Canon Novel Review: Star Wars: Tarkin

Tarkin Review

– Light Spoiler Review –

The second of the new canon novels focuses on the story behind Wilhuff Tarkin’s rise from Governor and Moff to the first Grand Moff, while filling in most of his personal history. Part biography, part caper, part love-letter to EU/Legends, part love-letter to The Clone Wars, part Palpatinian machinations, Tarkin (and author James Luceno) certainly tries to please many people. And while most readers might find only one part giving them a reason to finish the novel, each part comes together for a satisfactory whole, with a few rough edges.

I know many people, including myself, wondered how close in scale Tarkin would be to Darth Plagueis, Luceno’s final Legends novel that spanned several decades, so I’ll get this out of the way now: it’s nowhere near in scale, but close in scope. It might be disappointing to some, as we don’t end with Tarkin’s final breath on the Death Star (rather his first!), but any reader will find themselves going back over this novel to catch every inch of detail Luceno squeezed into its pages.

Tarkin is set 5 years after Revenge of the Sith, with its present-time story covering not much more than a week or two, while segments in the past give us glimpses of a large swatch of Tarkin’s early lifespan. The present day story starts with Tarkin overseeing the construction of the Death Star (a name it isn’t really called in the novel) aboard a remote facility when it’s attacked by an old cobbled together warship, old Separatist fighters, and a fancy bit of live Holo-Net corruption not seen since the Clone Wars. Emperor Palpatine isn’t pleased, and his legion of military leaders are squabbling about what’s going on, so he sends for Tarkin to report on the incident, as he has some previous experience with Holo-Net subterfuge. Once a stash for Separatist communication devices, some capable of doing what Tarkin experienced, is found on Murkhana, Palpatine sends Darth Vader and Tarkin out to investigate.

Tarkin Prosecuting Ahsoka TanoWhat Vader and Tarkin find is a rather entertaining story, compete with some great twists and turns, as the culprits behind the opening scene’s attack end up going on a type of terrorist spree against the Empire with Tarkin’s personal ship. But seeing Vader and Tarkin together again, especially now after their time spent together seen in The Clone Wars, leads to some interesting conversations and a lot of references to the show. As an avid watcher of the show, it was really great to hear certain TCW events mentioned here, especially Tarkin’s thoughts about being on the prosecution’s side against Ahsoka in the final season. He’s a smart and very devious cookie, deducing Vader is most likely Skywalker, hence his thoughts about Ahsoka and his surprise Vader hasn’t ever said anything to him about it. He also is sure Palpatine and Vader are Sith, something I never considered probably wasn’t common knowledge even to Palpatine’s closest confidants.

Tarkin and AnakinVader and Tarkin’s interactions are the highlights of the novel, as their styles for attacking problems both compliment and hinder one another (something we saw in TCW and only is expanded on here), but they grow to have mutual respect. It better explains the strange command structure seen aboard the Death Star in A New Hope, and why Vader might not mind listening to Tarkin’s command. To be honest, these were things I didn’t know I’d like to have explained, but afterwards I was sure happy Luceno took the time to cover their dynamic.

The story of Tarkin’s youth and young adulthood was almost as compelling as the present time story. His adventures with his uncle out on the Carrion plains as part of his family’s initiation and his rise as a military leader and governor of the planet are well-told, if not wholly original tales. But what Luceno has done here is shape a young man who could eventually order the destruction of Alderaan and not bat so much as an eye, thanks to a unique outlook on life from both his family’s trials and experiences in his life. The tale of the Carrion Spike, the final trial he faced under his uncle’s tutelage, is by far the best part of Tarkin’s past; Though it seemed a little weak that somehow traps he set for the trial on the Spike all those years ago are instrumental to the novel’s final moments in the present.

But as I said before, the push and pull between the two timelines made me really wish they both had their own novels. Just when I was getting interested in one timeline, I’d find myself pulled back to the other at a less than exciting time. And then there were moments in the past, like the story of female pirate warlord Q’anah and how Tarkin defeats her in a rather ruthless fashion, that only get a few pages and definitely deserved more or felt like a whole other novel within this one.

And not only are we following Tarkin around, but there are many pages devoted to Palpatine’s and eventually those who stole Tarkin’s ship POVs. While this isn’t a problem due to their content, as I certainly enjoyed those sections (Luceno writes an excellent Palpatine), but rather this book isn’t very long. It’s one hundred pages shorter than the previous canon novel, A New Dawn, and Tarkin crams a whole lot more detail in its pages. Everything feels very condensed, very quick, and suddenly very over; I was almost thrown off guard when the book came to a close, as it felt like things were just about to ramp up, and it’s Tarkin‘s attempt at telling an over abundance of stories at fault.

Wilhuff Tarkin

Here are a few other things:

  • By now you’ve likely heard Palpatine has finally been given a first name. It’s from Lucas and boy it’s doozy: Sheev. I read it and just shrugged, pronouncing it as ‘shiv’ because otherwise it sounded closer to a sneeze I made recently. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of making fun of it, as it is ridiculous, but so too are many names throughout the Star Wars saga. Club Jade has a beautiful round up of tweets related to the hubbub that ensued once the internet got wind of it (thanks to a excerpt on Amazon) but this tweet from “Star Wars In the Class” stands out from the all the awesome jokes, pointing out Sheev is a Marathi (hadn’t heard of it till now) word that stands for “boundary” or “dividing point” and once you think about it, Sheev might not be that ridiculous for Palpatine after all.
  • Luceno sort of makes his previous novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader “canon” thanks to several mentions or allusions to events in the novel. It’s not a confirmation that his text is canon, but it’s another good case for not fretting over the reboot as it’s very easy to consider everything has still happened until they overwrite it. There’s also some Darth Plagueis and Labyrinth of Evil references, I’m pretty sure, plus tons of others I probably missed on my first two read-throughs, as per usual with Luceno, there’s so many odd references and mentions it’s nearly impossible to catch them all.
  • There’s so many planet names mentioned that I’m sure not even those in the “Save the old EU” camp have ever heard them. Heck, some of them only have a sentence long page on Wookieepedia.
  • Palpatine living in the Jedi Temple was a great idea. Loved the imagery of it, plus it always made me imagine him with a damn big grin on his face.
  • There’s a wink and a nod to how some Star Wars video games have given certain lightaber colors to certain classes of Jedi, but that assumption is proven bunk here.
  • Armand Isard ring a bell? How about the Ubiqtorate? Lots of fans of the EU/Legends will be very pleased reading Tarkin.
  • Tarkin talking with Dooku pre-Clone Wars is a delight.
  • There’s mention of the Sugi race and the eponymous crystal from the recently released storyboard versions of TCW arc “Crystal Crisis,” giving us another reason why they released those, even unfinished. Definitely worth checking out.
  • James Luceno said in an interview with SciFiNow that he chose, “…not to really reference too much EU material,” which I call false after having read it. Well, technically yes, he doesn’t specifically reference many events, but he brings in a lot of miscellanea. However, I’ll admit he seemed to reference TCW more.
  • I wish we had spent more time with the shipjackers, as their goals and story certainly were interesting. Their part is another one I would’ve like to see have its own book.
  • Rebels Report as an excellent info-graphic about the structure of the Empire following the events of the novel and definitely something to check out after reading.
  • While some of Palpatine’s musings seemed surprising considering they revealed he doesn’t really care about the Empire at all, but rather his goals for dominating the Force, I didn’t put too much thought into because we all know he dies. But after reading this recent article at EUCantina by Brian, we should all be paying more attention to those sections.
  • Also, Mike from Eleven-ThirtyEight might have caught the first mistake of the new canon.
  • UPDATE 5/18/16: Tarkin’s ship, the Carrion Spike, is seen once again in the Poe Dameron comic’s 2nd issue!

 

If you like novels which expand upon the universe they’re set in, even if it’s regarding a subject which doesn’t move any grander plot along, then Tarkin will certainly be up your alley. It’s solidly written, packed with maybe a little too much story, and its mostly action-less and detail heavy nature isn’t exactly thrilling for everyone. However, it’s a great expansion on an era we know little about, giving excellent looks into the politics of the time, Tarkin’s rise in prominence, Vader’s place amongst the military, and how those two became ‘friends’ of sort. Those particular aspects of Star Wars might not interest you, but there’s so many different parts inside Tarkin‘s pages that I argue you’ll be hard pressed to not find something within which will convince you to read through till the end. And if anything, it is a short book.

+ Wilhuff Tarkin (you can hear his voice when reading)

+ Mostly intriquing tales in present and past

+ Packed with details you’ll have to reread to catch

  Too short

  Lots of story going on

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

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.

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