Nov 10 2014

Book Review: Tarkin by James Luceno

Tarkin by James LucenoSynopsis:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.

Review (Spoilers!):

Although Tarkin is not as sweeping in scope as the most recent James Luceno Star Wars novel Darth Plagueis, it provides a great deal of context to one of the most interesting characters from Star Wars: A New Hope. Along the way, just as with Darth Plagueis, we find out that the novel Tarkin is not just centered on Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Rather, through Wilhuff Tarkin’s eyes, we are provided fascinating insight into the characters of Emperor Sheev Palpatine (more on that below), Darth Vader, and the overall state of the galaxy in the five years that have passed since the end of the Clone Wars.

Throughout the book, there are flashbacks to Tarkin as youth being taken on hunting expeditions with his grand-uncle Jova on the Carrion Plateau. These flashbacks are intended to provide context to Tarkin’s character traits as an Imperial Officer. We come to understand why Tarkin prefers the use of fear, rather than brute force, as a deterrent to those who oppose the Empire. While somewhat interesting, I feel that these flashbacks slow the book down too much. During each one, I was eager to return to the present narrative and gather more information about the current state of affairs in the galaxy.

As the book opens, Wilhuff Tarkin is stationed at Sentinel Base on Belderone, a desolate moon in a nameless system in a remote region of the Outer Rim. To outsiders, this assignment was far beneath a man who held the rank of Grand Moff. But what outsiders did not know was that Wilhuff Tarkin was safeguarding the creation of a deep-space mobile battle station that would one day shape and guarantee the future of the Empire.

A sneak attack against Sentinel Base spawns an investigation by the Empire and Tarkin is summoned to Coruscant by the Emperor. It is through Tarkin’s perspective that we are provided a more in-depth view of Coruscant and how the Empire operates during this period in galactic history. And here is where the book shines the most. Just as he did in the novel Darth Plagueis, author James Luceno masterfully uses the titular character to flesh out details of characters who interact with him. Some of the more interesting details include:

  • The Emperor no longer makes his office in the Senate building. Rather, he now occupies the former council chamber in the now-abandoned Jedi Temple.
  • Tarkin is informed by the Emperor’s vizier, Mas Amedda, that the Jedi are no longer spoken of. Tarkin was amazed that in the five short years since the eradication of the Jedi, they already seemed like a distant memory.
  • The Emperor, Darth Sidious, still has in his possession the droid 11-4D that once belonged to his master, Darth Plagueis.
  • The Jedi Temple was erected over an ancient Sith shrine. This was a closely guarded secret of the Sith. The Jedi had believed that the power inherent in the shrine had been neutralized and successfully capped. “In truth, that power had seeped upward and outward since its entombment, infiltrating the hallways and rooms above, and weakening the Jedi Order much as the Sith Masters themselves had secretly infiltrated the corridors of political power and toppled the Republic.” One of the first things that Palpatine did after occupying the Jedi Temple was to excavate the Sith shrine and create a personal lair.
  • The first name of Emperor Palpatine is Sheev. In an interview with the Full of Sith podcast (Episode LXXXIX), author James Luceno confirms that the name Sheev came directly from George Lucas.
  • Tarkin is convinced that Darth Vader is actually Anakin Skywalker. In addition, Sidious believes that Tarkin had deduced that Vader is a Sith and that Sidious is Vader’s Master.

As part of the investigation into the Sentinel Base attack, the Emperor orders Tarkin and Darth Vader to Murkhana to track down a potential lead. Neither Tarkin nor Vader is pleased with having to work together on this mission. Vader feels that Governor Tarkin’s presence is unnecessary and Governor Tarkin feels that he should return to his regular duties on the Sentinel moon. The Emperor knows that it is important that Tarkin and Vader work together, so he denies each one’s objection to working with the other and they are forced to carry out the mission as assigned.

While on Murkhana, Tarkin’s own highly-customized personal corvette, the Carrion Spike, is stolen by members of the same rebel cell that attacked Sentinel Base. As we learn more about them, we find that each member of the rebel cell has a personal score to settle with the Empire and they use the Carrion Spike to carry out strategic hits against key Imperial targets.

The balance of the book is a cat and mouse game between the rebels with the Carrion Spike on one side and Governor Tarkin / Darth Vader on the other. It is through this circumstance that Tarkin and Vader each comes to appreciate the strengths of the other and work together for the good of the Empire.

Final Verdict

I have always been a fan of Grand Moff Tarkin. I was one of those rare 5-year-olds who kept hoping that Kenner would release a Grand Moff Tarkin action figure to order my Death Squad Commanders and stormtroopers around. Alas, they never did and I was forced to use a Death Squad Commander in the role of Tarkin for my action figure adventures. Needless to say, I am intrigued by this character and Tarkin does not disappoint. The book is full of great callbacks to events from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and it provides our first in-depth, story group approved, look at how the Empire functions in the five years that have passed since Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

Highly recommended.

DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no charge in order to provide a review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.


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