Star Wars: A New Dawn. John Jackson Miller. September 2, 2014. LucasBooks. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
A new dawn of Star Wars storytelling is upon us. For the first time in the history of the Star Wars universe, creators are collaborating together to construct a unified vision of the galaxy far, far away. Star Wars: A New Dawn is a product of this joint effort. Executive producer of Star Wars Rebels Dave Filoni greeted this new era with great optimism in the foreword and hoped that this story would enrich the reader’s “experience and knowledge of the characters in Star Wars Rebels.” With John Jackson Miller’s admirably effortless writing style, not only did we discover more about Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla, the two main characters in Star Wars Rebels, but we also re-experienced the essential elements of a Star Wars story: the reluctant hero, the seemingly unstoppable villain, the ragtag team, the impending doom of a planet, and much more.
A New Dawn opened up in an unexpected way, taking us back to the Clone Wars era. As a fan of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the prologue turned out to be my favorite. We got to learn more about the signal that Obi-Wan first mentioned in Revenge of the Sith. We were also introduced to a young and curious Padawan, Caleb Dume. At first, he seemed to be asking questions that the reader would ask in order to fill in the information needed to transition into the next phase of the book. However, his identity turned out to be the biggest reveal in the novel. Caleb Dume and Kanan Jarrus were the same person. This entire time, we’ve been introduced to an alias–an individual whose name wasn’t even real. Not only was it ingenious, but it reinforced the fact that Caleb entered the Dark Times, and as a result of that, adopting an alias meant the difference between life and death.
Speaking of Kanan Jarrus, I honestly didn’t connect with his character until I read A New Dawn. He wasn’t your traditional view of a Jedi in hiding. Kanan coped with his past by drinking and finding other means to let out steam. He also wasn’t shy around the ladies, especially Hera Syndulla. His affections towards her were also my favorite aspects of the book because he was so taken by her appearance, voice, and motives against the Empire, even though he groaned and rolled his eyes at her intentions. There was something about her that completely captured his attention, and as a hopeless romantic, I ate up every moment and conversation that the two characters shared right down to the very end.
Although Hera shares the cover with Kanan, she still remains somewhat of an enigma. We know she grew up during the Clone Wars era and desperately sought ways to get back at the Empire. However, I’m quite comfortable with the shroud of mystery that surrounds her, since the story primarily revolved around Kanan and his rise to accept his true nature–an aspect that Hera inspired and coaxed out of him. You could say that her rebellious tendencies rubbed off on him, since Kanan quickly provided plans and strategies at a moment’s notice. Though, not without complaint along the way, living up to the image of the reluctant hero throughout the events of the novel.
In terms of diversity, John Jackson Miller did an outstanding job incorporating various species and females, specifically in the Imperial ranks. Rae Sloane, for example, was a dark-skinned female Captain with her own agenda and no-nonsense attitude towards Kanan and his kind. She’s a character I would love to see again, especially in Star Wars Rebels. Zaluna, Skelly, and Okadiah were also great additions to the Star Wars universe. Zaluna was another character with much potential, given her background as a surveillance agent. Like Sloane, it would be a shame to not acknowledge her or even catch a glimpse of her in Rebels. Skelly had some very radical ideas and his stubbornness got the best of him at times, but he was the character that intrigued me the most. He was a veteran of the Clone Wars, having served on the front lines with clone troopers. The damage he suffered during the war and the lack of respect he received for his service only made me wonder how clone troopers were being treated. As an avid fan of clone troopers, their welfare had always been on the forefront of my mind. Skelly gave us a real glimpse of how clone troopers were treated following the war and it saddened me to think that the men who fought for peace got nothing in return.
Besides Kanan, Okadiah offered some of the more humorous bits throughout the story. Sadly, his untimely death was the push Kanan needed to start making a difference. In many ways, his passing reminded me of Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope or Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace. The mentor or the closest friend suffered an unjust death and the hero was forced to take the next step on his own.
The antagonist of the novel, Count Vidian, was an extremely formidable opponent. Quite frankly, he frightened me. Not only was the half-man/half-machine able to beat people into a pulp without remorse, but he had certain features that made him superior than all those around him. If he had wielded the Force, he could have been just as powerful as Darth Vader. However, he lacked that basic detail, leaving him to his own methods and devices. Although I didn’t expect him to die in the end, his death certainly reinforced the fact that there’s always someone else in the Empire looking to take your place. A possible plot point for Star Wars: Episode VII? One can only wait.
The plot, overall, remained intriguing, without falling flat or being overburdened by the science behind the planet Gorse and its moon. It carried an equal amount of adventure and exploration of the characters. When it came time for Kanan to draw out his lightsaber, I have to admit that the scene gave me goosebumps. He knew not to reveal himself to the Empire at that moment because there would be another opportunity in the future. If you’ve kept track of the trailers and previews for Star Wars Rebels, you’ll realize that that specific moment finally dawned on him on Lothal when he and his team attempted to save a group of enslaved Wookiees. That was when he pulled out his lightsaber and unveiled himself as a Jedi once more. Though, Hera found out first in the novel. The final reveal of Kanan’s true nature as a Force user appeared to Hera near the end of the book, and it felt like holding a big gulp of breath–one that you eventually let go and say, “Finally!” Because, up until that point, Hera had mentioned the Jedi in conversation and Kanan kept his mouth shut, making you wonder when and how she would find out. The moment of impending doom and Kanan’s abilities shining through to save Hera made for a memorable scene.
As someone brand new to Star Wars literature (I’ve only read a few books and the Republic Commando series), John Jackson Miller’s novel is a great introduction and transition into an aspect of Star Wars that exists outside of the films. The characters were likable, the writing was elegant in its simplicity, and the adventure was one that will make you crave for more. Thankfully, you can watch Hera and Kanan continue to fight against the Empire in Star Wars Rebels.
[A copy of this review also exists at The Wookiee Gunner]