Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book 11: Star Wars: A New Dawn

Title and Author: Star Wars: A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Del Rey
Expected Publication Date: September 2014
Genre: Star Wars Science Fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Absolutely
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes 

I have fond memories of what I still tend to think of as the “Golden Age” of Star Wars in the 1990s when, beginning with Timothy Zahn’s still deeply enjoyable Heir to the Empire, the future adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca were revealed to my younger self. 

While the quality of the novels that made up what was rapidly dubbed the Expanded Universe varied considerably in general they felt like a natural and enjoyable progression of the story begun in the Original Trilogy. But then in the early 2000s we witnessed what I like to call, echoing Ben Kenobi, “the Dark Times.” First, The New Jedi Order suffering from conflict among the rotating authors and efforts to make their characters “darker and edgier” stole much of the hope and optimism that was always a part of the Star Wars Universe, with the wholly unnecessary deaths of Chewbacca and Mara Jade being prime examples. And then the prequels arrived, and the less said about them the better at this juncture.

But now as we wait to see what Disney will unleash on this beloved franchise, Lucasfilm has turned its attention to those “Dark Times” between episodes III and IV when the Empire solidified its hold on the galaxy and the seeds of the rebel alliance were sown and nurtured. This fall we will witness the appearance of a new cartoon series Star Wars: Rebels set during this period chronicling the adventures of a rag-tag group of rebels bringing the good fight to the empire. While I have no idea how the series will turn out, though the fact that it is helmed by the same group who did the quite good Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon is an encouraging sign, A New Dawn the novel by Star Wars veteran John Jackson Miller which chronicles the first meeting of two of the main characters from Rebels, Kanan Kerrus and Hera Syndulla, has made me cautiously optimistic.

Kanan is an ex-Jedi who survived the purge of his fellows and when the novel opens is scraping though life as an alcoholic working for a mining company on a backwater moon and just trying to forget that whole Force thing. But when he encounters the Twi’lek Hera who is attempting to awaken those she meets of the evils of the empire, evils which most citizens seem happy to accept in the wake of the chaos and destruction that marked the twilight of the Old Republic, and the galaxy’s most evil “efficiency expert” Count Demetrius Vidian he finds himself drawn himself into the fight against evil. A typical fantasy story to be sure, but what makes A New Dawn stand a little above your typical “washed out loser to hero” tale is the world building Miller indulges in. 

Secondary characters ranging from miners to security officials to Star Destroyer captains come across as complex characters who have believable reasons to both support the new order, but we also witness their inner struggles as they face the dark side of stability and power are well chronicled. One of Kanan’s friends, for example, is a crazed conspiracy theorist, so convinced that the Empire is the answer to the corruption and inefficiencies of the Old Republic that he unwittingly gives them the key to the destruction of worlds. 

It is the secondary characters, and the larger war-weary universe they inhabit, one where the horrors of the past make it easier to stomach the increasing tyranny of the present that marks A New Dawn as a promising start to a new era in the Star Wars saga.

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