Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: 'Lords of the Sith'

By: Dominic Jones

Warning: Contains Mild Spoilers

The fourth novel of the "new" Star Wars canon hit shelves earlier this week, though some of us were able to pick up a copy a week and a half early during Star Wars Celebration.  The novel is written by Paul S. Kemp and takes place between Episodes III and IV (between the novels Tarkin and A New Dawn if you wan to get really specific) and tells the tale of a failed assassination attempt on Darth Vader and The Emperor, aka Darth Sidious. 

The novel is cover-to-cover action, with little down time, though it is that down time that makes the novel so compelling.  The novel gives us a brief insight into the relationship between Vader and Sidious.  Kemp paints the picture of a relationship built on distrust, as most Sith relationships are.  Sidious clearly understands how the rule of two works and knows that eventually Vader will plot to overthrow him.  Throughout the novel we see him constantly reminder Vader that he is the more powerful of the two.  Sidious also seems to be testing Vader's loyalty to the Sith.   

Vader, on the other hand, hasn't quite reached the point of wanting to overthrow Sidious and the idea is mentioned only in passing and without much detail.  This, to me, suggests just how badly Obi-Wan broke Vader's spirit in Revenge of the Sith.  Having lost to Obi-Wan clearly changed just how powerful Vader thought he was.  Prior to that duel Anakin was making grand claims to Padme about being able to over throw Sidious, now eight years later he can barely bring himself to think of the idea.  It is implied in the novel, and I love this concept, that Vader believes he won't truly be able to overthrow Sidious until he kills Obi-Wan.  And if we look at the Original Trilogy it is after he kill Obi-Wan aboard the Death Star that he begins to have ideas about killing Sidious.  Three years after his "defeat" of Obi-Wan he is desperately seeking out "the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star" in the belief that this Force sensitive kid could help him bring down the Emperor, as he reveals to Luke at the end of the film. 

And all this, comes from one single line in the book.  This is what I love about Star Wars, and Star Wars novels.  One simple line that could easily be taken as throwaway dialogue is causing me to reconsider the films that I have seen countless times. 

Though the novel is titled Lords of the Sith, it could very easily be argued that the main character is Cham Syndulla.  Cham first appeared in the Season Episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "Liberty on Ryloth" and later reappeared in the Season Three episode "Supply Lines."  Though we didn't know it back in 2009 when we were first introduced to Cham it seems he will be an important player in this era of Star Wars.  Not only does he star in this novel, but his daughter Hera in one of the principle characters on Star Wars Rebels.  Hera is not seen in the novel and is mentioned only once, however by witnessing Cham's struggle we can begin to understand how Hera became the character we met in A New Dawn and watch on Rebels

In Cham we see someone who is has been fighting for his entire life and is beginning to tire of it.  In The Clone Wars it was implied that he had been fighting for a long time and we get the sense in Lords of the Sith that he hasn't stopped fighting since then.  We also see how much he has lost.  Don't let the Disney logo on the back fool you, Lords of the Sith is a blood bath with seemingly important characters being killed off in an instant.  Kemp does a great job of making the reader feel every death, even when its minor characters.  This gives the reader an insight into how Cham must feel every time one of his soldiers is killed.

My one criticism of the book is that there is a creature attack on our heroes late in the book that seems unnecessary.  The intent of the sequence was likely to impress on the reader just how dangerous the terrain on Ryloth is.  However, after the first two-thirds or so of the novel were spent showing how credible a threat Vader, Sidous, and the Empire as a whole were, the Ryloth wilderness felt like child's play and out of place this late in the story.

I feel I also must touch on the character of Moff Delian Mors, due to the news that got out about her character before the novel's release.  Allow me to state very clearly that I am in favor of more diversity, of all kinds (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) in Star Wars and was very pleased when I heard this news.  I applaud Kemp for including this.  It was a subtle, blink-and-you-miss-it reveal late in the novel but it added a nice layer to Mors character.  It is not crucial to the story by any means, but it helps make the universe a more diverse place and more reflective of the world and Star Wars fandom.  And, as I've stated before, having more diversity in Star Wars makes it more accessible to more people which means more people will become fans and we will get to share our passion with more people and that can only be a good thing.

Finally, a couple of other quick observations about the novel.  I loved the way The Clone Wars was referenced throughout the novel, not only by Cham but more so by Vader and Sidious.  It was also interesting to see Sidious slip back into the benevolent Palpatine guise he utilized throughout the prequels during a sequence late in the novel.  Another nice touch is that, even though the novel doesn't necessarily tie directly into anything, it fits nicely with the tone established by previous novels and Rebels for this era.  The Empire is all powerful, Palpatine is keeping a his Sith powers a secret from the public, Vader is mysterious and almost more of a legend to the outside galaxy, and any Rebel movements are small and locally based, though there is a sense of something bigger on the horizon.  It is really nice to see such consistency across all platforms.

All in all Lords of the Sith is chilling story, that shows the tough side of a Rebellion.  In the films and TV series (thus far) we have mostly seen the major victories (the Battle of Hoth being the exception).  In Lords of the Sith, we follow a Rebel cell whose greatest achievement doesn't make a dent in the Empire.  We see the cost of rebelling, both in death toll but also in the mental state of Cham.  We see how difficult it must have been to begin a galaxy wide Rebellion.  And we get to see the true nature of the evil the rebellion must fight.  And to top it off, it's a great read

Score: 9/10

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25
Read my review of A New Dawn here

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

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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