Author: John Jackson Miller
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: September 2, 2014
Pages: 414 (367 of content)
Era: Rise of the Empire
This review contains minor spoilers.
Star Wars: A New Dawn has a lot riding on it. It’s the first novel to be released since the big “EU reset” in April, which relegated all of the existing books, comics, video games, and other Expanded Universe material to “Legends” status, leaving only the six films, The Clone Wars, Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir, and a few Star Wars Insider short stories as part of the official Star Wars canon (longtime readers will no doubt notice the lack of a timeline at the beginning of this book). A New Dawn also serves as a prequel to the upcoming animated series Rebels, introducing two of the series’ main characters: Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla. And with the longest wait between new Star Wars novels in over two decades, it’s no surprise that expectations are so high.
A New Dawn is the fourth Star Wars novel from author John Jackson Miller, who is primarily known for his work on graphic novels. While his first two books were good, Miller knocked it out of the park with the award-winning Kenobi (seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and pick up the book). Miller even manages to loosely connect this novel to his previous one by reusing the last line in Kenobi as the first line in A New Dawn.
With the exception of a handful of scenes, the entire book is set on the planet Gorse and its moon Cynda. This makes the story feel relatively small when compared to other Star Wars works, but it’s very much in the vein of Rebels, which will also have a smaller, more focused setting. Unfortunately, the environment isn’t particularly interesting. Most of the story takes place in thorilide mines, processing facilities, and mining towns. It’s not a bad setting, but started to become a bit stale after a while.
What is interesting, however, is the fact that half of Gorse is perpetually bathed in darkness, not unlike Ryloth before it was rewritten in The Clone Wars. One has to wonder if there’s a connection between this and Hera Syndulla, who is rumored to be a descendent of Cham Syndulla from the same Clone Wars arc. And this isn’t the only time Legends (a.k.a. EU) concepts have shown up in the new canon. Every EU reference, no matter how small, brought a little smile to my face, and it’s proof that Lucasfilm is pushing forward into new storytelling territory while still respecting the past.
As one would expect from a prequel to Rebels, Kanan and Hera really steal the show. In many ways, Kanan is a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. And while he’s prone to drinking, fighting, and wasting time, he’s also got a heart of gold. The scenes which give the reader bits and pieces of Kanan’s backstory are by far the best parts of the book. Hera, on the other hand, gets very little backstory, even though she’s a prominent character. Although given the rumors surrounding her ancestry, it’s likely this will be touched upon in the show itself. Hera is established as an excellent pilot and the brains behind any operation, perfectly complementing Kanan’s planning skills and mysterious abilities.
In addition to Kanan and Hera, A New Dawn introduces a number of new characters, including Zaluna, Skelly, Captain Sloane, and Count Vidian. Unfortunately, none are as interesting as Kanan and Hera. Zaluna’s arc starts out strong, and it’s fascinating to see how she deals with the changes the Empire brings to her world. Sadly, her story becomes much less compelling later on in the book. Skelly, on the other hand, is an almost constant annoyance for both our heroes and the reader, constantly running into them–often by coincidence–and messing up their plans again and again. In fact, one could argue that he singlehandedly instigated many of the issues Kanan and Hera had to face. On the Imperial side, Captain Sloane is mostly forgettable, while Count Vidian is cruelly efficient, seemingly invincible, and very much a typical JJM character. His end goal isn’t the most original as far as Star Wars villains go, but the way he goes about it is somewhat unique.
The tone of A New Dawn is fittingly dark for this era, but Miller infuses the dialog with some humor as well. The relationship between Kanan and Hera is by far the best part of the book–which is a good thing considering they’re the stars of the upcoming TV series. Although having watched the series premiere before starting the book, I couldn’t help but wish that the rest of the Ghost‘s crew–Ezra, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper–could have made an appearance as well. Given the rather bland supporting characters in A New Dawn, it’d be fun to see the rest of the heroes featured in any potential sequels.
Overall, Star Wars: A New Dawn is a good book which lays the groundwork for a new generation of adventures set in a galaxy far, far away. Those who enjoyed Knight Errant and Lost Tribe of the Sith–The Collected Stories are sure to like this novel as well. It doesn’t come close to reaching the heights that Kenobi did, but it’s still an enjoyable read and a great introduction to Rebels.
Advanced Review Copy (ARC) courtesy of Del Rey. All staff members can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.