Pete’s Review: Star Wars: The Rise of the Empire

On sale now from Del Rey is a new trade paperback entitled, Star Wars: The Rise of the Empire. This bind features two recent new canon Star Wars novels, Tarkin and A New Dawn as well as 3 new short stories.

  • Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno
  • Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
  • “Mercy Mission” by Melissa Scott
  • “Bottleneck” by John Jackson Miller
  • “The Levers of Power” by Jason Fry

Individual Story Reviews:

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Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Gaunt, arrogant, calculating, cold, evil. These are words that we associate with Grand Moff Tarkin. He is a character that we only see for a single Star Wars film, but who’s power and relationship Darth Vader and Princess Leia have long made him a fascinating and much talked about character.

Publisher’s Summary:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.

How many times after seeing Return of the Jedi did you go back and wonder just how much Tarkin knew about Darth Vader? We have learned a little about him in prequel era novels, seeing him in action in original trilogy era novels or seeing him referenced in novels set after the original trilogy.

In these novels pieces of back-story were created for Tarkin, did you know that he once enslaved Admiral Ackbar? Did you know that he was once Governor of a planet called  Eriadu? Did you know that Tarkin seduced and groomed Imperial Admiral turned Galactic Alliance Head of State Natasi Daala? Did you know he once visited the living planet Zonama Sekot?

Well, all of those stories are now merely Legends about Wilhuff Tarkin. Some may still be true, some no doubt will be false, but with his new book Star Wars: Tarkin, James Luceno embarks on a literary journey that explores and establishes the canonical biography of Grand Moff Tarkin.

What the reader should realize going into Tarkin is that all that we “know” about the books protagonist is what we see in the film Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, his brief appearance at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, seven episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and what has been said about him in the new series Star Wars Rebels.

One other thing to keep in mind before reading Tarkin is that perhaps no author is better qualified to write this book. Tarkin will be Luceno’s 9th novel for the franchise and he is perhaps best known for his ability to weave bits of the Expanded Universe together. No author seems to have as deep a knowledge or deft a hand at integrating elements of the continuity together.

Luceno’s most recent novel, Darth Plagueis focused on the Sith Lord and his apprentice Palpatine was received to rave reviews from fans. Beautifully blending elements of the Expanded Universe, the prequels and The Clone Wars together. Luceno’s novel gave even prequel-haters a new perspective on The Phantom Menace.

What Luceno’s does in this novel is something that has been talked about by representatives of Lucasfilm over the course of the past year. He tells a new story but draws inspiration and draws elements from what was the Expanded Universe but is now referred to as Legends. He also connects this novel to even the most recent The Clone Wars that we have seen.

In Tarkin we get a story set five years after the formation of the Empire by Palpatine. It is a time in which the Empire is continuing to grow and expand its grip across the galaxy, yet you get a sense that resources are spread rather thin and there is some vulnerability here. The Death Star is under construction under the watchful eye of Moff Tarkin, but Imperial politics and the discovery of a potential renewed Separatist/rebel threat to the Holonet conspire to return Tarkin to Coruscant and then send him on an adventure with Vader.

Through flashbacks and Tarkin’s own writing we learn about Tarkin’s upbringing, early career and patronage from Palpatine. While reading Tarkin it is both easy and impossible to forget that this is the man who murdered millions in a second.

I particularly loved the stories of young Tarkin and his uncle Jova on the Carrion Plateau. Jova reminds me of a science fiction version of Teddy Roosevelt. He takes the patrician Tarkin and bloodies him. His experience on the Carrion is what shapes the man we see later in life. In this wild and dangerous area of Eriadu young Wilhuff Tarkin is tempered, crafted into a lean and hard man, his character traits being personified in his personal appearance.

But that is only one aspect of Tarkin, throughout the novel we see other glimpses of his character that reveal more about the man, the arrogance and elitism we see reflected in his moments of uniform design and conversations about the Outer Rim fits perfectly with the character portrayed by Peter Cushing.

For long time Expanded Universe fans there is also a strand of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s DNA in Tarkin. A brilliant man, Tarkin is not only a master strategist and incredibly perceptive, but he also has that air of mystery surrounding his promotions, assignments and rumors about his favor with the Emperor that was prominent in Thrawn’s story.

Tarkin’s relationship with the rest of the Imperial government both civilian and military is something that is fascinating to see and fits well with the commanding presence that we see in the Death Star’s meeting room.

There is a truly interesting dynamic that exists between Tarkin, Palpatine and Vader. In this novel we get not only a new name for Palpatine but also a different portrayal of the Emperor, he is a much more reclusive and mystical character than we saw in the Expanded Universe. It is Vader that seems to straddle the worlds of Tarkin and Palpatine. It is stunning to see just how highly Palpatine seems to think of Tarkin, I doubt there is any other individual in the Empire that Palpatine would treat the way that he treats Tarkin in this novel, in fact Luceno gives a special moniker to the grouping that these three characters form.

I was blown away by the Empire building that Luceno did in this novel, bringing in a mix of old characters and new characters, he introduces us into an Imperial Court that seems to be every bit as deadly as any battlefield. I am fascinated by the structure that has been assembled here, how it relates to Star Wars Rebels and how it may relate to the Empire in Episode VII.

At 288-pages Tarkin is an incredibly lean and efficient novel and one that you cannot miss if you care about learning the canonical story of Star Wars and this pivotal character’s role in that saga.

Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

Star Wars: A New Dawn is the first new adult novel released since the announcement of the changes of how tie-in fiction would be treated by Lucasfilm. The former Expanded Universe is now deemed “Legends” and no longer considered part of the larger Star Wars continuity. In this new reality, the formerly tie-in media subservient to the films and television projects that George Lucas was involved in has now been elevated to a level of parity in terms of canonical status. A New Dawn is the first book that is part of this new canon that will also include, comics, books, video games, television and movies.

Author John Jackson Miller has had an expanding presence in the Star Wars galaxy in recent years, he has written comic book series such as Knights of the Old Republic and Knight Errant, novellas such as Lost Tribe of the Sith, and novels such as Knight Errant and Kenobi.

Kenobi was one of the best Star Wars novels to be released in recent years and is a tough act for any author to follow-up. The excitement regarding the upcoming release of the Star Wars Rebels television series, which this novel ties into is also a cause for a heightening of expectations for this novel.

It is with that backdrop that I began reading A New Dawn. The novel begins with a framing preface by Dave Filoni, something that it would have been easy seeing George Lucas writing in days past. While Kathleen Kennedy is the President of Lucasfilm, in many ways Filoni is now the spiritual leader of Star Wars storytelling.

The preface is followed up by a prologue set during the Clone Wars years before the novel proper. This section of the book may be one of my favorite bit of Star Wars prose in a long time. I love everything about these scenes set at the Jedi Temple and the implications that they have for Kanan’s back-story.

The book is broken into sections, Phase One: Ignition, Phase Two: Reaction, Phase Three: Detonation, and Final Phase: Damage Assessment. Miller also uses a epigraphs in a way similar to Karen Traviss, in this case beginning some chapters with excerpts of news reports to give us a suggestion of themes and how the events would appear to the casual observer across the galaxy through the lens of Imperial propaganda.

The plot centers around the mining of thorilide on the moon Cynda which orbits the planet of Gorse. The Imperial war machine is demanding more and more thorilide for its various projects. Imperial efficiency expert Count Vidian has come to Gorse to improve operations there and boost production of thorilide, he has co-opted Captain Sloane to help him in his tasks. Vidian is faced with a number of obstacles, Imperial court scheming from rival Baron Danthe and the actions of Hera, Kanan and the unlikely associates Skelly and Zaluna.

In many ways the excitement for this book followed by how terrific the book starts set my expectations to an unfair level. A New Dawn is a solid book, which introduces some interesting original characters, deals with realistic and important themes during the rise of the Empire and provides a nice mixture of action and adventure.

The characters of A New Dawn are some of the stronger points of the novel, Kanan and Hera are the characters that Miller borrows from Rebels but the rest of the cast are his own original creations. The main cast of characters includes Imperials Count Vidian, Captain Sloane and Baron Danthe and the other heroic characters Skelly and Zaluna.

Vidian is casual brutality possesses a physical look and sound that is symbolic of the loss of his humanity. It is interesting that Vidian has a reputation as being a corporate efficiency expert but what we see in the book is largely heavy-handed and force over finesse strategies from him. The fact that he admits himself he is not cunning when it comes to the politics of the Imperial court somehow makes him seem a little less competent and threatening of  a villain.

Skelly was arguably my favorite character in the book, the psychologically and emotionally damaged veteran of the Clone Wars is full of conspiracy theories and has burned bridges with many in the mining industry on Gorse. At the same time he is very good at what he does (blowing things up) and one of his crack-pot theories is central to the story. I really like that Miller didn’t take Skelly and make him a superhero. His character stays grounded and does not keep up with Kanan in a way that would be unbelievable.

Hera may share equal space on the cover with Kanan, but her role in the novel is much more of a supporting character to Kanan, she is a catalyst for him and an individual for his character to play off.

Kanan is very well done in this novel, he is very much a Jedi who has attempted to shed every vestige of his past. He is arrogant, boastful and a hard-drinking and hard living sort. We find Kanan in a place that it would be easy to see a Han Solo being if he didn’t have Chewie to help orient his moral compass. The character arc of Kanan is a familiar one in storytelling, it is the gunslinger who attempts to retire and is forced back into action. It is a similar to the choice facing Obi-Wan in the novel Kenobi, because these Jedi find it very hard to not help those in need when they are confronted with injustice. By the end of Kenobi, Obi-Wan attempts to recuse himself from society in order to avoid intervening and drawing Imperial attention because of his greater mission to protect Luke. In this book Kanan faces a similar choice but makes a different decision.

A New Dawn is a solid addition to the tradition of Star Wars novels. I wanted to love A New Dawn, but I can’t get past like with it. Perhaps on a reread…

“Mercy Mission” by Melissa Scott

Mellisa Scott’s debut Star Wars story is a tale focused on Hera and the attempt to smuggle medicine past Imperial authorities and to the Twi’leks in Lessu on Ryloth. This story set one year after the events of Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith features a return of Moff Delian Mors.

The story focuses on a young Hera as copilot on a freighter rushing a medicinal root onto Ryloth to fight a disease that hits the Twi’lek species particularly hard. This short story is action and tension heavy with some character development for Hera. Generally of the three short story this one is probably my least favorite because it doesn’t dig as deeply into the characters as I would like it too.

“Bottleneck” by John Jackson Miller

John Jackson Miller must have achieved the rank of Grand Quartermaster by this point, in this short story he brings back Imperial efficiency expert Count Vidian and pair him with Grand Moff Tarkin. This story also features a small cameo by then Lt. Rae Sloane.

Miller’s writing of Tarkin is absolutely pitch perfect. Intelligence, arrogance, annoyance and judgement are all on display from Tarkin in this story.

I really enjoyed this story and it is a close second to the final short story included in the book.

The Levers of Power by Jason Fry

Set aboard the bridge of the Star Destroyer Vigilance, this story begins amidst the Battle of Endor. We find a now senior Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane in command of the Vigilance, accompanied by her XO, Nymos Lyle and ISB Agent Emarr Ottkreg.

This story packs a lot of things I like to very few words, new technology, compelling lead character, conflict between competent and incompetent Imperials, and a different view of events we have previously seen occur.

This really should be part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and serves as a perfect lead in to Chuck Wendig’s recent novel, Star Wars: Aftermath. Admiral Sloane displays intelligence and confidence in this story that once again goes to show why she is one of the best characters created for the new canon.

The Rise of the Empire is a great bang for your buck (MSRP $15) and even worth it if you have one or both of the full length novels included between its covers.

A Great Way To Get Solid Star Wars Stories At A Low Price

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