Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tarkin, by James Luceno

Today I'm looking at yet another book in the new Star Wars canon, Tarkin, apparently because I'm a sucker for punishment. Or I'm just desperate for something to listen to from the library. Bit of column A, bit of column B. As you can probably guess, this book focuses on Wilhuff Tarkin about five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. This book bothers me like a lot of the rest of the new canon because it drags the Rebellion down to the level of the Empire and creates a sort of moral equivalency between the two. In a way I find it rather ironic because when Disney first bought Star Wars everyone was concerned that the franchise would be, well, Disneyfied and made lighter and softer. But instead it seems like they've gone in the opposite direction and I don't know if I really like that change in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars as a universe has always been fairly black and white, which I'll admit has been to its detriment at time, but I feel like we're going too far in the other way whihc is making Star Wars...well...not Star Wars.

The reason I bring this up is because in this book we once again have a band of rebels who fall more heavily on the terrorist side of the freedom fighter/terrorist spectrum. And while I don't oppose the idea that the Rebellion wasn't entirely filled with pure, good, innocent people like Luke Skywalker. After all, Han Solo didn't exactly start as good person when he signed up for the Rebellion. The problem is that in the new expanded canon, we seem to be moving towards all factions of the Rebellion being ideological extremists. The flip side of this is that the Empire also gets more humanized which, again, is fine, but when the Empire is regularly committing atrocities such as blowing up planets and people think this is fair and necessary it really undermines the idea that people in the Empire aren't terrible. Ultimately I feel like the new canon is dragging both the Rebellion and the Empire to a level of them being shades of grey and it just feels wrong for Star Wars. But I'm willing to accept that I'm part of the old-school fandom who probably wouldn't have been happy regardless of what Disney did.

The majority of this book focuses on Tarkin and Darth Vader doing what almost amounts to a buddy cop story. The Emperor sends them to investigate a rebel plot and ultimately Tarkin's special ship Carrion Spike gets stolen by rebels so Vader and Tarkin have to get it back. Which weirdly results in Tarkin doing a lot of detective work to figure out who the rebels who stole his ship are, where they're going to strike next, and how to stop them. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be an homage to the fact that Peter Cushing played Sherlock Holmes in a Hammer Horror adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles and in a 60's TV adaptation, but I'm going to pretend that it is. I don't know if it really makes sense for Tarkin to be a great detective, but I'm willing to at least roll with it.

But the other personality traits and abilities they give Tarkin don't really hold up. Especially with him being a crack fighter pilot. I say he's a crack fighter pilot because there's a part of the book where he flies an old-school V-wing Starfighter in a dogfight and manages to keep pace with Vader. Now I consulted with several old-school fans who agreed with me that this was a feat of flying which would require a pilot on the level of Wedge Antilles or Soontir Fel. So while Tarkin might not have racked up enough fighter kills to be counted as an ace, he certainly has the skills to be a crack pilot. And it just...it doesn't work for Tarkin.

At the risk of going all Plinkett on you, Tarkin always struck me as a political bigwig with connections that enabled him to reach a position of influence. Probably someone from a core world with all the benefits of the upper classes to help ease his ascent into the command ranks. Tarkin seemed the sort of person who would be truly comfortable on the command deck of a Star Destroyer, marshaling a fleet, but would be incredibly out of place in the cockpit of a starfighter. It's just a weird thing that stood out among the other things in Tarkin's backstory that seem so at odds with the character as I knew him from the original Star Wars. Again, I'm probably being an old fuddy-duddy who's upset over the replacement of the old canon but I feel like there are some legitimate complaints against the new canon to make.

Ultimately I don't know if this book really works well. Tarkin gets a backstory and abilities, some of which mesh with the cruel administrator who advocates rule through fear, and some which just leave me confused. This book doesn't build on the canon in any meaningful way, and I don't think we really needed to explore why Tarkin believed rule through fear was the way to handle the galaxy. I think this book can be safely skipped, even by the most diehard fans of the canon, old and new.

- Kalpar

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