STAR WARS: THE RISE AND FALL OF DARTH VADER
Published by SCHOLASTIC BOOKS INC-
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Born a slave. Raised a Jedi. Feared by a galaxy.
The greatest heroes and villains of the STAR WARS SAGA come under their own unique individual spotlights in this new series of intriguing “biographies” for younger readers from popular and established novelist Ryder Windham.
First out of the gate is an obvious selling choice- the ultimate icon and nemesis for the powers of evil-not just of STAR WARS but also the ultimate black heart of all screen villainy, too…and the character that everyone thinks of when they hear anything connected to these films and it’s vast media dominance. The monster we love to hate, and the monster we hate to love- Darth Vader.
From his first memories as the cherubic three year old Anakin Skywalker onboard Gardulla the Hutt’s slave ship as it touches down on the remote outer rim desert planet of Tatooine, his mother Shmi cradling him in her arms, to the bowels of the second DEATH STAR- showing his noble redemption and fulfilling of the prophecy of the Chosen One, killing Emperor Palpatine, his recent enslaver, whilst locked away in the black iron lung embodiment of Darth Vader, as well as saving his son, Luke, from a terrible death. Despite his terrible deeds of past and present, Luke’s instincts and faith in his corrupted father to help him see in the return of the Jedi has finally, against all odds, become a reality.
Presented in a straightforward, basic style that will appeal to younger readers,
constructs the book’s tapestry around a framework design leading into the climactic events starting the RETURN OF THE JEDI, and then carries on from that to his demise as Darth Vader and his re-emergence as Anakin Skywalker. Windham
The novel expertly pulls all the vast strands of the story together into a cohesive whole for the reader, incorporating elements not only from the films themselves but a pretty vast array of other material, too - including certain unseen moments that have been explored in many outside stories and novels over the years that Windham must have enjoyed re-visiting and adding to his work (the author, working closely with LUCAS BOOKS, also provides convenient answers, or patches up glaring inconsistencies or plot holes, between said films and the various spin-offs, over the last 32 years), including the acclaimed Brian Daley radio adaptations of the Original Trilogy, the film novelizations, Steve Perry’s SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE multimedia adventure, the recent DEATH STAR novel, again by Perry with Michael Reaves, and some of the revelations about Darth Vader’s evil past from the always popular Thrawn Trilogy from Timothy Zahn- truly, a past, present and future history that all readers will enjoy reading about. Additional high kudos to Windham for being able to incorporate the first non EU original STAR WARS novel adventure into the now set in stone established story and character timeline established by LUCAS BOOKS- Alan Dean Foster’s terrific 1978 novel SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE-even explaining how and why Vader was able to send out force bolts at one point in his first battle against his yet to be revealed son. There’s even a nice reference to the unseen castle of Vader that was, at one point, before being eventually discarded, to have appeared in either THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or RETURN OF THE JEDI, created by Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston (in fact, the book is dedicated to McQuarrie, the man who brought the physical indomitability and striking scariness of Vader to chilling visual reality- such a dedication is more than appropriate).
Windham also manages to include scenes cut from the films into the timeline (though these vary, ranging from dialogue to the briefest of descriptive detail) and even gets a chance to create moments from art pieces, like the classic Chris Trevas painting, for the VADER magazine from 2005, of Vader on the DEATH STAR watching the interrogation and death of the Lars family on Tatooine. And for fans of the previous heroic Anakin Skywalker, material includes the three YOUNG JEDI series from Jude Watson, and a sadly all too brief descriptive foray the first two CLONE WARS animated adventures from Genndy Tartakovsky from 2003 and 2005.
At carefully strategized points, Windham tries to believably build up Anakin’s anger, and the perceived injustices that he feels, making him more emotional with regards to his feelings of devotion and love mixing dangerously with his states of anxiety, uncertainty, and the fear of losing his loved ones, as the first half of the story progresses towards his ultimate destiny within a certain heavy breathing mask. Being a book primarily aimed at the younger 9-12 year old end of the reading market, Windham tries to get as much on the character’s immolation to evil as he can, additionally exploring the thoughts and rationale on Vader, detailing the bad and the ugly things that he/Anakin has done over his nearly sixty years of life in a child reader friendly way, but this aspect ultimately loses some of it’s impact in the translation-Windham can only go so far in the telling of the downfall of the brave young hero into Darth Vader-as it was, his story and character complexity was not given enough depth and screen time in REVENGE OF THE SITH anyway, and, despite the author’s obvious hard work, it feels slightly watered down in this biography too-Windham could have pushed the envelope a little bit more, I feel, without going into overload mode (as Matthew Stover unfortunately did in his overlong in the wrong places adult adaptation of EPISODE III).
Equally, not every part of the Anakin storyline can be described, and some sequences are necessarily compacted into a few descriptive chunks. Sadly, some scenes that I felt were important fail to be given further depth-the moment where Anakin first meets the Jedi Council, undergoes a test and has Master Yoda talk to him was certainly something that I thought should have been left intact, especially as it talked about the fear within Anakin that will linger right towards the end of his life and in certain parts of his actions and decisions in REVENGE OF THE SITH. This quibble on my part, however, is a minor one compared to the overall consistency and strong work of this excellent first entry in the series by
AFICIONADO RATING: A very well put together book for younger readers, which I also think has the potential to be expanded on to form an excellent adult range of STAR WARS titles. Regardless, Vader fans of all ages will welcome, and quickly lap up, this chronicle of the life and death of the STAR WARS Saga’s greatest hero, and, ultimately, its most tragic villain. 8 out of 10
Above image: the gorgeous double cover art from the now apparently, and sadly, retired Drew Struzan.