Monday, February 2, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Tarkin

Star Wars fans for decades have been fascinated by characters who briefly were seen on screen but left lasting impressions.  Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin like Boba Fett is someone who has long held fan interest.  His appearances on Star Wars: The Clone Wars lead to fan excitement as we could finally see a villain that only appeared in one movie in a new setting.  Now as LucasFilm releases books officially labeled as canon, fans can discover the back story of the architect of the Death Star. 

In Star Wars: Tarkin, James Luceno brings us to five years after the end of the Clone Wars and the establishment of the Empire.  Moff Tarkin has apparently been stationed to a punishment outpost far from the Core Worlds and the seat of power.  But his station is actually contributing to the construction of a mobile battle station.  After an attack on Tarkin's base, he is ordered by the Emperor to join forces with Darth Vader to track down insurgents and punish them for this attack and others.  The story is punctuated by a race as Tarkin and Vader pursue the insurgents through the galaxy as they race from target to target in a ship very familiar to Tarkin with a crew that may be connected to Tarkin's past.  Along with the story sent in the "present", Luceno takes readers into Tarkin's childhood where he learned to hunt and foster fear at his Great Uncle's knee.  Tarkin would take those lessons from the wild into his political and military career becoming a man who used fear as his primary weapon. 

This is really an odd book to read.  You follow along with Tarkin and Vader who are really the bad guys.  The insurgents, fortunately rarely called rebels because then I would feel for them more, are really the bad guys.  The reader knows that Tarkin is the hero of his own story and has to win.  As one pages through the book you also feel little risk for Tarkin or Vader since we are aware of their ultimate fates.  It really does "feel"weird seeing the story from the side of evil.  And when you begin to pull for Vader and Tarkin, you begin to ask yourself about your own motivations.  

The book was really hard for me to get into.  The first 100 pages were very slow for me and it really did not pick up for me until Vader enters the story.  The chase also built up some excitement where at the end of the book I was having a hard time putting it down. But I would not call this my favorite Star Wars book, maybe I would rate it somewhere in the middle of what I have read.  I am pleased to say I borrowed did not buy this book.

You really do get a character study in this book.  Tarkin as a figure has often been lumped with the Death Star and the use of fear.  Tarkin's early life and education was based around using fear to dominate prey.  And his military career as we see played out relies on fear to defeat threats (or prey).  We come to understand that in Star Wars he desired to use the Death Star on a live target with purpose.  And it did have to be on a populated and well traveled world.  News had to spread.  He did not necessarily harbor evil thoughts towards those he killed.  No, he saw the demonstration of force as a way to create order.  And for him the cost was justifiable.  He would not see himself as evil, but instead as one enforcing peace through force.  The galaxy needed to know the Death Star existed and could be used. 

One of the lingering questions is did Tarkin know who Darth Vader was?  In this book, Vader dislikes Tarkin as their mission starts.  In fact he must be ordered to partner with him.  Tarkin and Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader's given birth name, were close as seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  But Tarkin's role in the trial of Skywalker's Padawan poisoned the relationship.  Tarkin does not know for sure who is under the mask.  Vader does not confide in him.  But Tarkin begins to make an educated guess.  He notices that Vader and Skywalker used the same strategies, flawed ones in Tarkin's book.  And both have the same lightsaber fighting style.  So while this book does not make the pair close friends with long histories, Tarkin is beginning to realize who is wearing the cape. 

Speaking of Darth Vader, we get new pieces of canon to add to his biography.  First, Vader is considered unnaturally attached to his stormtroopers.  And Vader uses a special kind of trooper that goes back to the Clone Wars.  This makes sense after watching him as a General in the Clone Wars, one who was beloved by his men because of how he treated them.   Though for some reason one of his Stormtroopers seems to have a rank change from enlisted to officer without explanation.  Perhaps the editor lost track of his rank!  Second, Vader like Anakin rushes to action.  Sometimes action pays, sometimes it does not.  

Star Wars: Tarkin is for the hardcore Star Wars fans.  General fans of the movies can likely skip over this book unless like me they grab it as a borrow.  Tarkin is someone of interest, but he is not Han, Luke or Leia.  And perhaps it is the big three which a general reader would need to get through the first 100 pages and technical speak of this book set a galaxy far away.  


  1. Nice review. I will say, though I was generally unimpressed by the novel, I did like how, while the mystery of Vader's identity (from Tarkin's p.o.v.) was engaged, it wasn't a big deal. Ultimately, Tarkin had his guesses, but he just didn't care. He's too focused on power and the big picture, and that seemed to ring true.

  2. I think my biggest problem is unlike the comic lines of the last few years, the book offerings have been pretty flat for me!

    1. After having read both the new novels, I'm not convinced that Star Wars really works as straight prose. It requires some kind of visual component, whether the movies/animation or the comic art. The only Star Wars novel I've thoroughly enjoyed (and granted, I have not read much of anything in the EU) was "Splinter of the Mind's Eye."

    2. You might be onto something with that. I really can't think of a Star Wars novel that I really could not put down except for Order 66...and that was for the non-movie world building.