Star Wars has always been special to me. I grew up watching the movies, and fantasizing about my own adventures in a galaxy far far away. One thing I never did was get into the expanded universe (EU); I just didn’t know where to start. So when Disney bought Star Wars and said that they were pushing the restart button on EU; I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I knew this was going to divide the fandom, but on the other hand I knew exactly where to jump into. While I’m going to try my best to keep up with the New Canon, I, also, plan to collect the old EU (now called Legends).
But I’m getting side tracked. Let’s start with the first novel, Star Wars: A New Dawn.
Now A New Dawn takes place years after Revenge of the Sith, but before the TV show Star Wars Rebels. And shows how Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla (both major characters of Rebels) met. Kanan is an ex-Jedi trying to keep his head down to avoid the very much unwanted attention of the Empire, and Hera is a rebel trying to get information to aid in her cause against the Empire. When their paths cross, and the Empire’s cruelty finally makes Kanan take a stand, what you get is a very Mission Impossible style story of infiltration and sabotage.
Even if you don’t like Star Wars, know anything about the movies, or watch the television series, this is a story that you can enjoy regardless of your past experience. What you need to know from the movies (and that’s not much) is present in a short prologue, and you don’t need to know anything from Rebels. The setting of the Star Wars universe is just that, the setting. It doesn’t demand you to already know the universe, and if you take it away you still have a compelling story of a fugitive joining a rebel group to stick it to the Man.
Kanan is the reluctant hero of the story. The main focus is on him overcoming his reluctance to get involved against the Empire he has been successfully avoiding until now, with Hera taking the part of the mysterious woman that, through happenstance, enlists him in an espionage mission. Kanan is more fleshed out as a character, but this is due to a purposeful decision to make Hera and her goals more mysterious and elusive to the reader. Both are portrayed very well, and feel like separate people with conflicting goals to start: Kanan wanting to ignore what’s in front of him and Hera’s desire to take it to the Empire when she can. This clear separation between the two of them is very important because when you break their characters down they are very similar. Their similarities and differences helps create this tug and pull relationship that doesn’t seem forced. Resulting in a fun and believable working relationship.
And in the Empire’s corner, bringing cruel efficiency to everyone, is our villain for the day, Denetrius Vidian. He is a mysterious cyborg who is placed in charge of thorilide production on the planet Gorse. Through him we get an idea of the pressures and stresses that drive Imperial officials to use iron fisted tactics to keep ahead of their rivals, or to unseat them. He’s a dynamic villain with an enigmatic past, but his desperation does take control of him by the end and removes the nuance from him. However, I thought he was a good villain and a part of me will miss not seeing more of him.
So much of this story is tied to the enjoyability of the characters. If you don’t like the characters then you loose the suspense and impact of the story. Luckily there are a number of characters that help bring that needed tension: Skelly is an explosive expert that has safety concerns over the mining operations on Gorse’s moon, Cynda, Zaluna Myder is a morally conflicted surveillance officer that you swear is going to crack under the pressure, Okadiah is a miner foreman and bar owner who is the closest think Kanan has to a friend, and Captain Rae Sloane a Star Destroyer commander under Vidian.
Skelly and Okadiah are both co-workers of Kanan’s in the mining of thorilide. Skelly is that guy so set on his goals that you’d be forgiven if you thought he was a conspiracy nut, and he’s crazy. Like Kanan you don’t warm up to him till much later in the book, which I think works best from a narrative stand point. Okadiah is that uncle figure that everyone needs in their life. He’s down to earth, relaxed, and has a warmth to him that I found to be quite charming, which is very much how Kanan also feels about him. Both have a distinct appeal to them that really help drive home the emotions of a moment when the time comes.
Zaluna Myder is a Sullustan female who has lived her whole life on Gorse. She acts as an intelligence officer spying on the local population to find dissidents against the Empire. Think Big Brother from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four. She is, however, no lover of the Empire, but is absolutely terrified when she finds herself unwittingly caught up in Hera’s fight against the Empire. Much like Kanan, she is reluctant to go against the Empire, but she enters this fight with a more civilian perspective. Making her the bravest character in my mind.
Captain Rae Sloane is interesting since she isn’t Vidian’s henchwoman. She takes his orders for sure, but she has her own goals and only goes along with Vidian as long as his goals aline with hers. She is a believer in the Empire and has an air of confidence to her that makes you believe in her. She is only a villain in the fact that she is on the enemy team.
The setting is primarily the gritty industrial planet of Gorse and the mines of its moon, Cynda. And Gorse has one other distinct feature; the only habitable zone of the planet is this band of twilight between the side of the planet that always faces the sun and the side that faces away. Now, while I think that is a cool concept, the actual weather of a planet like this would be utterly terrifying. We are talking about perpetual storms as bad as anything we have on earth at least. I’m not even sure if there would even be an atmosphere on a planet like this. If you can get past the science that makes this setting impossible, it is an interesting world.
Now if it was hard to tell I really enjoyed this book, and I strongly recommend it to Star Wars fans and non-fans alike. Hardcore sci-fi fans will most likely get hung up on the less than science aspects of the story, but if you can suspend your disbelief to the end I think you’ll find it completely worth it. However, it is not perfect sometimes there just isn’t enough description for a couple of things that are unique to the Star Wars universe, and some of the flaws I have with Vidian due impact the plot.