And it begins. Announced earlier this year, we all found out that the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) of old was to be rolled over into Legends to make way for a unified story world and canonical EU. Along with the announcement came the reveal of four new books to herald in the new era, starting with John Jackson Miller’s Star Wars: A New Dawn. With a title that functions both as a signifier for this new era and a link to the plot, A New Dawn (AND) uncovers how the two main characters, Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels, first meet while showing us the Empire’s growing grasp on the galaxy far far away. And while the action stays relatively small, much like Miller’s excellent Legends novel Kenobi, the characters are strongly written within a finely plotted novel making A New Dawn a very entertaining read for both old and new Star Wars readers.
A New Dawn‘s story revolves around the thorilide mining on tidally locked Gorse and it’s moon Cynda during the swath of time historically known as the Dark Times, a 20 year span between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, with the novel specifically set 5 years prior to Rebels. While mining certainly doesn’t sound exciting, the characters and their various schemes and motives within the novel are what make this story well worth your time.
This time period hasn’t really been explored at all, so to read characters talking about events of the Prequels and Clone Wars in the past tense and the Empire in the present, but not about how the Empire blew up an entire planet, is entirely new and full of some unique thoughts and perspectives about the galaxy. Because technically at this point, the Empire hasn’t really done anything as hugely horrific as destroying Alderaan, but is just causing tons of small injustices across the galaxy. For what reason would someone actually want to stand up against the Empire, if they hadn’t been affected closely by Order 66? Or have been trying to hide since they received a final message from their order? Or haven’t seen any of the larger injustices the new government has committed? Many of AND’s characters answers those questions, ones which we’ve never really heard asked or answered before.
AND begins with interim Captain Rae Sloane arriving in the Gorse system with the Empire’s chief efficiency expert, Count Denetrius Vidian, intent on whipping the thorilide mining into shape. Sloane is one of many officers being brought up in the military without any Republic influences, only the Empire, and she seems to be ready to go with the flow of its more dubious practices. She also seems to know the difference between right and wrong, but her concern for her life and job, like many of us would be, fuels her decisions more fiercely than her moral compass. Calling her a villain, however, isn’t easy to do, as her arc throughout AND goes through some unexpected places.
On the other hand, it’s easy to call the ruthlessly efficient Count Vidian a villain, a cyborg who has upgraded himself according to his motivational slogan: Keep Moving! Destroy barriers! See everything! Giving him the ability shrug off blaster shots easier than stormtrooper armor with armored flesh, to make calls without ever speaking, and seeing not only with his eyes but also through cameras or placing computer screens over his sight, he makes for a unpredictable antagonist. Throughout the novel you’ll see the tenants of his motto through everything he does, but just whether or not they backfire against him is fun to see.
As Vidian begins working his magic, a security chief and conspiracy theorist both find themselves doing things they’d never considered before. The security chief is Zaluna Myder, a 50 year old diminutive Sullustan, who provides security by watching everything everyone does. Originally meant to collect marketing data, her firm’s purpose has changed with the governments and wars. But when Vidian ups security to maximum, a non-clone Clone Wars veteran and somewhat unstable conspiracy theorist like Skelly, normally ignored, is soon practically enemy number one. He’s been trying to warn everyone about the dangers of mining in the precious caverns of Cynda, his motto being, “no one listens,” until he starts using his war-honed demolition training to show, not tell.
Zaluna’s vicarious lifestyle speaks strongly to many of us, and her hesitant nature makes her an easy character to connect to. Watching her start using her knowledge of cameras and security for other reasons than what the Empire wants is a great look at how standing up for what you feel is right, even if life becomes uncomfortable once you do so.
But the real reason we’re all here is for Kanan and Hera. In this new and connected world, AND’s story of how they first meet is the official version, so those anticipating the upcoming show or those who would become fans of it, this is the right place to go to learn some of their history. Both Kanan’s and Hera’s backgrounds get some light shed on them, but lots of details remain locked up, which I assume will be reserved for the TV show. However, what we do learn about these two is certainly engaging and interesting.
Kanan is a Jedi we haven’t really seen before, affected by the events of Order 66 and gone to ground without any real mission or objective besides to stay hidden per Obi-Wan’s message from Ep. III. What does someone, not even a Jedi Knight by the time of the Jedi Order’s collapse, do in that type of situation? It’s a good thing Miller was recruited to tell this tale, as he’s been writing Jedi on their own, without the Order, expertly for years with the Knights of the Old Republic comics starring Zayne Carrick, Kerra Holt in Knight’s Errant novel and comic, and lastly Obi-Wan in Kenobi.
But unlike all of them, Kanan hasn’t gone on to do heroic things, instead going from planet to planet living a life where work is just a way to get money for drinking, never making friends or attachments. While he might not have always dreamed that’s how his life as a Jedi would be, he’s certainly gotten comfortable at being another passing face in the crowd. In a way he’s using Jedi training, though their training to be nomads didn’t cover Kanan’s situation. As he gets tangled up with Hera, and helping the others who get swept up with her, it’s obvious the public nature of the conflict is uncomfortable to him, which he wrestles with throughout the novel. Already ready to leave Gorse and his only real friend Okadiah, the only reason he initially sticks around is a lovely Twi’lek who happens into his life.
That Twi’lek just so happens to be Hera. She starts the novel off as a watcher, biding her time until she meets with an informant with insider info on the Empire, and once she steps into action she changes not only Kanan’s life, but the readers too. She a breath of fresh air not only on Gorse, stirring up what’s bubbling just under the surface, but also to the story itself and other characters. Hera is something Star Wars has been lacking, which is just female characters in general, but also a badass female character, who is confidant and bold, plus carries a heart and mind of gold. Her reasons for working on starting a rebellion against the Empire is very similar to Kanan’s, but how she got started working on a rebel cell, especially at a young age, is still an enticing mystery.
In the ramp up to the Rebels, Hera’s character reveal video mentioned how she is the heart of the crew on her ship the Ghost. That mother mentality is already in display here, as she doesn’t ask any of the characters who join forces with her to do anything she wouldn’t do or that they don’t feel comfortable doing. It’s amazing to watch her go from mothering to ass-kicking, and she’s easily the standout from the novel.
As usual, John Jackson Miller shows his deft hand with diverse casts, a sense of humor, and tightly plotted character driven stories. There are a few slow points, the beginning’s is at least necessary, but the action doesn’t seem to let up once it starts in earnest. AND is a thoroughly fun read, engaging the reader with the story, characters, and of course action. There are a few twists and turns, some being more obvious than the others, but how this book’s conflict draws to a close is thankfully much harder to predict. The tension also feels very real and palpable throughout, thanks to it being to easy to connect with the other characters who’s fates have yet to be decided. Lots of people die, surprisingly enough, definitely adding to, and racketing up, the tension.
There’s going to be a quick discussion of spoilers, so skip ahead to the ‘Here are a Few Other Things’ section if you haven’t read A New Dawn yet and don’t want to be spoiled!
The revelation that Kanan Jarrus is actually the inquisitive youngling Caleb Dume from the opening section shouldn’t be surprising, but it still is. Being apprenticed to Depa Billaba, largely an unexplored character from the Prequels (besides the excellent, but now Legends novel, Shatterpoint), is an interesting choice. With much of their last stand and her death shrouded in mystery and vague details, and the fact that Rebels won’t use flashbacks, it might be some time before we ever see more of that momentous moment in Kanan’s past (Update: Now we will in the new on-going comic Kanan!). The Inquisitor, the main villain of Rebels, is supposed to be able to determine which Jedi he’s facing due to having read all their files and committed them to memory, so will he uncover that Kanan is Caleb? It would certainly give him a psychological upper hand in their duels.
UPDATE #2: The Kanan comic has started and the first season of Star Wars Rebels is over: The Inquisitor didn’t learn/find out that Kanan used to be Caleb and the comic is definitely worth your time if you’re both a fan of the titular character and of really good comics. So while Kanan being Caleb isn’t so much a secret anymore, I’ll be keeping the above under the spoiler warning to all those left who have yet to learn.
Here are a few other things:
- It’s still unclear what Hera’s relation to Cham Syndulla is, a revolutionary character featured in the first season of The Clone Wars. He’ll be a POV character in the upcoming Lords of the Sith novel (by Paul S. Kemp), which takes place prior to AND, but whether or not he survives could be what kick started Hera’s mission. UPDATE: Cham is her father.
- Besalisks make up a number of characters in the novel and at least twice they are quadruple-wielding weapons, something I dreamed about since the moment we were introduced to Dexter Jettster in Attack of the Clones. Sure, TCW had a duel double-bladed wielding Besalisk Jedi in the dark but excellent Umbaran arc in Season 4, but four guns at once is nearly just as cool.
- Reading A New Dawn doesn’t feel any different than reading any other EU book before it. However, it does feel like the books have one eye on the past and the other on the future more so than ever before.
- Sarcastic names for vehicles are always welcomed.
- Myder’s Mynocks, the name for Zaluna’s shift at the security firm: Seems I’m not the only one who thought alliteration with Mynock was a good idea
- It’s a small thing, but finally seeing what Obi-Wan’s message was to the Jedi is neat. However, we still don’t know how exactly that message is sent out or how the Jedi receive it, but we don’t necessarily need to learn that information.
- A lot of thought went in to the ecosystem of Gorse and Cynda, and it’s those details that really help sell parts of the story.
- Kanan’s fascination with a lady’s voice is priceless.
- UPDATE 6/19/2016: Gotta love fan art! Carsten Bradley, a.k.a. @vagabondartist on Twitter, has going over the novels released so far and giving them interesting alternative covers. His first cover was for A New Dawn, which has Hera and Kanan under attack by TIEs, hiding behind the hoverbus. It’s pretty cool looking!
Whether you’re new or seasoned, young or old, A New Dawn is well worth any fan’s time to read. It’s a breath of fresh air for the Star Wars novels, a solid tie-in to the upcoming show Rebels, and a great place to join the (new) bandwagon. I couldn’t imagine a better author or book to herald in the new storytelling era of Star Wars and this should help assuage fan’s fears about the future.
+ Kanan and Hera
+ Tight, character driven plot
+ Fun, engaging read
– Some details left for upcoming show to answer
– Slow start
DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book, through NetGalley, from the publisher at no charge in order to provide an early review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening