Book review–New Star Wars novel chronicles the rise of Grand Moff Tarkin

Star Wars Tarkin novel cover Nov 2014 release

Review by C.J. Bunce

Governor Tarkin possessed the power to direct Darth Vader to stop choking a man, to command the first Death Star and to use it to destroy Princess Leia’s home world. Yet for all that, he gets very little screen time.  Who was this character?  A new novel asks that question and provides an interesting insight into the life of a man revered by his peers, his planet, and ultimately the Empire for his intellect, cunning and decisiveness.  It’s a Machiavellian account of a man born far away from the city centers of Coruscant whose pursuit of power would be nearly unstoppable, and whose political skill would thrust him into a triumvirate of power shared with Darth Vader and the Emperor himself.

In its first releases of canon-designated novel tie-ins for the Star Wars franchise after the recently announced move away from the past 20 years of expanded universe stories (now referred to as the sidelined “Legends” stories), LucasBooks has honed in on two sides of the rise of rebellion against the Empire.  Taking place in the years following the events of the Star Wars prequels but before the original Star Wars films, John Jackson Miller’s Star Wars: A New Dawn, reviewed previously here at, recalls the plans of a band of rebels to sabotage Imperial efforts to acquire resources needed for its great space fleet.  Next week, LucasBooks presents a view from the other side of the battle when it releases James Luceno’s Tarkin, a deep dive into the inner sanctum of the Emperor following the fall of the Jedi, and the political rise of the Death Star commander who we would meet as Peter Cushing’s Governor Tarkin in A New Hope.

Tarkin scene from Star Wars

The character of Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is not incredibly complex–he stayed true to a course early in life established by his ancestors on the planet Eriadu, which gave him the benefits of military academy-style training yet provided by a band of men not unlike Scottish highlanders.  He is a man who was not born of privilege.  Yet good mentoring forged a soldier who would attain predictable societal ranks and achieve much more.

Luceno’s Tarkin is not written as a villain per se, although he unflinchingly applies ruthless means in pursuit of single-minded goals.  In another world his character might have been a hero, but for his cold adherence to law, order, and control to pursue societal goals–collateral damage be damned.  How can you reconcile a drive of purpose and achievement that is also so morally questionable?  Going beyond his short scenes as a black-and-white destroyer of worlds in A New Hope, Tarkin’s background is fleshed out here and a classic villain emerges, a hero in his own mind.

Highlights of the novel delve into Tarkin’s history and relationship with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, a look at Palpatine’s galactic puppetmaster skills–his strengths and weaknesses with the Force, and the role of Tarkin’s own personal starship, the Carrion Spike, in his rise to political power.

Tarkin Palpatine and Vader in Revenge of the Sith

Tarkin adheres to the film versions of Governor Tarkin–those few key scenes in A New Hope and a brief cameo in Revenge of the Sith–and surprisingly pulls much from the Star Wars expanded universe “Legends” stories and his role in them.  Those who feared the expanded universe would be completely disregarded will be pleasantly surprised if Tarkin is any indication of the future of Star Wars tie-in novels.  Luceno’s familiarity with the material–he previously wrote the Star Wars novel Darth Plageuis and several others–comes through and helps plant the reader firmly in the world of Star Wars.

For those not retaining an encyclopedic memory of every alien species that appeared in the background sweep of the original Mos Eisley cantina scene or was added in the prequels, it would be helpful to have some sort of visual guide–or the Internet–handy as you read along.  You may recall what a Rodian (think Greedo) or Mon Calamari (Admiral Ackbar) look like, but unless you’re up on the Clone Wars animated series or a just a Star Wars junkie, you may need refreshers on the nature and look of Zygerrians, Gotal, Koorivar, Chagrians, or Twi’leks.

Star Wars trading card Tarkin

Older fans loved it when they heard classic genre actor Peter Cushing would be in this new film called Star Wars back in the early 1970s.  His small part would become the role Cushing would be known for across the globe.  His chilling, skeletal appearance will always stick with fans of the franchise, and although his character would not carry the mystique and fan following of the even-less seen Boba Fett, he’ll always be remembered for his certainty of purpose at the end of the first Death Star.

At 258 pages Star Wars: Tarkin is a quick, fun read, and a good choice by LucasBooks for the first familiar character from the original Star Wars to get his own novel following the restart of the expanded universe.  Star Wars: Tarkin will be released November 4, 2014, at bookstores everywhere.  Pre-order it now at a discount price here at

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