On Star Wars books – Part III: Rise and Fall of the Galactic Empire

This is the part where I start covering books that are officially canon. From the very first serious act of rebellion to the very peak of the Empire’s might, crowned by the construction of the Death Star to the very events that lead directly into the story of The Force Awakens!

Lords of the Sith
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Despite what some would think, the first real “spark of rebellion” (pun intended) actually happened on Ryloth, the Twi’lek home planet by the local resistance movement. It was there where the Empire really felt vulnerable. Under command of Cham Syndulla who we know from The Clone Wars, the Free Ryloth Movement is moving brave and strong, opposing anyone who would try to seize that planet rich with Spice for themselves, but the ultimate contender is yet to come. The Empire does not take the resistance likely but the movement has crippled their plans so much that they’ve managed to draw in the very top of the Galactic Empire – Vader and the Emperor – who chose this opportunity as the ultimate test for him and his apprentice who left many memories of his former self on that planet. The plans however, do not go as planned, even for them. While they’re closing in to the planet on their mighty Star Destroyer, the deadly trap activates: hundreds of mines and furious starships fire across the stars as the space Juggernaut burns but does not crumble. Vader takes the matters in his own hands and does the impossible, as the mines and starships start to perish like bugs under the fist of the Dark Lord, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The trap was too good. Star Destroyer gets boarded and shortly after the final shot has been set – the glorious fall of the dreaded collosus. Burning and crumbling it crashes through atmosphere and it leaves Vader and the Emperor alone with the Royal guard, stranded in the wilderness, filled with rage – and thus, the final test begins…

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First off – This is the book that should have been part of the Dark Lord: Rise of Darth Vader trilogy instead of painfully average Labyrinth of Evil. That way the trilogy would start with essential Revenge of the Sith depicting  the origins of the Empire and Anakin’s downfall, turning him into Vader followed by very good and detailed sequel Rise of Darth Vader where he truly embraces his grim fate as the Lord of the Sith and the rightful enforcer of the new order, while going on his first mission. Lords of the Sith would be the perfect last chapter in the trilogy as it shows the Vader in his prime. He starts immediately as the unshakable and unbreakable force of the Empire’s will. Forces of nature, explosions, rains of energy bolts, the vacuum of space… He breaks through every barrier sending chills down the spines of every rebel and a Jedi until all that is left is the sound of cybernetic breathing and a light of the crimson blade, pulsing through the deadly silence. While the resistance is terrified, the anger, revenge and the hope is what keeps them going forward, because their mission is not only to strike a blow to the Empire, but to eliminate Vader and the Emperor aswell. Cham, courageous father of Hera from the Rebels series has known past and the portrayal in this book definitely gives him justice. By his side there is feisty Twi’lek girl with a dark past, hungry for revenge against the Empire that gave her hell, bounded by chains and prostitution. She is incredibly resilient, strong and decisive, exactly the kind that movement needs, and she will fight no matter what, till the very end. In that tone, the book starts very strong, but as the Star Destroyer descends so does the story in a way. Sure, there are still a couple of places where it shines, but overall, it turns into a nearly mediocre piece. It becomes very predictable, while the ending (especially in the contrast with the opening) seems anticlimactic.

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“Yoda once had told him that fear led to hate and hate to suffering. But Yoda had been wrong. Fear was a tool used by the strong to cow the weak. Hate was the font of true strength. Suffering was not the result of the rule of the strong over the weak, order was. By its very existence, the Force mandated the rule of the strong over the weak; the Force mandated order. The Jedi had never seen that, and so they’d misunderstood the Force and been destroyed. But Vader’s Master saw it. Vader saw it. And so they were strong. And so they ruled.”
– In the mind of Vader

With the themes like courage, salvation, revenge, betrayal, temptation and fear, there is also the irony – conveniently placed in the ranks of the corrupted Empire, where is very arguable to say if everybody got what was coming to them (in this case; selfish traitor Belkor or lazy and hedonistic slaver Mors). It is very interesting to see that despite all it’s might, the Empire is one heavily unstable organization. Some of “fan services” in the book do not work in the scope of the story (like, recalling Ahsoka as Snips! What  the hell..?) along with the whole “testing Vader” idea, since Vader already faced his demons and defeated them in The Rise of Darth Vader. All in all, Lords of the Sith is a very good book, only slightly undermined by the high standards which Paul S. Kemp achieved with his novel Deceived. This book shares the main problem that is present in all of canon at this time – it plays too safe, and that is what kept it from achieving the highest potential. No canon book so far has “swept us from our feet”, however I must admit, Lords of the Sith was pretty close.

Tarkin
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Prior to the Battle of Yavin, the increasingly motivated and hungry for power, the Great Galactic Empire has begun developing weapons that would ensure it’s complete domination in the galaxy. The domination so strong, that the Clone Wars, the Jedi and the Force itself, are already being considered as the things of the past. But to wield those kinds of weapons they need someone who is weapon by himself. The person that could rightfully stand with Vader and the Emperor while not being sensitive to the force, and not being anything than a mere human. Could they find a person that kind of person? Yes, this is the story about Tarkin. From the unlikeable captain during The Clone Wars over notorious regional governor to extremely ruthless Grand Moff in command of the Death Star. This book covers it all. From his very childhood when he was sent to face and survive Eriadu’s merciless wilderness to the first days on command, where he was kind of a predator himself, which led him to the future. Always suspicious, always on foot and always anticipating danger and the things to go wrong. These  are just some of the virtues that Palpatine recognized in him. The other ones are those which made him the main candidate for a position among him and Vader: The cruelty, will to achieve objectives no matter the cost and in the end – Tarkin Doctrine; “Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself”. This explains that constant urge to display the Empire’s might: Colossal ships like flying cities that blocks the sun, screaming and furious starfighters, sharp uniforms, cold and serious interiors and last but not least, enormous deep space mobile battlestation with a size of a planet! What is even more scary – it was never planed for it to be the only one.

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“On Coruscant a servile Senate applauds the Emperor’s every decree, and the populations of the Core Worlds bask in a sense of renewed prosperity. In the Outer Rim, meanwhile, the myriad species of former Separatist worlds find themselves no better off than they were before the civil war. Stripped of weaponry and resources, they have been left to fend for themselves in an Empire that has largely turned its back on them. Where resentment has boiled over into acts of sedition, the Empire has been quick to mete out punishment. But as confident as he is in his own and Vader’s dark side powers, the Emperor understands that only a supreme military, overseen by a commander with the will to be as merciless as he is, can secure an Empire that will endure for a thousand generations …”
– Prologue

As one could suspect, the life story of Tarkin is unpleasant, crude and even kind of scary, but it makes great development for a character that is without a doubt – a villain. It shows us the past, the present and inevitable future for that character just as the events that shaped him into the person that he is. There are also such elements like his relationship with Anakin (and later on, Vader aswell), his philosophy and methods and how they affect on others for  example. Thanks to the skillful writing we even recognize the influences of a character when he’s absent from the scene. This is how you make a proper novel based on a single character (unlike Revan, for example). It has beginning, a middle and an end.

Aftermath
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After demise of the second Death Star, Vader and the Emperor, on the remote planet of Akiva strange tides are revolving as the Imperial Star Destroyers start gathering and circling above like the birds of prey. In that vortex, the Wedge Antilles is captured as the first witness but the word starts spreading nevertheless. Another rebel, Norra Wexley is returning from the fires of war to reunite with her son on Akiva, where she meets Imperial defector Sinjiir and the Zabraak bounty hunter. By that time, the Resistance have the Empire on the run, although reluctant to seize the opportunity for the final strike weary of Empire’s traps. Soon Norra and her new team discover that the secret meeting of the Empire’s main officers is taking place on that planet, but the Resistance is still far away, so the moment of truth has arrived…

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Aftermath does have it’s ideas and content to get through, and while the story it tells us, the character it gives us – do seem quite interesting, the way it tells that story, the way it portraits those characters is really clunky, burdensome and unappealing. It’s sad, but I simply did not care about those characters and what happens to them. In some aspects they were annoying, in others they were predictable and basic. Some of more interesting moments do not even include the main characters and that is one more reason to have them undermined in the eyes of a reader. The discussions of the Empire’s highest officials about the history and the future of the Empire, the mysterious Acolytes of Beyond and their quest for Vader’s crimson lightsaber, the Ackbar’s thoughts about the future of Rebellion, their place in the universe and whereabouts of Wedge Antilles, the survivor of all major battles – these are the stories that grab our interest, only to leave us back with the main plot that basically no one cares about. It is a shame really, since the book has some great but mainly good aspects to it, if only it wasn’t such a chore to get through. The author has alot to learn about pacing and storytelling so my only hope is that he do, before the next two chapters of the trilogy come out.

The Lost Stars
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The story follows two kids as they are growing up during the Empire’s occupation of planets. Eventually the time has come for Jelucan aswell. While some of the natives were sceptical, most of them were fascinated by the empire and were eager to join, especially the kids (as if they had a choice). Thane is a rebellious boy with aristocratic background, while Ciena is fiery, loyal and determined rural villager. The fate takes them both in the Empire ranks but it changes and twists along the events that changed the galaxy aswell. The devastating events around the first dreaded Death Star and it’s eventual demise, the Empire’s cold retribution from the planet Hoth towards the second Death Star and the grand Rebel Assault near the moon of Endor. But the story even goes on. Now they are long separated across the galaxy. In the true aftermath (pun intended) the Imperial remnants are caught gathering by the Resistance forces and drawn in the battle above the Jakku. In the fires of war, Thane and Ciena might just find themselves again, but this time on the opposite sides…

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Lost Stars is possibly the greatest literary surprise considering Star Wars in 2015. Characters are the best that I’ve read since “Deceived”, they are layered, interesting, understandable, and believable. The great events that take place however, while they do impact greatly on the characters they do fall somewhat short as anticlimactic, since they happen quickly. On the other hand, the book has no issue of exploring other topics as faith in people, faith in the force, grief, desperate joy, temptations, honor, while still giving some room for romance and love between two main characters, but that love is also evolving throughout, going from one place to another, just like in the real life. Also, this is one of the very few Star Wars books that dares going into stuff like sex and alcoholism which is fresh and certainly interesting to see. The ending of the book is perfect. I won’t go into details but the way it ties in The Force Awakens is right on the spot. Sure, another Star Destroyer has fallen and the Empire is certainly damaged, but in that defeat there is also defiance and the incredible lust for revenge. The Empire is still galaxy-wide force, and despite all setbacks it’s determination may be stronger than ever.

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Although marketed as an Young Adult novel, to me, the Lost Stars is nothing like it. The attention is equally, if not even more focused on the secondary characters and the events than on our main dio, which are also great in their own right. I usually cringe at those “oh, get a room you two” moments but here it was only a case maybe once or twice, and you could easily find alot more of those even outside that particular genre. So, while being “Young Adult”, it is much more “Adult” and I like that! Lost Stars – The novel that few planned to read, yet everybody loved it!

Next up: The Force Awakens and more!
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Finally the the new age of Star Wars canon closes in, and with it all the new fresh stories to peek our interest. With everything, from the film novelizations and beyond, this series is sure to continue. Stay tuned! ;)


This article is also partially available on Croatian in the Extended Version on the following link: Eydis, SF & Fantasy – Star Wars knjige: Postanak i uspon Galaktičkog Carstva

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