Tarkin is the first Star Wars novel I’ve read. One of the best things about Star Wars is that it convinces you to root for the villains as equally as we would the heroes. If not, at least empathize with them. This is exactly what Star Wars: Tarkin accomplishes. It shows us the goals of the Galactic Empire from a unique perspective we haven’t seen in the films, and persuades us to hope Tarkin succeeds in achieving the Emperor’s dream.
I would point out the condition of this book, to begin with. I spent no more time on this book than any other novel I’ve read, and it’s been through the same conditions as those books; Just look at this thing. This book has undergone more abuse than any other book I’ve read, and it’s not even that long. The cover art is badass, but the book itself didn’t hold up from a durability standpoint. I’m sure it’d be even more flimsy if I lent it to a friend.
The first third of Tarkin is exposition for the character. It’s amazing that a book about an Imperial officer, who played a minor role in A New Hope, could be so interesting. We learn of Wilhuff Tarkin’s past and trials he endured as a youth, having coming from a very wealthy family. We learn his influences, and what made him the cold hearted Moff we know him to be. We also learn of Tarkin’s involvement with the Republic when Emperor Palpatine as merely Chancellor. Reflections from Tarkin’s past are fully evident in the character’s mannerisms throughout the story.
The book isn’t all Tarkin, however. Darth Vader is a fully prominent character in the story as well. We learn more of Vader and Tarkin’s pasts as partners, Tarkin having fought under Anakin Skywalker’s command in the Clone Wars. Tarkin, having no experience with the Sith or the Dark Side, offers an interesting perspective as a viewer of Vader’s use of The Force as a bystander.
Vader and Tarkin are found in early stages of the Empire we know from the original Star Wars trilogy, and we watch the two argue as to how it should be governed. Vader shows envy to Tarkin early in the novel, as the two are sent on a mission together at the command of the Emperor. When an early group of rebels steal Tarkin’s ship, the Carrion Spike, Vader and Tarkin have no means of communicating with the Empire, and must work together to get the ship back. It is here when Tarkin realizes that Vader uses The Force to help him recover his ship, and the two continue to form a stronger companionship as the story progresses. There comes a point when Vader nearly treats Tarkin as his equal, but he refrains from doing so, maintaining his position as the Emperor’s right hand man. This is another thing the book does a great job of; we understand each of the character’s goals, and the lengths they will go to achieve them. Darth Vader, despite the black mask shrouding his face, becomes a frighteningly relatable character.
Throughout the story, the novel switches between Tarkin and the rebel cell which has stolen his ship. The rebels are a nice group of characters as well. They understand that they will most likely fail to succeed at any offensive against the Empire, but are still willing to give it a try. They have their own conflicts as failure becomes more inevitable, but still hold enough friendship to hold together. My only gripe is that the group is pretty large and, being Star Wars, they are all different alien races, so it can be hard to keep track of each individual member. Even then, that’s just a nitpick, and one of the few I have with this novel.
Another great thing about the novel is the sheer amount of Star Wars lore the book contains. Taking place before the rebellion, the only history of Star Wars is that of the prequel trilogy, and the expanded universe built around it. There are multiple references to Attack of the Clones, The Clone Wars series, and Revenge of the Sith. Say what you will about the prequels, they still offered a plethora of lore to build upon the series, which has spawned its own following, two (technically three) TV series, and plenty of reading material. When the story may briefly drag, Tarkin still provides a lot of interesting Star Wars history to keep readers invested.
If you’re a weathered Star Wars fan interested in reading the novels, Tarkin is a great place to start. It’s a short read with a compelling story about an overlooked character, that gives an interesting perspective of the universe we know and love. Given that Disney and Lucasfilm are releasing Star Wars anthology films in the coming years, Tarkin would be a great material to adapt for the platform. The only question is who would stand in for the late Peter Cushing, who portrayed the character perfectly in A New Hope, a performance on full display in this book.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; March 2016