Review: Tarkin

Tarkin Review Author: James Luceno Publisher: Del Rey Release date: November 4, 2014 Pages: 258 This review contains minor spoilers. Grand Moff Tarkin gets the Darth Plagueis treatment in the second novel of the new canon. Like that excellent Legends book, Tarkin fills in the background of a notable Star Wars villain, but unlike Darth Plagueis the Wise, is Tarkin a character that needed this type of illumination? Based on what's presented in the novel, the answer is both yes and no.

Star Wars: Tarkin

Tarkin is set five years after Revenge of the Sith. The main story follows the Moff as he attempts to track down his ship, the Carrion Spike, after it is stolen by dissidents who take it on a spree of destruction. Interspersed throughout the story are flashbacks to Tarkin's early years. It's appreciated that even though Tarkin is involved with the construction of the Death Star already, this isn't really a story about the Death Star. That would have tread very similar ground to the Legends novel Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. During the hunt for the Carrion Spike we come to know Tarkin as a very observant, intelligent individual with a strong mind for strategy and deduction. This skillful early hunt for rebels syncs up well with his desire and ability to root out the rebel base in A New Hope. However, Tarkin's characterization in the novel does lead to what I feel is one inconsistency: his choice to ignore the aide that told him there was a flaw in the Death Star and they should evacuate. The Tarkin in the film was so arrogant, and confident in the station's invincibility, that his choice there got him killed. The Tarkin in the novel is shown to carefully consider any information he receives and makes measured, if often bold, choices to achieve his goals. Tarkin does take place many years before A New Hope, so there's time for him to lose that willingness to listen, but as is, it's hard to picture the man in this book 'going down with the ship' like in the film. The flashbacks follow Tarkin from his childhood on Eriadu, a planet strikingly similar to Africa, through his rise in government, military, and ultimately catching Sheev Palpatine's eye. While the flashbacks themselves are interesting overall, their execution in the novel, particularly early on, doesn't work very well. Frequently Tarkin's mind will wander during the main story, taking us back to the Carrion plateau on Eriadu, interrupting the story at awkward times. In the first chapter alone we go from 'present' Tarkin, to an excerpt from a post-Battle of Yavin memoir of him, back to the present, to a tease of the Carrion flashbacks. That's a lot of jumping around for a chapter where Tarkin is having a uniform made. As the story goes on, the flashbacks enter and exit much more smoothly, and end up being a lot of fun. They help show how Tarkin became a man so comfortable to lead by instilling fear, to the point of destroying worlds. While the stories are enjoyable enough to read, neither the flashbacks or the present story feel truly necessary to the Star Wars saga. A New Hope did an excellent job showing us the core of Tarkin's character; this book doesn't really add to that, just gives the details. The present story lacks any real strong characters outside of Tarkin, Vader, and Sidious and never feels particularly high-stakes. There are only two female characters of any note and both are given hardly anything to do. The hook that will keep you moving through the book is seeing the relationship between Tarkin and Darth Vader. Neither are particularly happy to be paired together by the Emperor at first. Luceno does a good job showing the growing respect and partnership between the two of them, and even answers the question of whether Tarkin knows that Vader is Anakin Skywalker or not. There's a scene late in the book where Vader is genuinely interested to learn more about Tarkin's past, and it's easier to see now why a Dark Lord of the Sith would take orders from a bureaucrat like Tarkin. Looking back at one of Luceno's other Star Wars 'history' novels, Darth Plagueis felt much more essential than Tarkin. It filled in the gaps of the prequel trilogy and developed the motivations of the modern Sith like Palpatine. Surprisingly, Tarkin does similar things for the Sith in the new canon. The most interesting parts of the book are the scenes with Sidious where we learn more about his goals, which it turns out, are much larger than ruling the galaxy through the Empire. Sidious is actually rather dismissive of the Empire in this book. It will be interesting to see if any of the revelations given here end up playing into the upcoming sequel film trilogy. It's hard to imagine the Story Group at Lucasfilm endorsing some of these all too brief teases if they aren't going to come into play down the line. Everything is connected now, after all. Those that enjoyed Luceno's Millenium Falcon will probably find a lot to enjoy in Tarkin. Anyone looking for big revelations of the Darth Plagueis style will likely be disappointed (at least until we see what the sequel trilogy is truly about). Luceno seems to be a 'love him or hate him' Star Wars novelist, and Tarkin is unlikely to change anyone's mind there, so if you've read his other work, you know what you're getting. If you're new to Star Wars novels and are interested in the villains of the Empire, it's definitely worth giving a shot, just know your mileage may vary.
3/5 Kath Hounds

3/5 Kath Hounds

About the Author

Brian joined EUCantina in 2012 as a news reporter. He saw the Original Trilogy when he was so young that he can’t even remember the first time he saw them. His earliest EU memory is listening to audio books of the Jedi Academy trilogy with his family, and since then he has gotten his hands on as much EU material as he can, loving the novels, comics and video games.