and determination takes to go up against a mammoth, seemingly all-powerful Empire.
Hera didn’t receive much background exposition in this book. This story is really about Kanan, and though we do get a few scenes from the Twi’lek’s point of view, Miller has left her past a mystery, with only one or two vague hints as to what caused her want to rise up against the Empire. But she’s definitely the supportive leader we have come to expect her to be from descriptions of her in past convention panels and her introduction video. She’s the person who inspires and ties her makeshift band of rebels together, in the same way that she is said to do for the Ghost crew in the television series. She’s only eighteen in this book, which I thought was an interesting, and possibly questionable age choice. She seems really skilled and street-savvy for such a young person; but then, Leia was probably just as skilled and just as wise in A New Hope, in which the princess was also eighteen years old. I suppose it depends on your upbringing. I couldn’t really compare my upbringing, that of an American youth whose main concerns in life were school and getting to watch PG-13 movies, to that of teenage revolutionaries who are always in danger, always on the move. In the end, I thought Hera was an awesome female character, and I look forward to seeing more of her. And also more of Kanan’s infatuation with her….
I was a little skeptical about Count Vidian at first. It just seemed a bit bizarre to me, the idea that here, we have yet another cyborg villain (coming after the likes of Darth Maul, General Grievous, and Darth Vader) for our heroes to go up against. But perhaps I was thinking too small. It’s a big galaxy, after all. And when you get to know Vidian’s character and past history better, it makes complete sense that he would be mostly machine. The result is a perfectly convincing, perfectly HATE-worthy villain. Some of the things he does…well, I won’t spoil it. But he fits the new image of the galaxy’s biggest, baddest regime to a T, in my opinion, and I am quite certain that that was the point.
As to the supporting cast of characters, I thought they were fun and that each brought something unique to the story overall. With regards to those who are helpful to Kanan and Hera: One of them is a slightly explosives-happy conspiracy-theorist; another is a government employee who’s not sure if the Imperial’s presence on Gorse is a good thing; and a third is the owner of the cantina where Kanan works who speaks like a cultured gentleman (and as someone who uses increasingly vintage phrases like, “Indeed,” and “Great Scott!” at random, I found that last character quite entertaining). And of course there’s the female, dark-skinned Captain Sloane of the Empire (I like the way that Miller incorporated diversity into the Empire, and into the story as a whole, with gratifying ease), a scheming politician, and all sorts of other characters of differing species who make this novel even more of a throwback to A New Hope (especially its colorful cantina scenes), and who are all, in one way or another, affected by the Empire’s expansion into Gorse’s corner of the galaxy.
What is really great about this book, though, is not its punchy impact on the fate of the galaxy; in fact, it really doesn’t affect the grand scheme of galactic events in a momentous way, at least not obviously (unlike, for example, the New Jedi Order and Fate of the Jedi series of the past couple of decades). It is absolutely a beginning, though, and as such the door that Star Wars fans have been waiting eagerly to look beyond has finally been opened. At last, we have entered into the largely unexplored era between episodes III and IV, and also into a more universal era in which anything that comes out of Del Rey Publishing or Marvel Comics with regards to Star Wars is completely canon. That is what makes this story worthwhile, besides its great pace and intriguing characters and plot, is its significance for fans in a variety of different ways. It’s what kicks off the chain of events that will eventually lead to the formation of the Rebels of the television series, and perhaps even the Rebel Alliance itself. It’s what introduces us to the amazing characters of Kanan and Hera, the heroes of a new generation of fans. And it is the new dawn that will prepare Star Wars enthusiasts, old and new, for a grand new cycle of fun, adventure, and the Force in that galaxy far, far, away….