Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review: 'Tarkin: Star Wars' by James Luceno

Star Wars: TarkinI am a self-confessed and sometimes loud Star Wars fan. I am already arranging my schedule around the release of the next film which doesn't come out for another year and I know way too much trivia. I am therefore probably the target audience for this book and I can say that it definitely didn't disappoint.
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.
Grand Moff Tarkin was one of the major villains of the first Star Wars film. Although Darth Vader was the one with the awesome entrance, Tarkin had the control (and the British accent) that any self-respecting villain needs. He was not just in control of the Death Star, but Darth Vader also seemed to defer to him. Now that takes a character! So how did he become this way and what are we supposed to think of him? The recently ended Clone Wars series didn't do much to endear his character to viewers despite him starting off on the "right side". Luceno goes above and beyond to make a fully formed character of Tarkin who, let's face it, doesn't get a lot of exposition time in the film. This is one of the admirable things of the Star Wars Universe, every character has the possibility of a back story and is only waiting for someone to fill it in. Of course this book works best for Star Wars fans. I know what a Tie-Fighter is, how important a functioning hyper-drive is to any spaceship and that Star Destroyers mean trouble. Luceno drops hints here and there which show how closely these independent authors work together with the people at Lucasfilm. There were a few moments where I had to put the book down and message my father to share the newest bit of information I had discovered. Despite this, the book can be enjoyed by people new to the Star Wars universe.

The reader largely sticks with Tarkin for most of the novel, joining him after the third film, and learns more about him partly through flashbacks and simply through the narrative. As such, he almost becomes the hero of the book and this in itself is very interesting. When he is faced with an insurgence he becomes the character the reader is almost made to root for, despite knowing what he is like. The occasional chapters from Lord Sidious' perspective aid this by giving the reader a "real bad guy" against whom Tarkin seems mild in comparison. Even Darth Vader does. However, Luceno eventually also gives some chapters to the rebels themselves, which bring the reader back to the reality of the issue. Suddenly all the things they aren't told by Tarkin are revealed and he is cast in a whole new light. Luceno was incredibly clever in doing this because it showcases his awareness of the importance of point-of-view. In a saga that puts as much importance on everyone being a shade of gray rather than black or white as Star Wars, Luceno shows the reader how difficult it can be to choose sides when you only get half the narrative. In a world with media as subjective as our own, this is a really interesting point which deserves to be picked up on. It is no wonder that it is a sci-fi novel which does so.

Luceno's writing is very immersive, whether he is describing battle scenes or Tarkin's thoughts. The former, which could easily be chaotic or off-putting, are both important to the story and, simply, well-written. There is technical talk but not too much, there is bravery, destruction and it reads like a film. The pacing of Tarkin is great, which is partly due to the detective/mystery-format that Luceno has given to this book. The reader is as desperate to find out what happens as Tarkin himself is and is therefore constantly propelled (at light speed) from one twist to the next. Next to all this, Luceno manages to truly create Tarkin anew in a way that completely fits with the films. Not only his character seems to seamlessly move from one to the other, but the other characters such as Darth Vader and Lord Sidious are also developed in a way that fits with canon.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

James Luceno's Tarkin is massively enjoyable. Is is typical Star Wars, full of interesting characters from all over the galaxy and amazing action sequences. Luceno is never afraid to delve deeply into complex characters and with Tarkin he picked one who was simply waiting for his moment in the spotlight. Whether you're already a committed Star Wars fan or not, as a sci-fi fan this book is definitely worth picking up!

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