In Review: Star Wars: Lords of the Sith

This will keep the anticipation burning until December 18.

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Published by Del Rey, published April 28, 2015. Hardcover of 285 pages at $28.00.

Note: The book also includes a nine page preview of Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

The cover: Vader swings his lightsaber and the Emperor uses his Force lightning to attack unseen foes, as stormtroopers and rebels exchange fire on either side of them. Behind all are two AT-ATs and two Star Destroyers. This is fantastic art from Aaron McBride, with the jacket designed by Scott Biel. If Del Rey and Disney are wise, they’ll have McBride do more covers. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the inside front cover, “Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently ursurping their Masters — and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now. On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as ‘spice,’ an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources — by political power or firepower — and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompaned by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure that his will is done. For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. For the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: when an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.” I’m a fan of The Clone Wars cartoon series, so Ryloth is a world I’m familiar with. I’m also a fan of Star Wars Rebels, and Cham sounds like he’s Hera’s father. The opportunity to see Vader and the Emperor hunted is something I’m eager to see. So, this book is pushing all the right buttons for me. Overall grade: A

The characters: This Darth Vader is set after the events of Revenge of the Sith, but before Rebels. He has occasional memories of his past life as Anakin and they’re very moving. He has to shake them off to continue with his tasks, and often the Emperor is near him when they occur, watching to see how he reacts. I was impressed with how writer Kemp handled him as a being existing wholly on anger and obedience, though even he has moments wondering what would happen if he were to let Palpatine die. Getting inside his thoughts as the ponders his possible future or how he will take out his latest opponent makes for fun reading. The Emperor is more of an enigma. The reader is never inside his head, only seeing him as Vader does and then trying to ponder what this dictator’s motives are. He is indeed all powerful, releasing his full Force abilities when there are no witnesses, and he always seems to be one step ahead of his apprentice, thus keeping Vader from killing him as all acolytes eventually do. His lines have much more power than Vader’s because they carry so much weight. The rebels are comprised of Twi’leks, led by Cham Syndulla. He has calculated this attack on the Sith Lords to unbelievable levels, but is unwilling to sacrifice any of his people to bring them down, and that may be his undoing. Isval his leader on the ground will do anything to kill the Sith, especially Vader for the death he causes in the first act of the book. She is the type of leader one would follow to Hell and back, and that is exactly where her group is going. Belkor Dray is an Imperial on Ryloth who wants to take out the Moff leading the forces there. He has been supplying information to Cham and his associates to further his position, but quickly learns that he’s been outmaneuvered by Cham (and don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler as this occurs early). There are also a number of Imperials and rebels I haven’t mentioned, but they are supporting characters compared to these five. Going into this, it’s assumed that Palpatine and Vader will survive, but it’s the uncertainty of what will happen to the rebels that kept me reading. Overall grade: A

The settings: Space around Ryloth and the surface on the planet itself are the major locations of the novel. Areas not seen in The Clone Wars are explored in this novel, with the forested areas and a mountain getting the most focus. These locations, and the creatures that inhabit them, are described well, but serve only as backdrops for action. Overall grade: A-

The action: The opening scene with Vader taking out a rebel ship was a revelation. This is the Sith Lord at the peak of his abilities and what he does earns his reputation of inspiring fear just with the mention of his name. How he deals with those aboard the ship is monstrous. The action that takes place on and around the Star Destroyer Perilous is even better. I am not a fan of space battles in Star Wars novels, but after reading this I would look forward to reading one penned by Kemp. The scale of the action starts small and then grows tremendously, ending in spectacular fashion. Once on the ground the Sith are confronted by a native species of Ryloth that rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t enjoy these antagonists and thought them to be a retread of characters created by Robert A. Heinlein mixed with a character from a James Cameron movie. I was bored by these action sequences and events, and unfortunately this is when the Emperor is in full battle mode. It was too over the top and too much of “been-there-done-that.” There is a final sequence which is okay, but I was still feeling the disappointment of what had gone before, and just wanted the book to be done. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Overall grade: C

The conclusion: The fate of the Sith is not a surprise, but the justification for the Emperor tagging along with Vader was excellent. I was also impressed with what happened to the rebels and who survives. A solid ending. Overall grade: A

The final line: The action of the last third of the novel hurts the novel, but enough of it is enjoyable for Star Wars fans to feel satisfied. This will keep the anticipation burning until December 18. Overall grade: B+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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