Note: this review contains heavy spoilers!
When Star Wars.com announced early this year that four new books would debut in the newly crafted Lucasfilm Story Group, there were certainly mixed reactions. However, it is hard to surmise that anyone was disappointed in the news that James Luceno was writing another Star Wars book, and when fandom learned that the book was Tarkin, an audible gasp of excitement permeated the galaxy. The anticipation for this novel, as with many things Star Wars these days is high, and it is well-deserved. Tarkin is a spectacular novel, with the intrigue, action, and profound characterization we have come to expect from the pen of Luceno.
The novel takes place five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, with Tarkin firmly entrenched in the Outer Rim, building a secret battle station Star Wars fans are quite familiar with. While overseeing this project, a sneak attack by remnants of the Separatist Army opens up an investigation that requires a meeting between Tarkin and Emperor Palpatine (now revealed to have the first name, Sheev, which set the internet ablaze; we have canonical information heretofore unbeknownst to the fan base). The Emperor puts Tarkin and the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, on the scent, in an ambiguous test of sorts, which pits two of the deadliest members of the Empire against a small group of malcontents. A battle of cat and mouse ensues via space battles and, while frenetic at times, help to enact a series of mini-adventures that bring Tarkin's stratagems to the forefront. He is a tour de force of military brilliance, leadership, and deadly poignance.
This is where the strength of Tarkin lies: it provides incredible background insights into what makes the future Grand Moff tick. We learn exactly what he knows about the Empire and the Sith, as well as what he has assimilated, based on his incredible powers of observation and authoritarian acumen. Tarkin is an incredible examination of things fans have long debated (particularly towards the end of the Emmy award-winning Clone Wars), and many of these debates can now be put to rest. I will not reveal the specifics here, but, suffice to say, what you will glean about Tarkin, his relationship with the Empire, and what we learn of the Sith will leave you awestruck.
While not on display as frequently as Tarkin, Vader is a much bigger presence in the book than one might guess, and his characterization is a thing of beauty. We have not had anything concrete to use in an analysis of Vader (in his black visage) in a long time, but that all changes here. In addition, we learn what Palpatine's ultimate plan is, and it is as frightening and chilling as anything we've ever seen in the Star Wars saga. As stated above, the outpouring of rhetoric that will reverberate through fandom because of this is exciting, palpable, and gives even more hope to the vision of the Lucasfilm Story Group than I ever dared to hope.
Luceno is, quite simply, one of the best authors of Star Wars fiction writing today, and he weaves in and out of the narrative with aplomb, poise, and beautiful language. One of my favorite things in reading Tarkin (or anything by Luceno, for that matter) is the transcendent language he skillfully orchestrates to tell his story. The level of sophistication mirrors the eponymous hero of the tale, and the metaphor of the Carrion Spike (Tarkin's spacecraft that is stolen-the MacGuffin of the novel) is a wonder to behold.
Tarkin is a part of the Del Rey renaissance that has not really slowed down since John Jackson Miller's Kenobi, and will have fans hungry for more. The novel provides a nuanced, multi-faceted anti-hero that is captivating, ominous, and calculating; in many ways, this is an origin tale of the Empire, as much as it is Tarkin. While this is not replete with action, it is a fascinating portrait of one of the more popular characters in the Original Trilogy. It may very well be one my favorite Star Wars novels.
4 1/2 out of 5
Note: A big thank you to Del Rey for providing an advanced copy to review.
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