BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars Novel Roundup

With my renewed interested in the Star Wars universe, I’ve been hard at work catching up on my list of novels officially considered part of the canon storyline. For those of you who may be unaware, here’s a quick rundown of what that means.

When Disney acquired Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas in 2012, they made the decision to start fresh and keep more of a guiding hand on authors who would write Star Wars stories going forward. Any books that were written before that transfer of ownership are now considered a part of the extended universe or more commonly referred to as “Legends” content. Disney has shown that they are willing to take a few aspects from these stories going forward, but as a whole, these books are not directly a part of the new canon.

I do plan to read some of the more popular and widely acclaimed Legends books like the original Thrawn series by Timothy Zahn, but I’m happy with what I have to read right now. The new canon books are more cohesively connected to one another and to the shows and movies.

I’ve crossed quite a few novels off my list already and I’ve reviewed several of them in recent months. You can read my thoughts about A New Dawn, Ahsoka, and Most Wanted on this blog.

Today, I’m sharing my reactions to some books that I read a few months ago, but didn’t have the time to reflect on them at the time.

7.5/10 – Luceno’s Catalyst Boosts Depth of Supporting Characters in Rogue One

One of the very first books I read by James Luceno was after the release of Revenge of the Sith. It was a Legends novel called Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader and I remember being so engrossed with the story that I read it a few times over. So I know that Luceno can write and write well, and he really does a wonderful job with Catalyst’s characters and their relationships, and deftly explores how their actions ultimately affect each other throughout the story.

This novel begins in the throes of the Clone Wars and follows how the Erso family (Galen, Lyra and Jyn) and Orson Krennic come together for the good of the Republic and then the Empire. To be blunt, it’s a give and take relationship with Krennic, with his focus mainly on how the people around him can benefit his military career. He is manipulative with Galen, using his influence as a so-called friend to sway him into becoming a member of his science team for a special weapons project a.k.a. the Death Star.

It’s clear early on that Galen is a man devoted to his science and his morality can be easily swayed depending on who has his ear at the moment. It’s either Krennic or his wife, Lyra.

There’s also some fun Krennic versus Tarkin drama, which we see play out in Rogue One, too. Krennic’s “We stand amidst my achievement, not yours!” line in the film holds a whole new meaning for me now.

I don’t have many complaints about the book, but I was surprised to see Luceno take the Ersos and Krennic through such a long period of time. Oddly enough, it does work and you’re never really confused with the timeline. However, I was a bit disappointed in how little we see of Lyra outside her role as wife and mother, but the tension between her and Krennic is palpable and adds to the novel novel and contributes to their deadly reunion in Rogue One. Saw Guerrera’s appearance was also minimal and knowing that he’s the one who rescues Jyn later on, it was an interesting move on the part of Luceno to only have him show up in the last couple chapters.  

But one of my favorite aspects of the story is how it explores kyber crystals and how the Empire decides to use them to power the Death Star as its being built. Galen sees them in a purely scientific view and studies how they emit energy, while Krennic sees them as the necessary fuel for a necessary weapon. Lyra is the outsider out of the three and has a more mystical, Force-like view of them, a sort of respect like the Jedi did.

By no means is Catalyst a must-read for the casual Star Wars movie fan, but if Rogue One has become one of your favorites, I highly suggest it. This story adds a richness to several characters in the film and sets up the events of the movie quite nicely.

7.5/10 – Luceno’s Tarkin Uncovers the Compelling Story Behind the Intimidating Man

Yes, you read that right. Another Star Wars book by James Luceno. This time the focus is Wilhuff Tarkin or more commonly revered as Grand Moff or Governor Tarkin.

Tarkin starts about five years into the reign of the New Empire. The title character is in the Outer Rim supervising the construction of the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, but the Emperor soon pairs him with Darth Vader on a quest to handle an irritating and mysterious problem involving some insurrectionists. The issue proves to be a nuisance the entire book amid flashbacks to Tarkin’s time defending the Republic in the Clone Wars and even more flashbacks to his childhood on his home planet, Eriadu.  

I’ve always been a bit intrigued and intimidated by Tarkin’s cold and calculating personality and this book gives some background on why one of the Empire’s top men acts the way he does. It can all be attributed to his upbringing on Eriadu and the traits or mottos his family deemed were the most important to uphold: rule through fear, which is eerily present throughout the book.

I even empathized (not sympathized) with Tarkin, realizing how much his environment as a youngling and those who took an interest in his career, like Sheev Palpatine when he was moonlighting as a Senator for Naboo, shaped him and contributed to his rise in the Republic and then the Empire. By seeing into the inner machinations of Tarkin’s mind, it becomes all too easy to understand why he does the things he does for the Empire and for his family name, despite the oppressiveness of the Emperor’s reign.  

I was taken aback by one little nugget, though. While working with Vader, both Tarken and the Sith Lord develop a mutual respect for one another and Tarkin ultimately makes the tenuous assumption, to himself of course, that Vader is actually the former Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. An astonishing moment, but one that made sense the more I thought about it.

The plot is a bit bumpy at points and can be hard to follow, especially with the mysterious insurrectionist problem Vader and Tarkin have to solve. In my opinion, it isn’t a page turner and could’ve been a much shorter novel. The pace ebbs and flows, speeds up and slows down a bit too much for my liking, but if you are a Tarkin fan, this one’s for you.

8/10 – Lords of the Sith Highlights the Real Relationship Between a Sith Lord and His Master

The last book in this review roundup is none other than a story about the evolving master-apprentice relationship between Sidious and Darth Vader while they fight for survival on the oppressed Twi’lek homeworld of Ryloth during Cham Syndulla’s “Free Ryloth” movement.

Syndulla, who we met first in the Clone Wars series and then see again in Star Wars Rebels, is the leader of the Twi’lek rebellion on Ryloth and continually causes enough of a stir against the Empire that Sidious decides he and Vader need to intervene. Once the Sith Lords arrive, their Star Destroyer is attacked and they crash land on the planet’s jungle surface.

Now, it’s about survival.

Paul Kemp gives readers a variety of aspects that fit this theme. The Emperor and Vader have to survive against countless Rylothian critters and Syndulla’s forces, but they also need to test the waters of their mentor/mentee relationship if Vader is going to progress as a Sith. The Twi’lek rebellion has to persist in order to continue the fight against the Empire. Syndulla has to find a way to endure the growing numbers of comrades he’s lost to the cause.  

Yes, it’s about survival.

Overall, I really appreciated Kemp’s willingness to show Sidious in a way that points out his patient, yet manipulative nature. At this point, Vader is still dealing with his transition from Jedi to Sith and constantly finds himself pushing down old memories and feelings. Sidious questions him and tests him during every obstacle they face and when Vader has thoughts of turning against him, Sidious doesn’t belittle or attack him for it. He congratulates him on having those thoughts since they are a sign his darkness is growing. Their dynamic has remnants of the Palpatine/Anakin relationship from the prequels, but it turns into something else entirely.

I also appreciated Kemp’s humanizing of Cham. He’s the one who constantly has to make tough decisions for his people and his desperation hits a fever pitch at one point. The losses, the friends who’ve died, the suffering of the Twi’leks, it all falls on his shoulders. From what we’ve seen in Clone Wars and Rebels, sometimes, it’s easy to forget how much Cham has seen and gone through in his life.

Unfortunately, while Kemp does an outstanding job with the characters and takes his time to develop them without it feeling too dragged out, the action sequences were fun but too long. I skimmed a lot to get to the next scene, but I’m more of a dialogue person, to be honest.  

But, I must say that one of the most surprising characters ended up being Moff Delian Mors, who is the Imperial in charge of Ryloth. She’s introduced as a spice-addicted, corrupted and lazy Imperial, but her arc did not go the way I thought it would. It was refreshing.

Lords of the Sith is jam-packed with action and intrigue at every turn. If you want to read more about Sidious and Vader fighting side by side or discover the dynamic between a Sith Lord and his Master, give this book a try.

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