Retro Reviews: ‘Tarkin’ by James Luceno

May 12, 2020 at 12:01 am | Posted in Books, Random House, Regular Feature, Retro Reviews, Reviews, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | Leave a comment

Tarkin, by James Luceno, is the second adult novel written in the canon, released in November 2014.

To start with, it should be noted that James Luceno is no stranger to Star Wars novels at the point of this book’s release. Luceno had already written eight adult novels for Star Wars, including the ever popular Darth Plagueis

James Luceno did a decent job with this book. As expected, this book focuses on the character of Tarkin. Not only is he the main character of the novel, but his backstory is also explained in-depth. I would not have expected his backstory to actually be so interesting, but James Luceno does an excellent job of weaving it throughout the main plot of the book. There are no chapters entirely of flashbacks, but rather short, one or two page long exposition dumps that adequately serve the purpose of the book.

Tarkin as a character is fascinating as he is written as a colonial of noble birth. He has power, but his family doesn’t just give it to him for free. He has to work for it and prove that he is worthy. I think that while Tarkin himself can be and is most of the time despicable, his hard work ethic are laudable and respectable. His determination for power isn’t self-driven, but because he genuinely wants to help the Empire grow and prosper. If he didn’t have a habit of killing officers without a court martial or allowing for civilians to die as collateral damage, or, you know, blowing up entire planets later on, he might possibly be considered a good guy.

Where this book suffers is the main plot. To me, it’s just boring. The plot concept of Tarkin’s ship the Carrion Spike being stolen by pirates (or whom he thinks are pirates) and then he, along with Darth Vader, chase the ship throughout the galaxy. The problem is the execution. There are moments of excitement and cool scenes, but the cohesiveness of the plot is fairly boring.

Another problem with the book is the antagonist, Teller and his group. They aren’t even introduced until about halfway through the book and then aren’t explained until the end. I didn’t understand why they were doing what they were doing until about three-quarters of the way through the book, and therefore didn’t feel invested in them or hate them. I felt indifferent, which is not what a book needs from its readers.

If this book has any amazing strengths, it is its tie-ins to the greater Star Wars universe. Many have said that James Luceno, apart from maybe Dave Filoni, is the best author at making connections to other aspects of the Star Wars universe.

Some of the connections that I noticed were that the Carrion Spike was based on The Clone Wars ship used in the episode “Cat and Mouse” from season two. Luceno also made several references to his other books, such as Cloak of Deception and Darth Plagueis. Although those books in and of themselves are not canon, Luceno utilizes the groundwork that they have done to provide detail for his story here. I also loved how you could tell that Luceno actually watched The Clone Wars, as he made several references to the Citadel arc from season three and the Ahsoka Trial arc from season five. I truly felt that Luceno’s books are the best examples of the universe feeling like it really does all connect, as it truly should.

The descriptions of The Jedi Temple, formerly a Sith temple and now repurposed for Palpatine, were really cool and there were a lot of details from my reread that I had forgotten. Some of the imperial leaders ran together in my head, but the political and governmental back and forth was interesting to me and I love seeing “how the sausage” is made in the empire. It truly shows how complex a government organization can be.

A few other impressive things from the book that I found interesting was Vader’s use of his meditation chamber as a tracking device. I would not have guessed that use for that device.

It was also interesting to see the Tarkin and Vader interaction and how it was similar to the Thrawn and Vader Interaction from Thrawn: Alliances. That is probably a small problem with the current canon, is that so many stories rely heavily on Vader. I don’t know whether writers simply like using Vader a lot or if it’s a marketing reason. However, many stories rely on a main protagonist (Tarkin, Thrawn, Doctor Aphra, etc) to serve as foils to Vader, so that they can talk and Vader can do cool things. Many times it is done right and a little different to make it still interesting, but when used too many times it becomes a little boring. Vader is awesome, but we shouldn’t get “all Vader all the time”.

One fascinating aspect of this book is that it’s only 258 pages (hardcover). That is really, really short. Except for The Force Awakens novelization, this is the shortest adult book in the canon. While short books can have their place, I believe they lack a little bit because they aren’t as fleshed out as they need to be. For the last several years, Lucasfilm has hit the sweet spot of 300-430 page long books that are long enough to be fleshed out but not too long to intimidate the reader. This book (and the next book that I’ll review) I believe are too short, and that is part of what drags it down.

Overall, this is an OK book. I wouldn’t say it’s terrible or bad, but I can’t say that it’s good or great either. The word decent is what comes to mind. To be honest, it is  my least favorite James Luceno Star Wars book (and that shows how good his other books are).  If you really, really liked Tarkin or the Empire, I would recommend this book, but otherwise it’s only really needed if you are a completionist. I definitely would not recommend you read this book if it’s your first Star Wars book. In total, I give Tarkin 3 out of 5. Decent job Luceno.

Written by Jonathan Koan

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