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.
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.
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.
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.
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