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Star Wars: Tarkin

Five standard years have passed since Darth Sidious proclaimed himself galactic Emperor. The brutal Clone Wars are a memory, and the Emperor’s apprentice, Darth Vader, has succeeded in hunting down most of the Jedi who survived dreaded Order 66. On Coruscant a servile Senate applauds the Emperor’s every decree, and the populations of the Core Worlds bask in a sense of renewed prosperity.

In the Outer Rim, meanwhile, the myriad species of former Separatist worlds find themselves no better off than they were before the civil war. Stripped of weaponry and resources, they have been left to fend for themselves in an Empire that has largely turned its back on them.

Where resentment has boiled over into acts of sedition, the Empire has been quick to mete out punishment. But as confident as he is in his own and Vader’s dark side powers, the Emperor understands that only a supreme military, overseen by a commander with the will to be as merciless as he is, can secure an Empire that will endure for a thousand generations….

Author: James Luceno
Cover artist: David Smit
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: November 4, 2014
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9780345511522

In the hands of another author the story of Tarkin’s steady march to prominence could have been a cliche ridden minefield filled with pat moments of ‘tactical genius’ and convenient plot twists. But in the confident care of James Luceno – a veteran of the GFFA now on his 9th Star Wars novel – it’s a fascinating character study of a man who’s unique take on the galaxy shaped the lives of countless trillions.

With A New Dawn kickstarting the new era of all-encompassing canon by taking two of our heroes from the freshly minted Star Wars Rebels and telling the tale of their first meeting, Heir to the Jedi bringing us the first-person view of Luke Skywalker and Lords of the Sith looking at the relationship between Vader and his Emperor, James Luceno’s Tarkin needed to fulfill a far trickier task. Not only satisfying those Expanded Universe/Legends fans familiar with elements of Tarkin’s backstory but also continuing what’s been set out already in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

As he did with Darth Plagueis Luceno blends elements of what is known with new dashes of information and occasionally controversial reveals (Sheev anyone?) And, as with Plagueis, he does a masterful job. Right from the off we are in no doubt who this man is. He’s there to marshall change, make a difference and the people around him are stepping stones to a life of importance.

It would be easy to present Tarkin as a tyrant when he is anything but. Certainly, he has memorable ways of ‘sending a message’ to people in his way (as Q’anah’s Marauders learned to their cost) and in a scene early in the novel shows a glimmer of vanity when designing a new uniform that is almost comical (and which also beautifully refers to Peter Cushing’s dislike for the rigid boots he wore in A New Hope) but here we have a fully rounded character whose actions are explained and justified….from a certain point of view. His harsh and cold upbringing is the spine of his character, informing decisions he makes decades later and layering steadily (via judiciously placed flashback scenes) into the man who would over a decade later give the instruction to decimate an entire world.

This once familiar era of Star Wars is suddenly renewed, fresh and unknown. Here we have an Empire that is focusing largely on the Core Worlds to the exclusion of the rest of the galaxy. Tarkin is overseeing the construction of the Death Star, and while he is a brilliant man there are troubles besetting him from all sides. To paraphrase a great scoundrel he’s had ‘supply problems of every kind, he’s had labour difficulties…‘ There’s no doubt the construction of the battle station is achievable, but to an ever-expanding Imperial navy taking new worlds by the day it’s a stretch, and that shows. And as a side note it’s also worth remembering that during the time of The Phantom Menace, as Shmi explained, the Republic had essentially left the Outer Rim Territories to its own devices. If an organisation 25,000 years old couldn’t muster the resources or the will to operate out there, then it was always going to be a tall order for the nascent new order to make it work. But they certainly tried.

To even his own military and certainly to his peers – such as they are – Tarkin is something of an enigma, a legend in his own lifetime. A shooting star that couldn’t be stopped, even at a young age, his career was pre-destined for glory just like Anakin Skywalkers, and it shows to an even greater degree just how wide Palpatine’s web stretched. The emperor was sowing seeds long before he made his play for power, and Tarkin was part of the broadcast. And it’s clear that Palpatine regards Tarkin and his skills highly, knowing that the power of the dark side wasn’t enough to hold a galaxy-spanning Empire together but a military genius with a iron will and a honed sense of purpose would go a long way towards achieving it. As Qui-Gon said to Anakin, fear can be a powerful ally and few characters in the Star Wars galaxy knew that better than Tarkin. And with this dark triumvirate of Palpatine, Tarkin and Vader we have a trinity of power, but wielded in very different ways. Palpatine would never entrust Vader with the tasks he assigns Tarkin, and it’s worth considering that while losing the Death Star at Yavin was a crushing blow for the Empire, perhaps the greatest loss to the Emperor was Tarkin and his genius.

As a book it’s a brisk read, and that’s meant entirely as a compliment. Some books in the EU became a task to read, bogged down by the constraints of continuity and self-reference. With Tarkin we’re transported to a brave new world that’s at once familiar but not. Luceno has crafted another essential book that cherry picks from the past while planting oaks for the future. In short, this is a very, very good book.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Star Wars: Tarkin
  • Howard Hughes
  • Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd