Let me get out of this way, I role with James Luceno and I always will because he was 1/2 of the team that brought me Robotech in novel form in the ’80s. That said, there is good James Luceno and bad James Luceno. Good James Luceno is Labyrinth of Evil which combined with Matthew Stover’s kick ass novelization of Revenge of the Sith is the Star Wars prequel as it should have been told, not whatever it was that happened on to the screen.
Good Luceno is Darth Plagueis. Bad Luceno, and I know perhaps the majority does not agree with this, is Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader.
It’s a book blessed with a cool concept and central character, a story everyone wants to see — Vader being Vader — but it really fails to turn the concept into actual moments that payoff the promise of premise. Never has there been a Star Wars book that I question what seemed to be general opinion on more than I did with The Rise of Darth Vader.
Tarkin is not Vader but because of his role in the first Star Wars film, we feel he’s kind of a bad ass right? He roles around in best ride in the Galaxy (even with an admittedly unfortunate manufacturer exhaust issue), he’s pointed out by Carrie Fisher to be holding the leash on Darth Vader, the guy whose move as we know it so far is rolling up on your ship, snatching you by the neck and throwing you into what looks like your own water heater while his boys watch.
I guess what’s exciting about Lucasfilm/Disney wiping the previous expanded universe clean beyond new reader accessibility and freeing the creative process regarding new films was, at least for me, someone who reads the shit out of Star Wars novels — and have since Zahn kept the flame and love alive with his Thrawn stuff — it’s more about the background and seeing what’s being carried over from the now defunct expanded universe and what’s being changed. Even the little stuff.
Star Wars fans LOVE the little stuff. So finding out Mas Amedda is now the Imperial Vizier, that’s something to start a forum thread about. If you are a casual fan, don’t worry, you know who he is. It’s this guy:
In the old continuity the Imperial Vizier was Sate Presage, an alien hating human, so perhaps it means we are in a more Alien friendly Empire now, or one that hasn’t quite got around to systematic hating yet. Or Mas is a Token. Even so, the role of Imperial Vizier makes him officially the second guy in the Empire, with the only possible exception being Vader who tended to have an unofficial or shadow rank within the Empire even before he became the Supreme Commander.
Needless to say, he has authority. If nothing else it gave the role to a character more recognizable to the movie watchers than Sate was, who was just another one of those humans wearing gear only Kanye would think is fly.
Much has been made of the interactions between Tarkin and Vader in A New Hope and some of it is given more context in Tarkin. While much of the talk tended to revolve around who outranks who, I always recall that Tarkin calls Vader “friend” in the film, and I just don’t picture people doing that so casually unless there was something to it, and Tarkin not only gives us a Vader/Tarkin buddy cop story but also hints to a past, and that Tarkin knows Vader’s identity and the true nature of the Emperor (though I thought at least the former was pretty explicit in the film as well).
Also… we learn Palpatine’s first name. Sheev.
If there were any forum discussions or polls regarding his name I’m going to guess Sheev wasn’t on one ballot. Personally, given his stature and how he kills multiple Jedi Masters who are going to him for a fight in one movement, it’s probably less than a shark move to make fun of the guy’s name.
We also get things like the Interdictor in canon now, something we have seen in the EU quite a bit. There’s quite a bit of starship name drops in the novel for people to check off as official again.
The actual story though?
Kind of not needed. The best parts are, as noted, in the process of actually learning about stuff, not the story. Scenes like walking with Tarkin through Imperial Center and being (re)introduced to the Imperial Ruling Council and how the hierarchy works, was giving me everything I wanted, as was any interaction between Tarkin/Vader/Palpatine (as well as a nice small bit with Dooku too), but the rest of it just kind of felt perfunctory, and that sense was heightened because I feel like these three initial releases that are explicitly being marketed as canon in the new official Star Wars universe should all be slam dunks.
I wasn’t really a fan of the Vader and Tarkin chase thread as it seems inexplicable that two of the most powerful and highly ranked men in the galaxy with virtually unlimited resources would be doing this, so the plot leading up to it never had me on board.
I found the personal history of pre-Imperial Tarkin to be even more trite, some coming of age wilderness survival story that we are led to believe develops facets of the man who would become such an important member of something called The Galactic Empire. In essence, this novel’s elevator pitch is: A hick done good, gets his ride jacked, Darth Vader helps him find it. And I like Tarkin. I love it anytime we get a look at the Imperial hierarchy, and this is the Moff of Moffs.
The best parts of this novel take place in Imperial Center, in the presence of the Sheev, Darth, and the rest of the Imperial machine. That’s what is interesting to me, in a book called Tarkin. A walkabout and a car chase is beneath this guy.
I really need Paul S. Kemp to bring it with Dark Lords of the Sith because the new canon books, take away the innate enthusiasm for something new and the new lease on the idea of discovery in a beloved universe we thought we at least kind of knew for years, so far have not been good.
These aren’t holding up to the Legend. Tarkin is bad Luceno.