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Saturday, 20 September 2014

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'A NEW DAWN' (NOVEL)



STAR WARS: A NEW DAWN


Written by John Jackson Miller

Foreword by Dave Filoni

UK hardback from CENTURY PUBLISHING (Available September 25th, 2014)


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Ever since its arrival into our collective consciousness in 1977, the STAR WARS saga’s immense backstory prior to the onscreen events of EPISODE IV- the so called “Dark Times”, and the Empire’s takeover of the galaxy- mentioned to a young and innocent Luke Skywalker with gloomy remembrance by Obi-Wan Kenobi, would peak the fascinations and imaginations of the worldwide fan base. It would be a nineteen-year period of mystery, violence, chaos and destruction savoured by the returned Sith, and their creation of a technological war machine industry that would conquer the stars with seemingly little opposition- at least at its start. Now, a fraction of that important part of STAR WARS folklore has become ripe for exploration and storytelling, before the arrival of Luke Skywalker- with the fan anticipated, new animated series REBELS, coming this October to Disney XD cannels worldwide. Fresh from critical success with his prior story building bridges between trilogies: Kenobi, fan favourite John Jackson Miller is back in the LUCAS BOOKS fold again, once more in the right place at the right time to helm the launcher into this new phase of its publishing history, as A New Dawn arrives in UK bookstores to give us a glimpse of just how evil’s triumphant rein is starting to show cracks in its wall of control, revealing an all-new band of heroes emerging to challenge the greed and tyranny of Emperor Palpatine and his dark minions.

Crucially, before their animated appearances in the opening episode of the series, or even their minisode Ghost in the Machine, A New Dawn outlines the important first meeting and pulling of respective talents and interests of former Jedi Padawan now adult fugitive Kanan Jarrus, formerly Caleb Dume, and Twi’lek pilot and action heroine Hera Syndula (presumably related to that famed Ryloth rebel warrior Cham, first seen in THE CLONE WARS animated series). A survivor of the dreaded day of doom that was ORDER 66- though how exactly he got away from the Jedi massacre is not fully explained- Kanan has abandoned the ways of his sect now that he’s an outcast from the Jedi hunting machinations of Palpatine and his galaxy-spanning spies. Yet his severed ties have also been a deliberate choice in many respects, believing that the mystical energy field surrounding the universe, which the Jedi had previously so rigidly served, had seemingly abandoned them, abandoned Kanan, in their darkest hour of need, ultimately a major catalyst to the order’s ultimate destruction.

Determined not to suffer the same fate as his brethren, Kanan has disappeared from the radar, going from system to system, working in a variety of jobs but making sure never to reveal his talents, or get noticed- not staying long enough at any one place to make too much of an impression. Yet in the process he’s uniquely found himself first hand witnessing the Empire’s stranglehold over everything. Recent events, though, alongside pulling nexus strands of fate, will eventually conspire against him in his current period as a cargo freighter runner between the the Thorilide mining worlds of Gorse and its sister planetoid Cynda, both rich in mineral wealth to be plundered by the Empire. Soon, despite being unwilling to use his Jedi gifts, Kanan will genuinely have no choice but to fight back against the sheer injustice around him, especially when one of his friends and associates is murdered.

Thankfully, he won’t be alone in his struggle for long, soon crossing paths with the mysterious but beautiful presence of the aforementioned top pilot and spy Hera Syndulla- whose backstory isn’t yet revealed, presumably saved for an episode of the series or a future character book?- sent by mysterious colleagues on a dual mission linked to Imperial surveillance across the two planets and observing the arrival of a dangerous and ambitious servant to the Emperor, the cyborg Count Vidian, and the building actions and atrocities he/it brings in his wake; events that will also take her out of the shadows and into conflict- wanting to even the score against the galaxy’s oppressors wherever she can.

Heartless and power insatiable, Vidian, despite parallels to previous half-man/half machines like Vader and Grievous, proves an interesting and creepy opponent within the story, what with his drive to stretch the efficiency of the subjugated galaxy to breaking point. He’s the multi-tasking manager from hell, and no stranger to committing murder to advance his own personal interests and pockets. Allied with an ambitious young female Star Destroyer commander, Vidian seemingly has all the cards stacked in his favour, with a plan so big in scale, and fallout, that its results will have catastrophic impact on the peoples of the two moons, unless it can be stopped in time. This is one baptism of fire into rebellion that Kanan and Hera will surely never forget…

Set about six years before the events of the REBELS season premiere, this first book of “the new era” in officially licensed storytelling, planned, as of 2014, to bring the STAR WARS saga into history-making cohesion- something never before attempted in the franchise’s past thirty-seven years- is more a case of starting things on a slow but sure footing rather than launching spiritedly out of the starting gate. A more adult interpretation of what will likely be a younger audience geared animated series, Miller’s book does the kind of work that Karen Traviss did when adapting THE CLONE WARS animated movie into adventurous prose back in 2008. Miller’s book, I think, will ultimately prove more popular.

Enjoying bringing back the wild frontier/western flavour of STAR WARS seen with A New Hope (as viewed with his Kenobi novel), and building up the harshnesss of life within the all-controlling Empire, Miller ultimately chooses to stage this book’s action, especially in its sluggish first half, within too small a section of the Outer Rim than I’d personally expected and hoped for, and pretty much avoiding any of the Classic/Prequel films and characters apart from specific important references to The Emperor and his overall presence/influence. Though I understand Miller and LUCAS BOOKS creative decisions to start afresh in many respects, it nonetheless sees a reduction in storytelling ambition that hampers certain areas of this all-important first book.

Happily, A New Dawn improves by its mid-point- the villains motivations are sharpened, the action set-pieces get bigger, and the show’s important two characters start to gel and win the reader over, ultimately succeeding in making us want to find out more about them.  Miller, working from what will be established in the animated series, gives Kanan and Hera the same kind of relatable tone that our icons from the Original Trilogy had, though they have a long way to go yet before they become anywhere near as deservedly striking and popular. The same overall positive vibes can’t quite be said about the books supporting characters, though- an explosives expert with a grudge, a crotchety but likable cantina owner, a Sullustan former intelligence officer and a Besalisk overseer- all of whom prove far less interesting than the main pair.

A precursor not only to REBELS but also subtly to the upcoming EPISODE VII (what with its preview of male and female stormtroopers in battle), its up to the new custodians of the LUCASFILM torch to make their mark (of which producers Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni provide creative contributions to this first book to make it as an effective a lead-in as possible to the DISNEY XD series), with endeavours they hope will prove as successful and commercially lucrative as those originally conceived by the sadly retired George Lucas. A New Dawn leaves me cautiously optimistic for the future, but, in all honesty, it’s not the groundbreaker I expected and wanted it to be- ultimately feeling more like same old, same old Expanded Universe storytelling, albeit with a few new bells and whistles attached.

AFICIONADO RATING: John Jackson Miller’s fan-favourite abilities are once more effectively showcased. A respectable, if mildly underwhelming, start to the new franchise spin-off, and the overall STAR WARS PHASE THREE plan by LUCASFILM/DISNEY. 3 out of 5


2 comments:

The Informer said...

I know you gave it a 3 out of 5, but was it worth the time? Do you think that the series is worth the invested time?

aficionadofan said...

Yes, it is worth the time to read. Having not seen the first episode yet, I can't predict what REBELS will truly be like, though I have a feeling that, as a series, it may take a little bit of time, perhaps about three or four episodes, for some dedicated fan quarters to get used to it and the new characters.

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