Welcome to Book Reviews. In this series I will look to review any canon books that come out in the Star Wars galaxy. I am no expert in book critic or expert in writing (as you may be able to tell), so this is very much from a fan’s point of view. I will generally try to give a quick idea of what the story is about but avoid any spoilers. In each review, I will also try to point out a few “Moments in Canon” – moments that link into the wider canon and references to other canon stories – and also give my opinion if it is worth reading. Today I will be looking at James Luceno’s Tarkin.
Set 5 years after the Rise of the Empire, Tarkin follows Moff (not yet Grand Moff) Wilhuff Tarkin and Darth Vader as they work together on a mission. We also get a number of flashbacks throughout the story that allow us to see Tarkin’s upbringing on his home planet, Eriadu, and his military and political career leading up to the vents of the book. The main point of view throughout is Tarkin, however there are some sections that are shown from the perspective of the dissident group Tarkin is hunting and even a few from Emperor Palpatine’s viewpoint.
I wasn’t enamoured with Luceno’s other book, Catalyst, as I found the pacing too slow. However, much like Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn I feel the slow pace suits the character, while there are also a number of action sequences to shift the tempo. I also really like the way that the flashbacks are incorporated into the novel, giving us more information on Tarkin as we need at and getting to the point that they conclude as he gives Vader the information.
“Let them live,” the Sugi repeated, rising halfway out of his throne in supplication.
“Take heart,” Tarkin said, “They most certainly will survive you.”
The characters in the novel match up well to what we know of them already: Tarkin is ruthless (we find out why throughout this story) but also perceptive enough to pick up on things many others would miss. Vader is the dangerous enforcer whose respect for Tarkin grows as the novel continues, setting up well their working together in A New Hope, while the Emperor is clearly keen to have two of his most trusted agents working together. The other characters who are new to the story all feel natural and right for the situation, with Berch Teller and his cell of Rebels working well both as individuals and as a group in the situations they find themselves in as they play a game of cat and mouse with Tarkin and Vader.
As for the plot, I feel that this works well within the universe as we see one of the early stages of rebellion before there was an organised Rebel Alliance. Much like in the novel Lords of the Sith, the actions of the rebel cell have a big impact on the Empire as the thought of an organised and planned resistance is not front of Imperial minds at this point. Teller and his group are given a legitimate reason to rebel against the Empire and the way Tarkin puts all the pieces together feels natural, even if it would be too much for the average Imperial. The interaction between Vader and Tarkin also works well as you can see the mutual respect growing throughout their time together rather than instantly gelling, which would not make sense considering Anakin’s previous disagreements with Tarkin.
One thing that I really like about this story – and in fact many of the ones from an Imperial’s perspective – is the way that characters we would often consider the villains are portrayed as being the good guys and we find ourselves rooting for them to succeed despite usually supporting the Rebel Alliance. The ‘heroes’ of the story are not made blind to the evils of the Empire, but they are portrayed in a way that makes these actions successful – in this case through Tarkin’s upbringing teaching him to be ruthless and set an example to his enemies.
The thought of having the Carrion Spike leave such a legacy hollowed him.
Tarkin was one of the first canon books that I read and at the time I was lukewarm on it, but having now read more stories and gone back to Tarkin, I found that I enjoyed it much more, perhaps due to me having spent more time with the character recently.
Should I read it?
If you enjoy stories from an Imperial perspective, then yes! Despite only featuring prominently in one film, Tarkin became such a popular character from the original 6 films and stories like this really help to expand his story and show just how great he could be while also humanising him.
If you enjoy books where there is an element of mystery to unravel, this is also a good book or you.
Luceno has done some top quality Star Wars novels in recent years and I will always be excited when he has a new novel coming out.
Moments in canon
- Tarkin’s personal ship, Carrion Spike, is based off a prototype stealth ship design that Anakin Skywalker used on a mission during the Clone Wars, which can be found in The Clone Wars season 2 episode “Cat and Mouse”
- Tarkin begins the story in charge of Sentinel Base, we see him arriving at the base towards the end of Luceno’s novel Catalyst: A Rogue One Story
- Parts of the warship that attacks Sentinel Base are identified as coming from Admiral Trench’s ship Invincible, which was destroyed in The Clone Warsepisode “Cat and Mouse”
- Tarkin has deduced that Vader used to be Anakin Skywalker and guessed that Palpatine is likely a Sith Lord, he even quotes something Anakin once told him to Vader
- Palpatine mentions to Vader that there are matters only they can investigate that have little to do with the Empire. This may tie into Palpatine’s interest in the Unknown Reasons which we find out about in the Aftermath trilogy
- Interdictor vessels are just being developed by the Empire. The Rebels season 2 episode “Stealth Strike” sees part of Phoenix Cell captured by an interdictor, something the cell were previously unaware of
Have you read Lords of the Sith? What were your thoughts on it? Thanks for reading and May the Force be with you…