Star Wars: A New Dawn

Overview

Star Wars: A New Dawn is the first novel released in the new Star Wars canon. When Disney acquired the Star Wars property, they decided to wipe the canon clean, leaving just the movies and the Clone Wars animated series. All the novels, comics, and video games were officially relegated to a “Legends” status. These were never officially a part of the Star Wars canon, but they existed in an “as good as” state. However, in an effort to streamline the continuity, Disney instituted the Star Wars Story Group, which now oversees all story content, from movies and television to novels and comics. Everything novel written since Star Wars: New Dawn is now canon

A New Dawn is written by John Jackson Miller, who wrote the Obi Wan novel and the Knights of the Old Republic comic, both of which are now part of the Legends continuity. A New Dawn tells the story of how Kenan and Hera, two characters from the Rebels animated series, first met. When I read the novel, I had not yet seen Rebels, so I went in to the story without any knowledge of who these two characters were.

star-wars-A-New-Dawn-cover
Star Wars: A New Dawn cover

Character: 7

This is a bit retrospect, but now that I’ve seen Rebels, I think Hera and Kenan were handled well. Since this takes place prior to that series, Kenan is a quite rough around the edges and trying to lay low since he was being trained as a Jedi before Order 66. He tries to avoid using the Force, but his Jedi training tugs at him. It is hard to lay low when your previous ideology (one that you have to hide out of necessity) compels you to fight injustice and help those in need. He is initially drawn to Hera because she is attractive. Hera eventually sees Kenan’s potential as a fighter, but she is resistant to his advances. She has a mission, and Hera is focused. Having seen the first season of Rebels, this fits quite well. These are the early days of the Rebel Alliance . . . so early that there really isn’t an alliance per se. There are disorganized resistance groups, one of which Hera is connected to, but we get few details beyond that.

There are two villains in the story: Captain Sloane, an Imperial captain who hopes to command her own Star Destroyer, and Count Vidian, an efficiency specialist who is ambitious and willing to do whatever it takes to make his rivals for the Emperor’s favor look bad—even if that means sacrificing human lives. Sloane is an interesting character. She gets her promotion after Vidian kills her commanding officer, but she then has to walk a dangerous path as Vidian is unpredictable and prone to outbursts. As for Vidian, I didn’t care for him as a villain. He seemed too stock for me, lacking nuance or any potentially redeeming characteristics. I suppose you could say, “Hey, this is Star Wars. It usually deals in black and white. It’s space opera, and you want nuance?” But this is also a novel, and it gives writers the opportunity to delve deeper into character and motivation. Vidian is just your typical evil character. He has no regard for human life, which in itself could be interesting if more was made of it and how he came to view life this way. He is part machine and he is prone to outbursts. Sounds familiar.

The cast is rounded out with Skelly, a miner turned terrorist, and Zaluna, an Imperial intelligence operative who monitors recordings and transmissions. They work well enough.

Story: 7

The story was a fairly typical Star Wars type story: rag-tag band of rebels, some less eager than others, who team up to take down the Empire. Though, in this case, it is just one Imperial operation run by a cybernetic madman. There are some stabs at social commentary, but the novel seems mainly focused on setting up Rebels (which had not debuted at publication), portraying the early days of the Empire when it is still consolidating and building power, and showing the infancy of the rebellion.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Again, set up Rebels, portray the rising power of the Empire and the early days of the rebellion. There’s not really much more than this.

Was it successful in doing it?

All-in-all, yes. We see the competition between power-players in the Empire. We see the desperation of ordinary people on the ground and the determination of people who would likely be instrumental in starting the Rebel Alliance.

Relevance to New Canon?

This novel fills in some of the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. You don’t need the story to enjoy the existing Star Wars movies, nor do you really need it to enjoy Rebels. I don’t think my understanding of any of the characters was affected by anything in this novel.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

My favorite part of the novel is after Kenan, Hera, Skelly, and Zaluna capture a transport bus. Zaluna realizes they need to deactivate the surveillance equipment in the bus. When questioned why a bus would have such equipment, Zaluna says that it wasn’t initially for spycraft. It was installed for advertising purposes, analyzing workers and what they liked to eat and drink, which would in turn be used to personalize advertising. When the business folded and the Empire rose, the equipment was put to different uses. I thought this was a clever bit of commentary given the constant monitoring that occurs online and the algorithms that track our online viewing and purchases to customize ads. The infrastructure is there.

Other than this section, however, I never really lost myself in the book. I was rarely engaged. I enjoyed Kenan but wasn’t very interested when he was not part of the narrative. I think I would have enjoyed this story as a comic book, but as a novel it was largely a miss for me. I don’t think it was a waste of time and money, but it isn’t one I will revisit unless I do a canon read-through, which I may well be nerdy enough to do one day.

Style/Craft: 8

As stated before, I think this would have been an excellent story for a comic book. I think some of the characterization would have worked better in comic form. (Not that comics need lack character depth; sometimes the art makes up for what the words don’t convey.) As a novel, it is fine. Jackson’s prose is good for the story he is telling, but I think I would have liked something a bit more gripping. Or a different medium entirely.

Final Rating: 7.2/10

Star Wars Canon Thoughts and Rambles

When Disney announced that the Star Wars Expanded Universe had been rebranded as the Legends line and that a new, official Star Wars canon would replace it, I was a bit sad but overall, I was excited. While the Expanded Universe held a lot of great memories for me, it was never officially canon, and I was excited to see what a streamlined, considered canon would look like. I remember the early days of the EU, when Timothy Zahn had completed his trilogy, Dark Horse comics had Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi under their belt, and new novels were being announced (Truce at Bakura and The Courtship of Princess Leia). But the EU was being created one piece at a time. There were early continuity issues with Dark Empire and Heir to the Empire. Both were great stories, but Heir showed the New Republic established on Coruscant and Leia was pregnant with twins while Dark Empire showed the Battle of Coruscant and Leia pregnant with a third Solo child. The workaround was the DE took place after the Thrawn Trilogy, after the Empire attempted to retake Coruscant, but this never seemed that satisfying to me. It was obvious that DE was intended to be the continuation from Return of the Jedi, but Heir beat it to release, and both happened to be good enough that whoever decides things wanted both of them to be in continuity. And they deserved it, but there were definitely bumps to smooth out. And Kevin J. Anderson seemed very interested in attempting to do so, weaving as many continuity references into his work as he could.

In the lead up to the prequels, however, the quality of Star Wars stories varied greatly (for me), and there was quite a bit of uncertainty about how the prequels would affect the EU. George Lucas could do whatever he wanted with his creation, and if he wrote something that contradicted the EU, his vision stood (though how to reconcile his contradictions with himself is still a bit of an issue). A systematic categorization system was eventually developed by fans. This system involved multiple layers of canonicity, and it was quite complex and existed before the term “head canon” came into play. There were general attempts to create a comprehensive EU, but there wasn’t really an overriding vision until pretty late in the game, at which point we got the New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi. Dark Horse Comics had their own successful run at the time with Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Times, and Legacy. In general, the novels and comics didn’t attempt to cross-pollinate creatively, and they usually focused on their own mini-eras. This could still lead to contradiction, but by focusing on specific time periods, they didn’t need to worry too much about stepping on each others’ toes in a continuity sense.

I had pretty much stopped following Star Wars at that point. The prequels devastated my already waning interest. I dipped back in on occasion and was generally satisfied with what I read, though there were as many misses as there were hits. And any time Timothy Zahn wrote something, I had to read it.

All this to say, I sympathize with and completely understand why Disney would wipe the slate clean. As much as I would like Zahn’s work to stay firmly in continuity, the EU audience is still technically niche. For the most part, we will follow Star Wars in whatever form we get it. And speaking personally, I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who, so continuity issues are irritating but they don’t break the experience for me. But the idea of having an official canon that weaves through movies, TV, comics, and books is kind of exciting. My only real concern is that this official status puts more weight on individual pieces. Before, a boring or disliked book could be ignored because it wasn’t technically official. Now, it is official, whether we like it or not. And every work feels, to me, like it needs to contribute something worthy to the canon. There is a feeling that each work now has to justify its own existence because of its elevated, canonical status.

That’s how it feels, at any rate. In reality, it doesn’t really matter that much. There are good stories and there are bad stories and there are stories that fall all over the spectrum inbetween. Despite official canon, we can still pick and choose our head canon (even across the official and Legends lines, though there will now definitely be contradictions). And despite an official canon, I’m still very interested in reading through the Legends line. In fact, knowing that the Legends line has a definitive ending is encouraging. It is like knowing you can get a complete run of a comic series.

I had been thinking about blogging through the Legends line. I’ve also thought about blogging through the new canon line. In reality, I may do both, but not with any regular pace. Life and work are extremely busy right now, and sometimes I can’t stand to be in front of a computer screen for reading/writing purposes when I get home. And with the way finances are at the moment (good, but recovering from my last couple of semesters of college), I won’t be keeping up with Star Wars canonical books and comics as they come out. I prefer Star Wars books in paperback for some reason, and comics are beyond my budget at the moment. But hopefully I’ll be able to catch up to the SW canon paperbacks soon. I’ve actually read New Dawn, Tarkin, and Heir to the Jedi. The urge to blog about them continues to nag at the fringes of my mind. Now that I’ve come up with a new review format, the chances of me taking the time to move forward on this project are more likely. I need this creative outlet. So if you are willing to read, I’ll work on finding the time and mental energy to write.