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Sep 13 2014

Book Review: A New Dawn By John Jackson Miller

Star Wars A New Dawn

Synopsis:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .
 
“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.”—Emperor Palpatine

For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed—and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.

Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.

But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off. . . .

The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.

Review:

Fresh off of his Scribe Award winning novel, Star Wars: Kenobi (see our review), John Jackson Miller has penned the very first entry in the new era of Star Wars storytelling. Created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn does not disappoint.

Set between Star Wars Episode III and Episode IV, this novel tells the tale of the first meeting between Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla, two of the main characters featured in the upcoming Disney XD television series, Star Wars Rebels.

Kanan was a Jedi Padawan during the time of the Clone Wars. He dreamed of becoming a Jedi Knight and going off to fight the Separatists. That dream was dashed when Supreme Chancellor Palpatine issued Order 66, calling for the extermination of the Jedi Order. Having fought alongside his master against the clone troopers, Kanan had managed to escape. His master was not so lucky.

Eight years after the end of the Clone Wars, Kanan now finds himself adrift. No longer is he being actively pursued by the Empire (as far as he knows), he moves from one system to the next, taking on odd and dangerous jobs to eke out a living. He is careful to avoid calling attention to himself. As a Jedi, The Force is at his command, but he knows that if he openly demonstrates any Force ability, his life would be in imminent danger. So he avoids staying in any one place for very long and he rarely makes friends.

Both Kenobi and A New Dawn are tales of Jedi who are in hiding from the Empire. The difference is that Obi-Wan Kenobi has a mission, a purpose in life that keeps him going. Kanan Jarrus has no mission other than survival. He has not yet found his purpose.

A New Dawn primarily takes place on the planet Gorse and its moon, Cynda. Gorse is tidally locked to its parent star, so it has one side that is forever in daylight while the other side is permanently dark. Only the dark side of the planet is habitable. It is home to a large industrial city amid a landscape of strip mines. Cynda, Gorse’s only moon is the real jewel of the two. Almost large enough to be counted as a double-planet, Cynda had a silver shine that contrasted its beauty with the bleakness of Gorse.

During the time of A New Dawn, the primary industry on Gorse is the production of refined thorilide, a rare strategic substance needed in massive quantities for a variety of Imperial projects, namely the production of Star Destroyers. The raw thorilide is mined from Cynda and hauled to Gorse to be refined.

In A New Dawn, we find Kanan working as a hauler of explosive-grade baradium bisulfate (aka “Baby”) for use in the mines on Cynda. His job as the captain of a Baby Carrier was just another in a long line of short-term dangerous jobs he had found himself in ever since the extermination of the Jedi Order.

In typical Star Wars fashion, the primary villain of A New Dawn, Count Denetrius Vidian, is more machine than man. Having fallen ill to a malady that had consumed his limbs and vocal cords, Count Vidian had armor-plated arms and legs, a face covered in synthskin, and artificial eyes with glowing yellow irises sitting in seas of red. Even more strange than his appearance was the fact that Vidian’s mouth never moved. He spoke from a special vocal prosthetic, a computer attached to a speaker embedded in the silvery plating that ringed his neck. Count Vidian was the Emperor’s favorite efficiency expert.

In the weeks prior to his visit to Gorse and Cynda, Vidian had cut a swath through three other systems, improving efficiency and increasing the misery levels of the citizens on those worlds. This activity draws the attention of Hera Syndulla, who comes to Gorse to observe the actions of Count Vidian and gain a better understanding of what the Empire is up to in this system. Hera has witnessed the suffering and misery of many good people at the hands of an ever-growing and uncaring Empire.

Other notable characters in A New Dawn include a Clone Wars veteran named Skelly and a Sullustan surveillance agent named Zaluna Myder.  As the story progresses, Skelly and Zaluna begin working with Kanan and Hera to uncover more details behind the Count’s interest in Gorse and Cynda.

A New Dawn starts off slowly as we are introduced to these, and other, characters. However, the intensity ramps up more and more as the story progresses. By the end, I found myself fully invested in these characters and pulling for them to succeed in thwarting the evil plans of Count Vidian.

Recently in an interview with Newsarama, John Jackson Miller said that he has always approached his opportunities to write in the Star Wars universe in much the same way as he would approach a visit to a national park: He keeps the footprint of what he is working on limited and he tries to not leave behind any garbage in the universe that will cause problems for someone else. The scope of A New Dawn is pretty much limited to the Gorse system. Miller shows the reader how bad life can get for ordinary citizens under the rule of the Galactic Empire. We see at the local level a spark that could one day ignite a rebellion.

Star Wars: A New Dawn sets the stage very well for the premiere of the Star Wars Rebels television show in October. In it, we learn a good deal about the back story of Kanan Jarrus. The fact that we don’t learn as much about Hera Syndulla is a slight disappointment, but we will most certainly find out more about her, and the rest of the crew of The Ghost, as the story of Star Wars Rebels unfolds. In the mean time, be sure to whet your appetite for Star Wars Rebels by reading Star Wars: A New Dawn. You will not be disappointed.

Highly recommended.

 

Image Courtesy Star Wars Insider

Image Courtesy Star Wars Insider

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