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Star Wars: Lords of the Sith

“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters—and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.

Author: Paul S. Kemp
Cover artist: Aaron McBride
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: April 28, 2015
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780345511447

As a collector of all the original Expanded Universe literature, now rebranded as non-canon “Legends,” and the new cohesive canon I am used to the rollercoaster highs and lows of literature tapping into the Star Wars universe. Much of the content is universally celebrated or condemned, but there are always personal little gems that mean that much extra more to particular individuals. Perhaps that is what makes the Star Wars universe that somewhat special. There is something in it for everyone, and Del Rey certainly taps into that with its latest offering Lords of the Sith.

Paul S. Kemp having already penned three Star Wars novels and two short stories for Star Wars Insider magazine knows his way around the Star Wars universe and has penned some immersive prose in his past works. When news broke that he would be penning a tale centered on Darth Vader and the Emperor / Darth Sidious there was great passion for the project from the fandom – and Kemp largely delivers.

Lords of the Sith is set in the years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, with the Empire still securing its hold on the galaxy and the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader, still adapting to his new life and his artificial machine of a body.

Vader is still somewhat of an unknown figure to the galaxy and is known more to the general populace through myth than in his actual actions. Kemp plays into this theme throughout the novel as well as utilizing the budding and still uneasy and untrusting relationship with his Master, Palpatine. Neither fully trusts the other – and this is the first time we have seen the duo interact in any great length in any Star Wars prose. I particularly enjoyed the interplay and mind games Kemp layered the characters with. I’m just not sure if such a young and inexperienced apprentice would be pushing the boundaries of his Sith Master at this juncture in the relationship. Perhaps Anakin’s arrogance is the explanation to this back and forth.

The central premise of the novel revolves around the Imperial occupation and control of the planet Ryloth, and the locals reacting by beginning a guerrilla uprising against them. Cham Syndulla, whom avid readers will recognize from his Clone Wars cartoon role, leads the resistance. He is also the father to Hera Syndulla of Rebels cartoon fame. The role of these resistance fighters is to learn more about Vader, and ultimately kill him and his master. It is a clever plot device to allow the reader to learn slowly more about Vader as the resistance do, and Kemp utilizes this expertly throughout.

The Ryloth rebels attack the Star Destroyer carrying the two Lords of the Sith, forcing them to escape in a pod to the wild rain forests of Ryloth, where both rebel and Imperial factions seek to find them first. This does raise perhaps one of the downsides of the novel with the, at times, overuse of forest wildlife and adventures to move the story forward – and it just does not seem very Star Wars to me. Perhaps it is more the fact that the fight scenes appear to be so long and drawn out. It just does not work on paper.

One of the biggest talking points prior to the novel release was the announcement that the Lords of the Sith would feature the first specifically identified lesbian character in the Star Wars universe. This was, rightly, loudly applauded as expanding the diversity of the in-universe characters to better reflect real world society.

In fairness to Del Rey and Lucasfilm whilst it was discussed in interview they did not make a big issue of the decision. They made it purely an evolution of storytelling, which is what it is and should be.

The character in question, Moff Delian Mors’s sexuality is largely irrelevant to the storyline. Mentioned once to establish her history and emotions in the plotline. At first I questioned this, as why introduce a lesbian character and not promote this or make it a central plot of theme. On reflection, Kemp has actually handled this brilliantly. It could have been easily triumphed out as a landmark event; however in the way it is handled and conveyed they actually hit home the real reason for introducing the sexuality of the character. Someone’s sexuality is irrelevant, it’s no more important than Vader or Palpatines’ assumed heterosexuality. Kemp addressed it best on Twitter where he referred to her sexuality as being an aspect of her character, just like the fact that her hair is brown. By having the sexuality irrelevant it normalizes it more than trying to show that this is normal in any kind of storyline. This is the first I assume of a much richer and diverse Star Wars universe, and perhaps the last time we even need to acknowledge or discuss it.

I actually think we are at a juncture in Star Wars culture where we will look back and recognize that this was the time where diversity was truly achieved in all ways, and in all media. Certainly that was the vibe I felt walking the aisle of the recent Star Wars Celebration. Finally the Star Wars universe is starting to reflect the rich diversity of our fandom.

The character of Mors initially comes across as a calamitous, and ineffective leader of the Imperials on Ryloth – but begins to shine as the novel progresses and she hunts for the Sith Lords. We follow her as she recovers from the emotional turmoil of losing her wife, and regaining her strength of character. It is a slow paced storyline, but I think especially towards the last few chapters it really pays off.

Perhaps the highlight of the novel for me was Vader recalling his own involvement from the Clone Wars, and specifically of the Battle of Ryloth – it was great sensing Vader’s emotions on this from his new dark perspective. The warped mind of Vader is only highlighted more as he recalls the names of his Clone War comrades, Ahsoka, Rex and Obi-Wan.

Kemp also gets the fast pace, and scene jumping narrative of the Star Wars movies with an incredibly fast moving novel. Having the Imperial versus Ryloth resistance narratives working against each other means that you are never wanting the story to move back to the opposite side. It is a real page-turner of a novel that never slows down.

Kemp strikes the right tone with Vader. For the first time in a Star Wars novel a writer gets Vader spot on. From the evil and vicious Vader to the slight doubts in his head as the persona of Anakin seeps through – it all works perfectly. The Emperor is written spectacularly well, with great sinister remarks and a brilliant insidious mind, so much so that you can almost feel Ian McDiarmid delivering those lines with pure venom. The manipulations are inspired, and it is fantastic to see the way that he plays on Vader’s emotions and past to keep him firmly in the Dark Side of the Force.

Kemp manipulates us the readers too with a tale of Imperial resistance and endurance that was both compelling and thrilling, managing to make you root for both the rebels and Imperials. You mind will be twisted and warped as you try to work out who you want to win. This is not your normal science fiction fare, and it celebrates adventure, and is full of thrills and suspense that will keep you hooked and turning the next page.

Many thanks as always to Random House UK for the advance review copy.

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Star Wars Lords Of The Sith (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)
  • Paul S. Kemp
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books
  • Edition no. 0 (01/26/2016)
  • Library Binding: 368 pages