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Monday, 3 November 2014

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'TARKIN'



STAR WARS: TARKIN

By James Luceno

Based on STAR WARS created by George Lucas

Published in UK hardback by CENTURY PUBLISHING

Available 6th November, 2014


Reviewed by Scott Weller


NOTE: This review contains mild SPOILERS...


Ever since striding into the conference room of the Death Star and crisply declaring the demise of what had been the then mysterious Old Republic to the militaristic oppression of the Galactic Empire, the rare-titled Grand Moff Tarkin, as impressively played with such distinctive, classy evil by the late, great Peter Cushing, would instantly become a STAR WARS saga fan favourite. Ultimately blown to the tiniest of smithereens along with the rest of that equally feared planet killing machine by story's end, both the character and Cushing, who so enjoyed his experience at making the film and the phenomenon that followed, would sadly be denied the chance of a comeback for the soon inevitable sequel three years later- as far as the future and George Lucas was concerned, dead was most definitely dead in this case, despite a story enveloped in the kind of sci-fi trappings where anything could happen. Fortunately, STAR WARS exploration of its prequel past means that Tarkin’s cruel, nightmare heart lives again within the pages of its now official version of the Expanded Universe, finally and deservedly as the star of his own titular novel, backed with supporting evil from his co-conspirator in darkness, Darth Vader, via acclaimed New York Times bestselling author James Luceno, released through CENTURY PUBLISHING.

Having brought us the acclaimed back story for the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis, Luceno, currently regarded as the master of the STAR WARS origin story, must surely have found Tarkin, especially in his earlier years, as equally worthy a challenge to history compose as the former Sith practitioner, especially within the overall bigger picture of galactic history leading up to the 1977 movie. Ultimately, TARKIN isn’t quite as successful as its predecessor, and feels too short to make its truest impact- mildly hampered by the fact that, like John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi, it feels self-contained yet bears the likelihood of being the first part in a potential series. That’s not to say TARKIN isn’t a well-crafted read, though. Having been involved with the character on and off in the Expanded Universe since 2000, when Tarkin appeared in the pre-prequel tale Cloak of Deception, Luceno clearly is the wisest choice in the LUCAS BOOKS staple to chart his rise to power and influence, giving the villain we love to hate a satisfying through-line arc that makes the title worthy enough to join any fan's collection. 

Interestingly, Luceno provides a genesis for the man/ the monster far different from the way I personally imagined, and it works well enough, with dark shadings to the character reminiscent of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Rising, if without the blood and gore, focusing on the psychological mindset of his survivalist, harsh clarity of purpose. From living with disciplinarian parents, part of a long dynasty of realist, harsh-talking, yet snobby elitists who’d fight and tame the harsh wildernesses of their frontier world of Eriadu, bearing hunting traditions and skillsets which he'd soon adapt for his own benefit, to commanding one of the greatest superpowers of the galaxy, Tarkin, after a brief purview into the world of politics, soon emerges as the custodian of the keys to the Outer Rim as one of its most feared governors, holding its many peoples enslaved to his fearful decision making, with the technological might and destructive power of the Galactic Empire- its legions of stormtroopers and Star Destroyers- as an extension to his ruthless, stark efficiency. All in service of his respected Emperor, of course…
 
Tarkin and Darth Vader, by the time of EPISODE IV.

Five years after the events of The Clone Wars and EPISODE III, Tarkin is relishing his power base but wants to embellish it further, especially with regard to the new superweapon currently being built in the Geonosis system, of which he is in charge of supervising and protecting the numerous convoys going back and forth to its secret construction. Soon enough, Tarkin will get all he desires, and more, after the stability of the tyrannical Empire is suddenly threatened by a small but dangerous, seemingly Separatist threat, causing havoc in a stolen, unique vessel which he is personally linked to. Havoc that can only be quelled directly via his particular insights and life experiences, allied with the equally zealous Darth Vader (totally in character with the way he appears by EPISODE IV- the unrelenting Rottweiler), whom he develops an intriguing and respecting zenith partnership with- they even get to partake in a memorable space fighter battle later in the story telling. Ultimately, it’s a union specially engineered by that master manipulator Darth Sidious to see whether Tarkin, who's not yet fully aware of his Sith background, can ultimately be trusted with greater power.

Like he did with DARTH PLAGUEIS, Luceno continues to have fun filling in the blanks of the STAR WARS history between EPISODEs III and IV. There’s also an evolution of sorts from Luceno’s previous DARK LORD book, showing us more of the Empire spread across the stars, and its Imperial organisations and their subsections in communications and spying, bringing fear to the universe through overriding control. Plus a nice reference to the unused idea from REVENGE OF THE JEDI of The Emperor having an underground facility deep under Coruscant. Tantalizingly, other matters concerning the Sith duo beyond the Empire are referred to but not revealed- a potential lead-in to something coming up in EPISODE VII, perhaps?

Fans of the original Expanded Universe and the Prequels will be pleased to know that these eras are very much alive and well in the book's pages- one of the first new, officially cannon novels in the run up to VII, backed up with some nice, continued mentions of creations linked to Brian Daley’s time, as well as guest appearances from several popular Imperial baddies from 1977.

In final kudos, Luceno’s celebration of Peter Cushing in the story is further appreciated, as the author cleverly incorporates one of his now classic behind the scenes anecdotes from the original STAR WARS filming into the book- the actor’s legendary ill-fitting military boots, of which Tarkin equally uncomfortably suffers during its opening chapter! Additionally, being such good friends in and outside of acting, the idea of a scene bringing Cushing’s on screen evil together with fellow HAMMER HORROR veteran Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku proves equally inspired and irresistable.


AFICIONADO RATING The Tarkin Doctrine for “Galactic Harmony” is fiendishly alive and nasty in another solid entry for the Classic STAR WARS pantheon… 7.5 out of 10



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