Tarkin is written by James Luceno, an author who has written quite a few Star Wars novels in the latter half of the Legends era. I’ve only read one other of his Star Wars novels: Cloak of Deception. I thought his portrayal of Palpatine’s political machinations was fascinating, but I didn’t engage much with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s mission to take out a pirate organization. I was eager to see how Luceno approached the new canon. I know his books are very popular among fans, and having a Legends author in the fold lends some strong credibility and acceptance to the new canon.
The leads were excellent. First up is, obviously, Wilhuff Tarkin, the Moff who appeared in one Star Wars movie, yet had enough authority to give Vader commands. Luceno does a good job of exploring Tarkin’s past and how it shaped him, not just military events but family ideology. Tarkin is an unpleasant character in A New Hope. He is cold and unflappable. Luceno provides a background that makes that coldness believable. I completely buy that the man in this novel is the same as the man in A New Hope. Likewise, Darth Vader is an interesting character, though he seems to be in a type of transition. He is used to working alone to get things done, but that isn’t how an Empire works. From a certain point of view, this novel is also about providing Vader with an equal, not in the Force but in ruthless competency. This is a tall challenge, since the Force is undeniably powerful and can dominate just about anyone. For Tarkin, however, the Force is just a tool that some people have access to and others do not. He isn’t in awe of the Force. He has seen how the Force doesn’t automatically make Jedi better than others. He has personally proven that drive and determination more than make up for the Force in some circumstances.
The lead characters are rounded out by Emperor Palpatine, who is putting both Tarkin and Vader to the test to root out power-hungry Imperials who are overstepping their bounds, and Teller, leader of a band of resistance fighters. Teller and his crew were, to me, the weakest of the cast. I rarely remembered who was who and never much cared reading about them.
Tarkin begins with an attack on one of the outposts that Moff Tarkin oversees, and his success in repelling the attack leads him to consult on what might be the beginning of a resistance movement. Tarkin and Vader are sent by Palpatine to investigate intelligence to that effect. Vader initially resents having a partner, but the two grow to respect one another’s abilities. The situation is made worse, however, as Tarkin’s private ship, the Carrion Spike, is stolen by the resistance group. Being a top-of-the-line ship, the Spike is extremely valuable for guerilla attacks. Tarkin and Vader must get the ship back and cut the resistance movement off before it grows.
The “present day” narrative is intercut with scenes from Tarkin’s youth when he learned his family’s legacy, the path to gaining respect despite being from the Outer Rim, how to survive in the wild and to hunt dangerous predators. Luceno fleshes out Tarkin’s character so thoroughly that he is a completely believable villain shaped by the influences of his life. While it is occasionally nice to see villains with redeeming qualities, in the case of Tarkin, his life led him to be so single-minded that if you don’t share his ideology, you are insignificant and weak. Props to Luceno for making this work. My only real complaint about the story is the occasional dry bits with the resistance group. I also felt that at times the plot was not complex enough for the page count. If I had engaged more with all the characters, however, I doubt I would have felt this way.
What was it trying to do?
Help us understand Tarkin and to show the working relationship of Tarkin and Vader, as well as why Tarkin was valuable to the Empire
Was it successful in doing it?
Without a doubt, it was successful.
Relevance to Canon?
This novel certainly adds depth to Tarkin’s character, and I think it even adds to A New Hope. And when Tarkin showed up on Rebels not long after this novel was published, there was added weight.
Personal Enjoyment: 7
I never got tired of reading it, but I didn’t often think “Oh, I should read Tarkin!” As mentioned earlier, the scenes with the resistance fighters didn’t do much for me. I enjoyed the conversations between Vader and Tarkin, I enjoyed young Tarkin’s trials on Belderone, and I enjoyed Palpatine’s attempts to root out deception among his inner circle. While this comprised the majority of the novel, the sections with the resistance and some of Tarkin’s early military victories weren’t to my tastes. And I’ll admit, I generally don’t care for space battles on the page. Only a handful of Star Wars authors have been able to keep me engaged during space battles (Zahn, Stackpole, Allston). Luceno is not currently on that list. That said, however, the lead character is where this book shines, and it is worth the read if you are interested in what made this particular man.
Luceno’s style is strong, but there are quite a few places where it is also dry. There are pages and pages of space battle tactics and espionage. Some writers make these elements work for me, and I’m sad to say Luceno isn’t one of them. However, this doesn’t mean he is a poor writer. Far from it. His prose is strong and effective. He has a distinct style, but based on the two novels I’ve read, that style doesn’t seem to have much room for humor. Granted, I wouldn’t expect much humor from Tarkin, so I don’t hold that against him here, but I’m curious to see how he handles characters who are more sarcastic or light, a Han Solo or Lando Calrissian, or how he handles C-3PO and R2-D2’s banter. Most of his novels, however, seem to deal with darker fare, so I’ll keep that in mind as I investigate him further. I admit that I am intrigued, and one day I hope to read more of his Legends work.
Final Rating: 8/10