Book Review: Darth Plagueis

James Lucano ventures to an unknown area of the Star Wars mythos in Darth Plagueis.  It’s a piece of Star Wars lore very few can say they are familiar with, as it was only alluded to in one of the better sequences of Revenge Of The Sith.  However upon reading this novel I can not only say that the mysterious Sith Lord is not only one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars mythos, but the narrative around him is one of the most compelling stories I’ve read in a novel for a long time.

The character of Darth Plagueis is typically overlooked or unheard of among casual Star Wars fans due to the lack of information provided about him in the films.  But anyone who has read this novel should shutter at the mention of his name. Readers follow Darth Plagueis throughout vast portions of his life and learn about how he was raised, became a powerful political figure in the galaxy, and eventually a Sith Lord.  What makes Plagueis’ character work is self confidence.  He thinks he’s too big to fail, and even when he encounters a flaw in the plan, he goes to desperate measures to mediate the situation.

Another great aspect to Plagueis’ character is how he explains The Force in relation to both the Sith and the Jedi.  The Jedi are never at any point perceived as a good thing in this novel, and readers are convinced that perhaps the light side isn’t such a good idea in and of itself.  Plagueis does this by showing that not allowing emotion to play a factor in one’s use of The Force doesn’t allow the user to achieve its full potential.  Anyone who has watched the films gets the gist of this concept, but the way Plagueis handles the situation makes me want to turn to the dark side.  I never want to be a Jedi after reading this book, and I can only question the reasoning behind staple characters such as Obi Wan and Qui Gon Jinn, and how they would willingly submit to an organization such as the Jedi Order.  The book perceives Jedi training in a negative light, and for a good reason too.   Why would anyone want their emotions suppressed for the sake of good?  The dark side wins in this regard.

One of the best things about Darth Plagueis is the way it sets up the events of the prequel trilogy, and the finale actually occurs during the events of The Phantom Menace.  We get to see Darth Maul’s origins, the formation of the clone army, and how different aspects of the so-called "Grand Plan" were funded through Plagueis’ political power.  The best part?  Palpatine’s training.  We witness Plagueis’ acquaintance with Palpatine from his youth, and the imagination is challenged to somehow find a look for a young version of the lovable Sith Lord.   I don’t think any two perceptions of him will be similar.  We see how the dark side works through Palpatine’s training as he is driven to such desperation by Plagueis he has no choice but to submit to him.  As a Sith Lord, we see how Palpatine formulated his rise to power as the Supreme Chancellor, and the novel wraps this in a clever way by making the laughable events from The Phantom Menace not only understandable, but serious. 

Darth Plagueis, though it has some lull spots, is one of the best books I’ve read in awhile.  It manages to take a character the Star Wars fanbase knew little about and make him one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars mythos.  It utilizes the Star Wars galaxy to its fullest potential and isn’t afraid to harp on issues that publicly defaced the saga in the prequels.  If anything, this guy deserves a solo film, and I wish that Disney would consider making this novel canon again, as right now it’s considered to be in the "Legends" lineup of novels.  Though for now it remains non-canon, any diehard Star Wars fan should give Darth Plagueis a read.  It’s fun, compelling, and will give readers a better appreciation for being Star Wars fans. 

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; July 2016

Book Review: Star Wars- Tarkin

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