Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: A New Dawn


Warning: Contains Minor Spoilers!

"Forget the old way."

Count Vidian's often repeated catchphrase may as well have been the title of the book.  And with good reason.  John Jackson Miller's latest entry into the Star Wars saga serves the dual purpose of introducing an all new cast of characters to the galaxy, while simultaneously re-launching the Star Wars publishing brand.  This is not to say the book puts down the old EU/Legends in any way, but rather it lets the reader in on the fact that Miller was clearly aware that the audience know he is re-launching the publishing brand and made a few tips of his cap to the audience as a result.

The novel itself is a masterpiece of Star Wars literature and belongs on the same shelf as the best of the old Expanded Universe/Legends.  Miller crafts a page turner with characters that are entirely new to the Star Wars saga.  The only character from any prior Star Wars media appears only briefly and only in the prologue.  Instead the book focuses on the stars of the upcoming animated series Star Wars Rebels Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus, as well as Zaluna, Skelly and imperials Count Vidian and Captain Rae Sloane.

What's most impressive is how well Miller captured the voices of the characters Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla.  Having seen the premiere episode of Star Wars Rebels at Toronto Fan Expo last weekend (read my spoiler free review of that here) as well as the Rebels short "The Machine in the Ghost", the characters interaction seem like a natural extension of what was shown in the novel.  From their quick witted back and forth during action scenes to their slower more intense dialogue when things get serious, the characters interaction in the novel and the series feel like genuine continuations of each other.

That's not to say there isn't room for character growth between A New Dawn and Rebels.  Kanan especially clearly undergoes much character growth between the two stories.  The Kanan we see at the beginning of A New Dawn is not a very likable character.  Early on in the book he punches Skelly in the mouth, when Skelly is trying to get his help.  On top of that, he is initially only interested in Hera as a potential 'hook up'.   His attitude is explained through his memories of his time after Order 66 and how he became disillusioned with the Jedi Order and the galaxy at whole.  We expect all Jedi in this era to be like Obi-Wan and Yoda, in hiding but still committed to the Jedi way.   That made this new take on a post Order 66 Jedi survivor a very intriguing way to introduce us to Kanan.

Hera, on the other hand, is 100% committed to the cause of rebelling against the Empire.  She is established as someone who wants to fight back in a big way.  She's not interested in destroying Imperial targets for no reason other than to "stick it to the empire".  She wants to establish a full fledged Rebellion that can take down the entire Empire.  Her thought process for recruiting was very interesting to see.  While she has much compassion for those oppressed by the Empire, she is only interested in recruiting those who are serious about fighting back.  She does not view any of the other main characters as potential recruits, even initially dismissing Kanan as a brawler and a trouble maker who wouldn't do well in a proper Rebellion.  However, she is able to use his infatuation with her in order to direct his energy to helping her cause.  Kanan's character arc in the novel is largely how Hera's influence sets him on the right path to becoming the man we see in Rebels

Unlike Kanan, however, Hera's backstory is barely hinted at.  This is probably because it will explored on Rebels.   If Hera's story is being saved for the show, then it will likely play into the story in a large way.  This make me wonder how much Kanan's backstory will be explored in Rebels and if some of the revelations in the novel will play a part in the series.  If Miller was given free range to explore Kanan's backstory in such depth does that mean it won't be dealt with much on the show?  That being said, his is probably the one we know the most about going in just from having seen Revenge of the Sith, so while more information is nice (and I'm glad we got it in A New Dawn) it's not as necessary as it is for the other Rebels. 

Skelly and Zaluna both serve as sympathetic examples of people who have been oppressed by the empire, but don't necessarily fit in as people whom Hera would like to work with in any other situation.  Zaluna is very much a reluctant Rebel.  She works as a surveillance agent on the planet Gorse. Though she has become disillusioned with her job since the Empire took over, it takes the request of her colleague, who is being arrested by the Empire for treason, for her to even consider doing something to fight back.  Skelly, on the other hand, is a Clone Wars veteran and explosions expert who, recklessly, uses bombs to make his point.   His heart is clearly in the right place, however he is unable to make his point without causing destruction.

The novel's main antagonist Count Vidian serves as a vehicle to represent the culture within the Empire that Palpatine has allowed to thrive.  Vidian's main goal throughout the novel is to rise up the ranks to become one of the Emperor's key advisers.   His catchphrase, "Forget the old way", is his mantra for increasing the efficiency of his workers.  This is done through fear of injury or death, showing the audience just how cruel the Empire can be.  The ultimate goal being, of course, to rise through the ranks of the Empire.  The problem for Vidian and for all those like him is that there are others attempting to do the same thing, which leads to in fighting and backstabbing.  This is exactly what Palpatine wants as it creates a "survival of the fittest" scenario where he can see who is truly the most worthy of serving directly under him. 

Rae Sloane, the interim captain of the Star Destroyer Ultimatum, represents the opposite end of the spectrum from Vidian.  Though she serves under Vidian, it is clear that her allegiance is to the empire at large and not to his selfish goals.   She is not afraid to go behind his back and above his head, to find out the truth.   Though, she clearly desires advancement in the Imperial military, she goes about achieving it in the strongest possible way.  She ultimately chooses not to get involved in Vidian's house of cards despite his promise to make her permanent captain and suggestion that he could have her promoted to admiral, instead going to his superiors to report him.  She seems to be building a solid base reputation of being reliable, loyal, and intelligent, which would likely cause her to advance.  It would be interesting to see her show up in Rebels to see how this has worked out for her.

My one criticism of the novel is that it centers around the attempted destruction of a moon (and possibly planet).  While I'm sure that this was meant to foreshadow the Death Star, I feel it is a plot element we have seen enough of in Star Wars.  With so much of the novel being fresh and original, having this be the mcguffin felt like a bit of a retread on something we have seen before.  Granted this may be me bringing in some baggage from the old EU/Legends where I felt this story point was used to death.  My main issue with using this plot element it that it runs the risk of making the Death Star less unique.  That being said, the story and the characters that surrounded this story point were so strong that this wound up being a minor criticism.

Overall, A New Dawn is a fantastic start to the new era of Star Wars publishing.  Miller does an excellent job of showing the Empire in its full, oppressive glory.  The characters of Kanan and Hera were very well written and felt like natural continuations of what we see on screen.  The Empire is shown to be a credible and cruel threat to our heroes and gave us a glimpse the internal workings and politics of the Empire.  Any shortcomings in the plot are more than made up for by the characters and explorations of what makes them tick.  This is a must read novel for all Star Wars fans!

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization.

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Penelope Sanchez said...

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