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Review: Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno October 13, 2014

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.
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Another netgalley review, written in exchange for a free advance ecopy.

Well, this is is a bit of an odd book. Is it a biography of a significant character from the first movie, or a novel? Is Tarkin a hero or a villain? And is this book’s existence as one of the new books that tie into the new continuity significant?

I generally enjoyed this when it worked as a novel and not a biography, but there were a few jumps in time and a lot of expository lumps, sometimes in the form of Tarkin talking to another character for a few pages. When the core story of an early attempt at disrupting the construction of the Death Star kicks in, the book becomes a much more entertaining and suspenseful read.

And speaking of suspense… if everyone is the hero of his own life story, that goes for Tarkin as well. Luceno pulls off the neat trick of making Tarkin’s cruelty and evil always apparent, while making you pull for him against the people trying to stop his plans — people who’d be the heroes in almost any other Star Wars story. It’s an odd feeling.

Those rebels get some scenes from their perspective, but I never felt they were fleshed out as much as they could have been. That may have helped with getting the reader to sympathize with Tarkin, because we see much more of him as a person, so maybe it’s less of a bug than a feature.

Trying to look at this as hardcore fans might… I did a little googling before reading the book and found drawn-out discussions about whether Luceno would incorporate this character or that event from the older novels, comics, etc that have now been shunted off into their own timeline. As someone who mainly knows Tarkin from one movie, I can’t say whether this contradicts past versions of Tarkin’s life, but it mainly gives us a period of his youth and a period about ten years before the first film. Some of his career highlights along the way appear, and I get the impression that some of it ties in with the Clone Wars animated series. It strikes me as odd, though, that one of the first novels in the new continuity would be entirely set between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, because it seems unlikely any future Star Wars movies are going to draw heavily on what’s established here. No doubt the hardcore will enjoy arguing about any changes that are made, and whether key elements of Tarkin’s past are or aren’t invalidated, etc, but that’s not the kind of thing most people read novels for.

I’m not sure how much this will appeal to other casual fans like me. We don’t get the full scope of Tarkin’s life because it focuses on certain periods and ends years before his death, so it’s not a complete life story… but we get so much of those earlier points in his life that it doesn’t flow like a typical tie-in novel, either. Luceno also assumes that the reader will recognize the names of a lot of alien species, including some I’ve never encountered before.

Another recent SW novel, A New Dawn, had a number of clear objectives and met them: introduce readers to some of the characters from the Rebels TV series; tell an action-packed story that has a similar kind of feel to the original Star Wars; tell a story that works as well for casual fans and newcomers as it does for longtime Expanded Universe fans. With Tarkin, it’s not clear what the objectives are, so I can’t say how well it met them. Enjoyable enough but not what I’d consider a must-read.

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