What We’re Reviewing
The original Star Wars trilogy gave us more than a set of movies to love. It introduced a new galaxy to be explored by lovers of sci-fi and fantasy. For the more hardcore fans Star Wars created a an extremely successful line of novels called the Expanded Universe. Personally I built a collection of over 150 Star Wars novels when I was in middle school. In terms of canonicity, these novels were not as authoritative as the movies, but were still considered an integral part in the Star Wars timeline. In 2014 many lovers of the Expanded Universe were devastated when they were told that the hundreds of novels they came to love were now going to be called Star Wars Legends. But they were promised the exciting prospect of a new line of novels that would be considered canon to the same degree as the movies. The Star Wars franchise had an opportunity to recreate itself and fix some controversial parts of the Expanded Universe (like the death of Chewbacca). To date there are 7 canon Star Wars novels published (not including young adult and children’s books) and I have given a quick review of all of them below. They are ordered chronologically to the Star Wars timeline.
Dark Disciple had a ton of potential. It features the famous Sith acolyte Asajj Ventress training Jedi Master Quinlan Vos in the ways of the dark side. The book starts with the Jedi Council coming to the conclusion that the fastest way to end the clone wars is to assassinate Count Dooku. The Jedi make this decision reluctantly, but deem it a necessary course of action. The problem is that Dooku is unmatched in skill with a lightsaber and has the largest military in the galaxy at his command. No matter who is sent, Dooku will not go down easily.
The Jedi decide to send their best undercover agent, Quinlan Vos, to ultimately take down the Count, but he is going to need help. The person who has come the closest to killing Dooku is his former apprentice Asajj Ventress. The Council orders Quinlan to do whatever it takes to gain the trust of Ventress and convince her to aid him in the assassination of Dooku. Ventress agrees to work with Vos, but tells him that he must learn the ways of the dark side. She points out that the very nature of assassination requires darker use of the force than the Jedi employ. Dark Disciple follows Vos in his journey to the dark side, and proves to be an interesting tale.
About the first 3/4ths of the book develops very well. It keeps an excellent balance of action, humor, moral dilemma, and romance. In my opinion the end of the book seems rushed and fails to deliver. (Spoiler Alert) One thing I am still very upset about is that in the end Asajj Ventress dies. She has been an extremely popular character in print and television for many years. To get rid of her character in a book that most fans will never read is quite disappointing. Overall, this book offers a highly entertaining tale. I just wish it would have ended differently.
Lords of the Sith
For all the fans of Darth Vader across the globe, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Of all of the books written about the Star Wars universe, none of them showcase the epic nature of our favorite villain like this one. In this novel we see Vader take out dozens of star fighters, take on thousands of gigantic beetle-like predators, and survive one of the most epic manhunts in the history of galaxy.
Cham Syndulla, a resistance leader on the planet Ryloth, discovers that Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader will be visiting his home world. For him, it is the chance of a lifetime to take out the two most powerful men in the oppressive Empire. Cham has been building his rebellion for years and unleashes every weapon in his arsenal at the Sith lords. In this book we see an excellent display of political intrigue, space battle, and jungle warfare.
But this book does more than showcase the insane abilities of Darth Vader, it gives us a closer look at the man beneath the mask. It turns out that Palpatine purposefully allows Vader and himself to be caught in Cham’s web of traps. Palpatine plans on using this experience to further expunge Vader of his old self, Anakin Skywalker. Knowing what Anakin was capable of as a Jedi makes one wonder what his training as a Sith would look like. Well let’s just say that it involves a entire planet trying to destroy him, and Vader has to choose between death or slaughtering everyone who gets in his way. For Palpatine, this whole situation is a means of bringing his apprentice deeper into the depths of the dark side.
This book offers the most intense action out of all of the new canon. It is a fast-paced story that features some of the most epic scenes in the Star Wars universe. Despite being a book focused on action, the characters and plot are developed commendably. Lords of the Sith grabs your attention throughout the entire story and leaves you wishing you were lost in the jungle surviving with nothing but your instinct and a lightsaber.
Tarkin gives us a closer look at the infamous Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. He is known for destroying Princess Leia’s homeworld of Alderaan in Star Wars: A New Hope. But where did he come from? How did he become the man who controls the most powerful weapon in the galaxy? Throughout the book the reader constantly gets flashbacks to Tarkin’s childhood and early career. As the story develops Tarkin is portrayed as a cross breed between Rambo and Sherlock Holmes with a little evil mixed in.
The plot of Tarkin covers a high priority mission that Emperor Palpatine sends his two best agents, Tarkin and Vader, to accomplish. The rebels have begun a highly successful series of propaganda that infiltrate the major channels in the Empire. These two villains learn to work together as they search for the source of the rebel broadcasts. It turns out that the propaganda was bait in an elaborate trap set up by a small cell of rebels. The ultimate goal of these rebels was to steal the flagship of Moff Tarkin, a highly customized battle frigate with advanced stealth technology. They proceed to use the frigate as a means of terrorism on the Empire, destroying sensitive parts of the Imperial infrastructure. Tarkin has to push the limits of his intellect and savagery to stop the rebels from succeeding in their plans.
Overall I would rate the writing of this book as below par. Of course the reader learns much about Tarkin in this book, but for a book named after him, the character development is somewhat lacking. At the very beginning we learn about Tarkin’s brutal nature and genius mind, but we never get much further than that. During almost every flashback a particular definitive event is alluded to, but not revealed until later. At the end when we finally get to see this life-changing experience it is unimpressive and anti-climactic. Another puzzling aspect of this book is that the reader is unsure who to root for. Normally the protagonists would be the rebels, but this particular group of rebels is exceptionally unmemorable. The book is about Tarkin so we could assume that he is supposed to be the protagonist, but he is the villain at the same time. In my opinion this was the lowest quality book in the new canon.
A New Dawn
A New Dawn introduces some of the main characters of the Rebels animated television show. In a way it is a prequel to the television series. Former Jedi apprentice Kanan Jarrus and Twi’lek rebel Hera Syndulla team up to beat a common foe, the ruthless Count Vidian.
Ever since the decimation of the Jedi Order, Kanan has been on the run hiding his past at all costs. It is for that reason that he chooses to work for a mining company on a moon in a remote corner of the galaxy. Trouble eventually catches up to him in the form of Count Vidian. Vidian is a self-made man who quickly rose through the ranks of the new Empire. He literally replaced most of his body with cybernetic parts to make himself faster, smarter, and stronger. In order to appease the Emperor’s ever growing need for resources, Vidian decides to implement a new mining tactic that will kill everyone on the moon and planet. Kanan is faced with the decision of whether to risk revealing his Jedi powers and take on the Count, or flee from the fight and survive.
A New Dawn is a mediocre story on its own. It offers a normal amount of action for a Star Wars book. The character development is adequate but predictable. And the plot is just engaging enough to keep you interested. It seems to me that this book would be the most interesting to fans of the Rebels show.
Heir to the Jedi
One of the best things about this book is that it is actually about Luke Skywalker! Prior to this book it had been far too long since a book was written primarily from Luke’s point of view. Compared to the other books in the new canon, this one “feels” the most like a Star Wars book. The plot of this story is fairly simple: Luke must save a valuable rebel asset from Imperial imprisonment. Along the way Luke must overcome some classic Star Wars set backs like carnivorous animals, bounty hunters, and problems with the hyperdrive. There is a small amount of romance in this book, but it is winsome and definitely not overdone. On top of that it is refreshing to see Luke have a love interest in someone who is not his sister.
Heir to the Jedi is set between episodes IV and V. Luke has enough force instincts to blow up a death star, but he still doesn’t have the finely tuned skill to lift a limp noodle with the force (he actually attempts to lift noodles with the force several times). Throughout this story we see Luke grow in baby steps with his force abilities, but one thing that becomes clear to him is that he needs a teacher. It is worth noticing that this book takes care to cover Luke’s attempts to construct his lightsaber, which is a major point of interest in The Force Awakens. Overall, it is refreshing to see a young wide-eyed Luke again.
Battlefront: Twilight Company
This book was by far the most unique in the new canon. Besides quick scenes with Darth Vader and Han Solo this story doesn’t feature many already well-known Star Wars characters. Unlike the movies and most of the books which pay most attention to the leaders of the rebellion. This book is about the extras-the rebels who get shot in the trenches on Hoth and blown up by AT-STs in the jungle. Twilight Company is the least funded rebel infantry unit and tasked with the worst missions. It brings a perspective of the rebel troops who fight like they’re storming the beach on D-Day while the Solos and Skywalkers are getting medals in the throne room.
Drudgery. For the first half of the book I had to force myself to keep reading. This book made the dreariness of life in the rebellion so palpable that I got tired of reading about it. Not to mention the main character is a real downer. Namir is a low ranking officer in charge of training new recruits. Namir finds almost everything to be annoying and is a “the cup of blue milk is half-empty” kind of guy. Granted it is this attitude that makes him a survivor, but definitely not the classic hero. At first I was bothered that with the exception of Namir and a few others, the characters are barely developed. But then they all start dying and I started to get the point: twilight company is a unit of “expendable” soldiers.
Although the first half of the book was drudgery, it was drudgery with a purpose. After the depths of Namir’s apathy is explored, it lends depth to his transition into a leader. We see a man destined for an expendable death become a world changer. We see a company of nobodies accomplish something great. This was basically a book about character development. It gave us a few memorable characters, and I anticipate we will see them again soon.
Without hesitation I would declare that Chuck Wendig has produced the most well written story in the history of Star Wars novels. Now let me be clear, I am not saying that it is the best story, just the most well written. Wendig is a wordsmith. He successfully developed a dozen characters better than Tarkin was in the entire book devoted to him. Aftermath was not a book that kept me on the edge of my seat, but I wouldn’t have minded if it never ended. Where I believe it is the goal of most Star Wars books to keep you engaged in the plot, this novel succeeds in keeping you entertained with simply soaking up every detail along the way.
If you were to team up a bounty hunter, a traitor, a retired rebel, a teenage entrepreneur, and a psychotic droid and pit them against a fleet admiral, a religious extremist, a financial guru, a petty governor, and a grand moff you get Aftermath. There are so many characters and subplots in this story that I couldn’t begin to summarize all of them. In it’s simplest form the plot could be described something like this: while remnants of the Empire hold a secret meeting to determine their future, a group of unlikely allies team up to take them out.
This novel is the first Star Wars novel I’ve come across that includes homosexual characters. In terms of sexual content this book is very clean. It is just the first one that clearly makes a point to have multiple homosexual characters. As homosexuality is normalizing in our culture, we can only expect it to become common in our stories as well.
This is the only book in the new canon that takes place after The Return of the Jedi, so in a lot of ways it bears the most relevance on The Force Awakens. In it we see glimpses of a sinister figure that is playing both sides. Leaders in the Empire and the Rebellion begin to become aware of it, but cannot do anything but fall into this mysterious mastermind’s hands. I highly anticipate the sequels to this book becoming essential to the Star Wars timeline.
The Nature of the Dark Side
Rather than point out worldview content in each of these stories individually I wanted to focus on one overarching theme that can be seen in all of these books. There is no such thing as a controlled descent into the dark side. Quinlan Vos doesn’t just get a power-boost from the dark side, he snuffs out a life with a force choke. It isn’t enough for Vader to defeat thousands of enemies in order to survive, he must repay them by slaughtering their women and children. Tarkin can’t just defeat the predator that hunts him, he has to cut out its liver and eat it to strike fear into anything that dare cross him. Count Vidian can’t advance in the Empire only with genius and schemes, he needs to destroy planets to secure his position of power. If Luke wants to gain power the fast way, he has to become someone he isn’t. If Namir wants to save himself, he’ll have to forsake his comrades. And as a character in Aftermath learns, if you sell out your friends to save your family, you might end up losing your family too.
This is perfect parallel to what the Bible calls sin. It is tempting. It offers you the things you desire most in the fastest way possible, only to strip you of them in the blink of an eye. There is no such thing as having a bit of an affair. No one steals anything that doesn’t have value. Half-lies at the end of the day are the worst kind of lies. More often than not, one step into the dark side ends up no differently than diving in face first.
As a Christian I have hope. For all the trips, falls, and deliberate cannonballs I’ve made into waters of sin, My savior Jesus Christ has always been there to keep me from drowning, set me on dry ground, and hand me his robe of righteousness.
To read some excellent examples of worldview analysis in the Star Wars universe check out this excellent series of posts from our friends at ThinkChristian
You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org