Since yesterday was Revenge of the 5th I had my mind on… the Sith. So naturally the Dark Side prompted me to finish my review of the Sithiest Star Wars canon novel to date–Lords of the Sith. My colleagues Pete, Elaine, Sal, and Jesse already did some fantastic in-depth reviews on Paul Kemp’s entry into the new Star Wars canon. For the record, Pete and Sal gave the book a 10 (out of 10), Jesse gave it a 9 and Elaine gave it a 8. Clearly the feedback is very positive. For my review, I will take a slightly different approach and give you a snapshot of what I thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the novel.
When the new era of Star Wars canon was announced and the list of the first books to make up that new canon was released, few titles drew the attention of Paul Kemp’s Lords of the Sith. For me personally, there wasn’t another book that piqued my interest as much as this one. Of particular interest was how much of the old EU Sith lore would be retained in the new canon. With a title like Lords of the Sith, I was hopeful that we would at least get a preview of how the Story Group would handle the Sith order. Below is the Good, the Bad and… well, the Sithy!
- Cham Syndulla: Whenever the main subject of a story is a villain, the question of who will be the protagonist is raised. Rightly so, as it’s not easy to have a villain be the main character of a story. Here, the protagonist, or at least co-protagonist, is Cham Syndulla from The Clone Wars. Syndulla leads a group of rebels on Ryloth, a planet which we previously saw fighting the Separatists while trying to maintain its independence during the Clone Wars. Now it is under the negligent oppression of Moff Delion Mors and the Empire. Cham is well written, a strong leader, and easy to root for. In Cham you get a glimpse of how the larger Rebel Alliance must have started. Indeed, the seeds of ideals that would eventually lead to the Rebel Alliance that we know are spread throughout this book. It’s not easy to create a character who might credibly threaten the Empire, and in particular Darth Vader AND Emperor Palpatine. I can’t say that I ever thought Cham and his rebels were a legitimate threat to the Sith lords, but I found myself at times thinking they might just be credible enough to make a lasting impression.
- Action: If there’s one thing Paul Kemp does well, it’s write action. This book’s action sequences are spectacular. The opening scene, which features Vader in a space battle, is eye-popping (and this is a BOOK). I could easily imagine that sequence taking place in a feature film. A substantial early portion of this story takes place in a space battle where Cham and his rebels seek to strike a major blow against the Empire. That whole arc of the story is action-packed and fast-paced. Kemp paints a vivid picture of a multi-faceted space battle that masterfully juggles a massive battle with a more intimate struggle between our key characters. If you came for action, this novel does it so well that you’ll be reaching for your popcorn.
- Sith Lore: So how much of the old Sith lore will be carried over into the new canon? I have no idea. Probably my biggest area of disappointment is that the novel didn’t explore the background of the Sith. The story is very much a character exploration of Vader and Palpatine fairly early in their master-apprentice relationship. That part is done well. But if you’re looking for Sith history, the inner-workings of the cult, or anything else in-depth about the Sith, this book doesn’t have it. I don’t think it’s Kemp’s fault. I doubt the Story Group gave him the freedom to explore any of that. Frankly, I’m not sure they’ve even decided how much of the Legends material will carry over yet in this specific area. But I think with a title like Lords of the Sith, it’s reasonable to expect some kind of details on just what it means to be Sith (similar to what we saw in James Luceno’s Legends novel Darth Plagueis). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
- The Antagonists: As much as I like Cham and his merry band, I knew there was no way they could face off with Vader or the Emperor. And Kemp does a fantastic job of making that very clear at every moment. Vader here is not a villain that our heroes can hope to overcome. He is quite literally the demon that will destroy you if he gets to you. While that does make Vader awesome, it leaves much to be desired in terms of story tension. If the heroes have absolutely no hope of defeating the villains, then what? Plus, I imagine most readers, including myself, want to see Vader and Palpatine in action. We want to see them unleash the Dark Side. There’s little need for that when there are no Jedi around to match their Force might. In an effort to work around that Kemp has to use a variety of potential foils. Cham and his crew provide the tactical opposition. For the brute force, there is a somewhat random inclusion of… massive bugs. Against these predators, Vader and Emperor go to work. Unfortunately, to me that whole subplot fell a little flat. I just didn’t care about Vader and Palpatine going nuts against a bunch of big insects. I don’t get excited when a battle involves large, mindless opponents. I understand why they were in the story, and I understand what Kemp was trying to show, but it left me fairly unsatisfied.
- Vader and Palpatine: The most critical part of a book titled Lords of the Sith is… well, the Lords of the Sith! In this crucial area, Kemp absolutely hit a grand slam. The characterizations of Vader and Palpatine, as well as their interactions with one another and those around them, were absolutely spot on. This was the Darth Vader that we saw in the three original trilogy films–he was fearsome, angry, destructive and chillingly effective. Palpatine was calculating, enigmatic, brilliant and pure evil. There are several moments when the reader and Vader find ourselves in the exact same position: trying to figure out what Palpatine meant by something he said. I literally pictured myself standing next to Lord Vader scratching my chin. It was thoroughly enjoyable. This book has the most authentic representation of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine I’ve seen outside of the films.
Ultimately, Lords of the Sith is a fun story featuring two of the most important characters in the Star Wars universe. While it, like most of the new canon novels thus far, doesn’t seem to have a major impact in the overall saga, it’s an exciting, fast-paced read with some interesting characters. The payoff is an opportunity to see Darth Vader and Palpatine interact and further develop their master-apprentice relationship. For this alone I would recommend the book.
Lords of the Sith is available on Amazon.com now.