Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars: A New Dawn review

    I’m a big fan of Star Wars: Rebels despite it being aimed at an age range younger than the original Star Wars. It’s a happy, peppy, and fun series which I find immensely entertaining. I’m also a fan of John Jackson Miller’s work on Knights of the Old Republic. I wasn’t quite as much of a fan of his work with Knight Errant but I still enjoyed all the world-building he did and I’m sorry we never got to follow that up to its conclusion. So, I was very excited about the possibility of a novel following the adventures of the two adult main characters of the Rebels series in a more serious novel.

    So, what did I think?

    Eh, it’s okay.

    The premise of the book is Kanan, surviving padawan of the Jedi Order, has become nothing more than a lonesome drifter who currently hauls ore in the butt end of the galaxy. When the Emperor’s efficiency expert, Count Vividan, comes to his world of Gorse and starts upending things—he decides it’s probably a good idea to get out of town. This plan is derailed by Twilek resistance fighter Hera Syndulla, who has come to Gorse in order to see if there’s some mischief to be made for the Empire. With a half-mad Clone Wars veteran predicting the planet is going to explode, the pair have to figure out how to stop Count Vidian and his plan to make trillions out of millions through human suffering.

    The book occupies a weird place for me because it goes to elaborate lengths to make Gorse feel like a “real” place. People are primarily concerned with their jobs, their position, and ambivalent to politics. They all fit into comfortable real-life archetypes of “conspiracy theorist veteran”, “security guard”, and “blue collar worker” without much difficulty. Then you introduce Count Vidian who is a cyborg with a pasted-on human face who wears nothing but black and cackles as he pushes a woman into an acid bath in front of her husband for questioning his orders. There’s some serious dissonance between the realism and comic book melodrama here.

    I tend to think of Star Wars existing in a kind of hyper-stylized reality where everything is bigger, more grandiose, and more operatic. Count Vidian’s plan to blow up the planet in order to harvest all of its ore at once, which only happens because of Skelly making it possible, is suitably crazy and over-the-top but clashes with the realism which exists everywhere else. It’s like if the Death Star was hovering right outside Tatooine and instead of the Rebel Alliance it’s Biggs, Tank, and Luke out to blow it up. 

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. I think it’s far better than the majority of the Legends universe and we get a bunch of insight into both Rebels protagonists. They’re recognizably the same ones from the show but they are allowed to be far more “adult” in both action as well as deed. I also appreciate the increased diversity in the book as we see a lot more female Imperials and a sense of a wider, more interesting universe than the somewhat 70s-esque one of previous stories.

    I give credit to the book for the handling of Kanan who is a character at a transitional portion of his life. He's trying to settle into something resembling a normal life but can't quite make the jump from Jedi to "ordinary Muggle in the galaxy." He's still too much of a rogue and do-gooder to do so and it always leaves him on the run. We get to find him make the start of his change to the heroic rebel in the television series here even as we understand why it'll be a bitter pill for him to swallow when he finally joins the Alliance. Hera doesn't get the same level of development but I still got the impression of a strong and intelligent character out to make things better for the people of the galaxy but cynical enough to know that's not going to be easy.

    I give credit to the book for managing to maintain a witty and well-paced storyline throughout. The world-building for the star system is well-done and you really get to know the planet Gorse well before everything goes to hell. It reminds me of the planet Goroth from Goroth: Slave of the Empire, a West End Games Star Wars the RPG supplement about an Imperial mining world which your heroes have to liberate. 

    In conclusion, this isn’t my favorite Star Wars novel but it’s a good one. If you like the Rebels cartoon then you’re probably going to like this despite their differences. I hope John Jackson Miller gets another chance to write fiction in this universe as I really am enjoying his take on the cast and world.


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