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    Kol Drake




    Imagine the opening scrawl –


    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….

    Tarkin is a novel by James Luceno, released on November 4, 2014. Maybe it is me but this had more substance to it than the previous two books (Heir to the Jedi & Lords of the Sith). Maybe it is because Luceno has a number of Star Wars titles under his belt already –

    The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial
    The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse
    Darth Maul: Saboteur
    Cloak of Deception
    The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force
    Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy
    Labyrinth of Evil
    Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith The Visual Dictionary
    Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader
    Millennium Falcon
    Darth Plagueis
    End Game

    I thought his Darth Plagueis and The Unifying Force were fair to good reads so… maybe I’m biased. It does help to have ‘a good handle’ on the subject / universe before diving into such an endeavor as writing to expand a storyline.

    Now to the book itself –

    Governor Tarkin’s role in “A New Hope” has long intrigued fans: who is this guy who orders Darth Vader around? James Luceno’s novel answers that and reveals what it takes to succeed in the Galactic Empire. This novel shines a spotlight on Wilhuff Tarkin, the ruthless Imperial portrayed by Peter Cushing in “A New Hope.” Just how Tarkin came to command the Death Star and why he appeared to be “holding Vader’s leash” — to quote Princess Leia — are finally revealed.

    The novel opens with Tarkin in command of the remote Sentinel Base, where he plays an administrative role in the Death Star’s construction. A sudden attack on the secret base forces him to meet Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine — whose first name we finally learn — and Darth Vader on Coruscant, the Imperial capital. Tarkin’s encounters with this pair prove to be some of the novel’s most interesting moments, with his observations and theories shedding light on how they managed to avoid scrutiny after the heinous acts they committed in “Revenge of the Sith.”

    Oddly enough, for a book about Tarkin – this story actually spends a good bit of time inside the heads of Vader and Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious – and handled well, imo.

    As the story progresses from Coruscant, Tarkin and Vader embark on a quest to learn more about the attackers. The novel subtly shifts genres at this point, changing from political thriller to a detective story.

    Luceno creates an atmosphere of suspicion in the initial stages of their journey together, but the mutual respect that forms between the military man and the cyborg Sith Lord smoothly sets up the dynamic seen in “A New Hope.” Tarkin’s observation of Vader’s body language is captivating as well, giving us a new angle on the iconic villain from the perspective of a peer.

    Along the way, we learn much about an Empire that is slowly choking the galaxy into submission through clandestine executions and scorched earth solutions.

    The mystery is punctuated with flashbacks to Tarkin’s training as a teenager, which sees him forced to survive among a motley crew of hunters in the wilds of his home planet, Eriadu. The harsh trials of his formative years instil him with the belief that the galaxy can tamed through fear. This attitude makes Tarkin increasingly arrogant, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the thrill of his successes as he draws closer to his goals both as a teenager and as an adult. Luceno smoothly juxtaposes the timelines throughout the novel, bringing them together in particularly satisfying manner near the conclusion.

    We also get a look at the Empire from the other side, in the group responsible for the attack on Sentinel Base. They aren’t explored in much depth, but they reveal just how far Palpatine’s regime is willing to go in the name of order and how rebellious notions are birthed in a few brave beings.

    Fans of “The Clone Wars” will be pleased that Tarkin reflects back on his imprisonment on the Citadel and the fate of Ahsoka Tano. We also get his thoughts on Anakin Skywalker during those incidents.

    Even with the flashback from Tarkin and the interwoven plotlines of personal history, rebellion folk, Sidious and Vader, Luceno does a good job of keeping it all smoothly flowing and meshing. “Tarkin” tells a pretty cool tale of mystery while revealing much about a character who has fueled debate among fans since 1977, as well as the oppressive regime he represents. Luceno has proven once again that the villains of “Star Wars” are as much fun as the good guys.

    Guess it’s true what they say – Sometimes, it’s good to be bad.

    On a dark scale of 1 to 5, I rate this one at 4.5

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