Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
Published by Del Rey, September 2, 2014. Hardcover of 367 pages at $28.00.
Note: I read an “Exclusive Advance Reader’s Edition” that was given out at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Any part of the book may have changed by publication.
The cover: Kanan Jarrus stands back to back with Hera Syndulla. He has his lightsaber and she her pistol. Below them is a Star Destroyer, three TIE Fighters, and several stormtroopers. This is an okay image from the incredibly talented artist Douglas Wheatley, who illustrated many of Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars: Dark Times. I’m not keen on Hera’s face, it doesn’t seem as real as Kanan’s. The Imperial troopers and their hardware look fine, but the two leads don’t gel well. This cover seems like Wheatley was holding back or was restrained. Overall grade: C+
The premise: From the back cover, “Ever since the Jedi were marked for death and forced to flee Coruscant, Kanan Jarrus has devoted himself to staying alive rather than serving the Force. Wandering the galaxy alone, from one anonymous job to another, he avoids trouble–especially with the Empire–at all costs. So when he discovers a deadly conflict brewing between ruthless Imperial forces and desperate revolutionaries, he’s not about to get caught in the crossfire. Then the brutal death of a friend at the Empire’s hands forces the ex-Jedi to make a choice: bow down to fear, or stand up and fight. But Jarrus won’t be fighting alone. Unlikely allies, including a bomb-throwing radical, a former Imperial surveillance agent, a vengeful security officer, and the mysterious Hera Syndulla–an agent provocateur with motives of her own–team up with Jarrus to challenge the Empire. As a crisis of apocalyptic proportions unfolds on the planet Gorse, they must stand together against one of the Emperor’s most fearsome enforcers–for the sake of a world and its people.” This novel reveals how the two leads met and came to work together. Okay. This will be a “building the foundation” novel. I can go along with that. Overall grade: B
The foreword: This was very, very interesting. There is absolutely no reason for a foreword to be in this book, let alone from Dave Filoni. The only reason it’s here is to justify to fans why all the other novels, books, comics, and games that are set after Return of the Jedi are no longer part of the canon of the franchise. This foreword is a justification. Why get Filoni to do it? He put his heart on his sleeve for the Clone Wars cartoon series and having him deliver the reason for this change is probably the best way to get an upset fan to listen. So this is a Post-reboot. So what? I fervently look forward to any Star Wars telling. The older stories are still there and can still be enjoyed. And if I don’t like the new batch of stories, as I did with some of the past ones, I don’t have to buy them or support them. It’s as simple as that. Still, it’s interesting to think that this was necessary.
The characters: A majority of the book is told from Kanan Jarrus’s point of view. Mix Han Solo’ swagger and one-liners with a Jedi who’s trying to remain incognito, and you have his character. He’s pretty one note. If you’ve read any Star Wars books you’ll know what to expect from him. I didn’t care for him too much, as he’s fairly obnoxious, but when someone is about to be singled out by the agents of the Empire, he’ll try to save them. This is his one redeeming quality. I didn’t like the constant tease of him using or not using the Force. I was expecting, based on the cover image, a particular weapon to be employed, but it never was. Appropriate reasons are given for his avoidance, but it got old quickly. Hera Syndulla is an attractive Twi’lek who gets involved in Kanan’s life because she seems to be looking for ways to unite those unsatisfied with the Empire to rebel. She is the face of the early days of the Rebellion. She’s an ace pilot, a good fighter, and would do anything to further the cause. Nothing is given of her backstory and none is needed for this story. She was okay, but not deep. Skelly is a demolitions expert who tries to warn the citizens of his world of a possible calamity. He’s possessed to the point of madness with his beliefs, standing on street corners screaming his views, trying to get anyone to believe him. With the arrival of the Empire, he thinks they’ll listen since others don’t. Denetrius Vidian is the villain of the book. He is more machine than man (Yes, you’re right in what you’re thinking), in charge of a Star Destroyer due to his status as a count, and having the ear of the Emperor. He does everything that Darth Vader and General Grievous does, without a lightsaber or the Force. His only fun moment was when he is surprised in his room by the two leads. None of these characters have the bite or panache of characters from the previous films, books, or comics. Overall grade: C
The settings: The novel is set on the planet Gorse, described as the ugliest planet in the galaxy. It’s a planet whose orbit spins the opposite of most worlds, so that one side is in eternal darkness (where beings may live) and the other continually fried by the sun (which no living creature may live). It is a backworold mining colony for an element that the Empire desperately needs. It’s full of seedy characters, crumbling establishments, and is a mess. I was pleased to see different parts of this world and Miller really made the most out of this setting. Overall grade: A
The action: There’s a fair amount of action in this book, with fist fighting, stormtroopers shooting everywhere, and plenty of space battles. Skelly’s bomb tossing got a bit ridiculous and came off as a bad element from a videogame. I didn’t care for the last third of the novel’s moments where one or more heroes had to sneak into someplace dangerous or heavily guarded. It happened too often and I knew that they would be successful because that’s where the bad guys always were. Overall grade: B-
The conclusion: I was surprised to see that most of the characters were not going to be continuing with the two leads. There were some very strong repercussions for several heroes. However, when the two protagonists launched off on their new, upcoming adventures I wasn’t thrilled to imagine where they were going. Overall grade: C+
The final line: This read like a generic Clone Wars cartoon. You could see several chapters being put together as half hour episodes. Miller is a much better writer than this, but this is not his playground to create in anymore, as the rules have changed. Maybe my expectations were too high. This is the prelude of a cartoon series, so what was I expecting? Sadly, much more. Overall grade: C+
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two 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.