Review: Tarkin

Tarkin (Star Wars)Tarkin by James Luceno

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tarkin fills in a lot of details about the life of Grand Moff Tarkin, while telling a fairly simple story set five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith: Tarkin’s personal starship is captured, and he must find and subdue the insurgent shipjackers responsible for the theft.

I’ve liked the Luceno Star Wars books I’ve read. I especially liked Darth Plagueis, which attempts a similar biographical overview of a major villain. Tarkin is, in many ways, a follow-up to that other book. But I did not love it.

Most principally, I believe that there are simply too many side stories, and many of those side stories, if developed more fully, would have been more interesting. A central mystery of the book is what Tarkin’s defining trial was as a young man, surviving on the wild Carrion Plateau of Eriadu. The reveal of Tarkin’s big shaping moment is saved for one of the final chapters of the book, and it’s underwhelming and fairly predictable. Not to mention that it is tied in a little too neatly with the resolution of the “present day” plot involving the shipjackers. If the whole story had just been about young Tarkin’s training, this could have been a very interesting book, perhaps something a little bit genre-defying. But there are still other interesting side stories that are not developed enough. Tarkin’s time during the Clone Wars, including his apparently merciless shutdown of the Confederacy’s Shadowfeed propaganda operation, or his pacification missions following the end of the wars seemed very intriguing, action-packed, and brutal. They would have made for great content. Tarkin’s years hunting pirates could have been cool, too, and rather swashbuckling. The few scenes set on Coruscant, with the bickering between the Joint Chiefs, were thrilling, and I would love to see more Imperial courtly intrigue. And maybe most of all, Palpatine, whom Luceno already developed so well in Darth Plagueis, continues to be doing fascinating things mostly off-screen. How much does Palpatine know of what’s going on? The few sections from his viewpoint suggest that he is more vulnerable than he lets on. We also get a tiny glimpse of what his larger plan for the galaxy is, but I would think it very interesting to know in what ways he intends to shape the galaxy.

In short, this book did not have enough focus, and what it did choose to focus on felt like the wrong moments.

I do believe that Luceno did a good job with tone, and much of the book feels clinically detached, a perfect representation of Tarkin’s frame of mind. But this is rather boring to read (and reminds me a bit of discussions as to whether Natalie Portman’s acting as Queen Amidala was wooden or if the character herself was supposed to be wooden). Similarly, the experience of reading the book is rather dour and dreary. Perfect for a novel following the technocratic villains of the galaxy. But I would have appreciated more heart. Rogue One demonstrated how we can see more of the Empire and even have a story where the Rebels lose while remaining focused on the good guys. To follow the band of shipjackers and more fully develop their passions, motivations, and personalities would have meant less Tarkin, but I think I would have been more emotionally invested (having someone to actually cheer on), and it would have been interesting to learn everything about Tarkin from the fear-struck perspective of the insurgents as they trade rumors and try to predict what he’ll do next.

There are a lot of fun references to the old EU (and especially Legends books by Luceno), and we do get some insight into what the inner workings of the Empire looked like. But Tarkin can be a bit of a slog, especially when compared to A New Dawn, which tackles similar themes and subject matter but does so much better.

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