Tarkin by James Luceno
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Tarkin is the second novel in the new Star Wars unified canon. The novel tells a story featuring Wilhuff Tarkin, shortly before he's promoted from Moff to Grand Moff. It also tells a coming-of-age story for a younger Tarkin back on his home planet, depicting the events that shapes him into the man we know from the film and the cartoons.
There were two casts of characters set during the main story: Tarkin, Vader, and the Imperials; and a group of rebels that steal Tarkin's personal ship and set about attacking Imperial installations. I would have liked to have spent more time getting to know the rebels, and maybe see them turn up in previous or later stories (we might, I don't know). Vader's characterization... interests me. More on the that after I tell what I thought of the book. One little tidbit I found interesting that Luceno tells us in the narrative: Tarkin suspects and all but knows outright that Darth Vader used to be Anakin Skywalker.
I was excited to read Tarkin. The promotional material said Luceno was giving Tarkin the "Plagueis" treatment - the book he wrote about Palpatine's rise to power. I found Plagueis a fascinating read. Tarkin kept me entertained. It was enjoyable, but for the new canon books, New Dawn was better. I found myself wishing to spend more time with the rebels on Tarkin's ship, and with the Emperor on Coruscant (I wish he'd get rid of Mas Ameeda though, that overgrown horned smurf is just a Bib Fortuna wannna-be).
If you're a fan of the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV: A New Hope), Tarkin gives some insight and backstory into one of the main villains. If you're a Star Wars fan in-general, you will pick up Tarkin and happily devour it. It's a good Star Wars book and, so far, the first two novels in the new Star Wars canon are much better than the much of the later Legends novels.
Now, back to Darth Vader's portrayal within the pages of Tarkin. I think Vader must be a difficult persona to put into prose in-general, not just in this book; he's had several different portrayals on-screen that all must agree. There was the Vader in the original Star Wars that was practically screaming at his troopers to tear Leia's ship apart to find the plans, and almost demurred to Tarkin (which is a topic that kind of comes up in this book); there's the Vader from Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi which was quiet, foreboding, and almost terrifying, and an old man that seemed barely able to fight; then there was Anakin from the prequels, a whiny, bratty, Jedi with an overpowerful sense of entitlement and attachment; and finally there was Anakin from the Clone Wars cartoon, a hero, sometimes quiet sometimes bratty, powerful in the Force with an underlying tension, emotional and caring; and finally Darth Vader from Episode III, which was just Anakin from the previous movie turned completely to the Dark Side. How can an author successfully write a character that combines that combines all those differing characterizations. What we see on screen is just a few minutes out of a day, a few days out of a lifetime, for that character. From little Annie's "Yippee!" to Old Vader rasping "tell your sister you were right," we've seen the highlights of Vader's life, with many missing segments.
I can't put my finger on it, but Vader's portrayal felt slightly off. I'm not sure what I expected though. Maybe it's because we don't know him yet in this time period. We don't know how he's handled adapting to his new life, his new master, his new job description, his lack of friends and family. We haven't yet had a book about his new life in this era. The more I think about it, the more I see that maybe his characterization was a combination of all those influences I mentioned above. He was often quiet and foreboding, then explosively angry, at one point genuinely curious (I would love to see that scene on screen!). Darth Vader must be a complex character to pin down and write.
Star Wars: Tarkin is due to be published November 4, 2014. I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley for review.
I think I wrote more about Vader than I did about the book itself...
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