Review by C.J. Bunce
How did the Empire power all those Star Destroyers anyway?
The new, Disney era of Star Wars story continuity begins today with the release of the novel Star Wars: A New Dawn. Fans of the Star Wars tie-in novels shouldn’t be disappointed with this new story and completely new characters living in that galaxy, far, far away between the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Its primary draw for those fans willing to give the new Star Wars a chance is the introduction of a trained Jedi named Kanan Jarrus and a mysterious Twi’lek named Hera. But its best success is in author John Jackson Miller’s world building (or galaxy building)–one with more lead female characters than male.
In the galaxy that George Lucas built, the rarest creature to be found was a woman, whether a human, a rebel, an Imperial, or an alien. Miller does not skip a beat to redefine Star Wars from chapter one. We meet a black female captain of a Star Destroyer named Captain Rae Sloane, a character who could be on her way to be the next Mara Jade. She’s young but smart, and exactly the kind of leader a government led by Emperor Palpatine would need to conquer so many systems. Unlike even the original trilogy, including its often bumbling stormtroopers and officers that fail to follow their Dark Lord’s orders, the personnel building the Empire in A New Dawn don’t make the same mistakes.
Sloane works for a typical Star Wars villain, Count Demetrius Vidian, a cyborg like Darth Vader and General Grievous, which would lend us all to believe a defining piece of Star Wars is a dark cloaked bad guy who has already been blown apart a few times. The word survivor does fit Vidian. He is a decisive imperialist, precise, unyielding and villainous–everything you want from your Star Wars bad guy.
A New Dawn follows events surrounding Vidian’s audit of vessels transporting a substance called thorilide, mined on a planet named Gorse. A moon named Cynda with the potential for a story like Praxis–the moon of the Klingon homeworld examined in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country–becomes the focus of breaches in Imperial security. Acts of terrorism and sabotage and whistleblowing bring Vidian and Sloane down on a rag-tag group of everyday types, each with secrets revealed throughout the book.
The story primarily follows Kanan Jarrus (who will be voiced in the forthcoming Disney animated series Star Wars Rebels by Freddie Prinze, Jr.). Kanan was a Jedi who made it safely away from Coruscant when the Empire issued Order 66, resulting in the destruction of nearly all the Jedi Knights. He’s a cocky and conservative pilot and hauler who has lived the life of Mal from Firefly, and that series certainly rubs off on the ship life of the characters in A New Dawn.
Kanan meets up with Hera Syndulla, the story’s heroine, a Twi’lek (the blue head-tailed aliens we saw in the prequel trilogy). Hera is a shadowy figure who enters the Star Wars galaxy with a measured steeliness like Darth Maul. Out to learn more about the destructive forces of the Empire, she is tracking Vidian when she joins up with Kanan, Lal Grallik–a female Besalisk (an alien like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s diner owner friend in Attack of the Clones), Skelly–a Clone Wars veteran, a self-proclaimed whistleblower and accused terrorist whose actions bring the story together, and Zaluna Myder, a Sullustan (the species of Lando’s co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, Nien Nunb) who stows away on a ship piloted by the story’s heroes.
Except for an introductory section, you’ll find no familiar Star Wars characters or planets in A New Dawn, other than references to Emperor Palpatine–a very good thing. The story stands by itself and yet the world will be entirely familiar but not awkwardly so as so many prior Star Wars tie-ins have been. So you may see the odd reference to a mynock or space slug, but no repeated lines from cast of the original films, a trope that plagued Timothy Zahn’s original novel tie-in trilogy. Zahn’s works were certainly fun at the time–in a world devoid of Star Wars stories, back in 1991 fans were begging for any new Star Wars story. But Miller’s writing is better. And although the story surrounds trade routes and commerce and mining, it is presented in a way far better than Lucas’s treatment of tariffs and political blockades in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
There is also the always perplexing strange character naming that seems to be part of the Star Wars universe. Miller dodges that fairly well, but we do get several names that seem to be very similar to other sci-fi characters. The lead villain Vidian is one–the Vidiians being the popular villains with a similar “lost flesh” issue as Count Vidian in Star Trek Voyager, making this reader think the new Star Wars editors would be wise to also be familiar with other sci-fi franchises.
A preface discusses the new continuity building by Lucasfilm, and it seems like finally Star Wars novels will be managed like Star Trek novels as far as a tighter continuity is concerned. A good thing.
Star Wars: A New Dawn is available in bookstores today, and online here at Amazon.com.
Thanks to LucasBooks for the advance review copy of A New Dawn.