As a big fan of James Luceno’s “Darth Plagueis,” I was excited to hear that Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin would be getting the Luceno treatment. Unfortunately, “Tarkin” isn’t quite the equal of “Darth Plagueis” in that it doesn’t provide a sweeping backstory for Tarkin. It’s more a story in which Tarkin is the central protagonist. However, we do get some great background information about Tarkin, especially about his upbringing on Eriadu. And there are some wonderful treats for fans of the old EU.
*** MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD**
The novel takes place about 5 years after “Revenge of the Sith.” Wilhuff Tarkin is in command of a base overseeing the construction of the Death Star. The Empire is busy hunting down former Separatists and others who oppose Palpatine’s New Order. The story starts with an unexpected attack on Tarkin’s base by a group of dissidents using advanced Holonet technology. The Emperor sends Tarkin and Darth Vader on a mission to track them down, but they in turn fall into a trap. The dissidents end up stealing Tarkin’s ship and attacking Imperial targets.
This is a novel in which the context is more interesting than the text. The actual story isn’t particularly interesting or epic. Vader and Tarkin track down a bunch of dissidents who steal Tarkin’s corvette and go on a joyride. It almost seems like a task below these two iconic villains, if not for Tarkin’s personal connection to the ship and the dissidents. Nor does Tarkin rise to the occasion to display any particularly formidable investigative or tactical skills during his mission. I had been hoping to see Tarkin emerge as a larger than life character akin to Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahn’s novels. Instead, he seems mostly along for the ride.
A big part of the problem is that Tarkin’s adversaries don’t provide much of a foil. The dissidents aren’t particularly interesting characters. Even though the book spends quite a bit of time with them, I felt like I never really got to know them and had trouble telling them apart. Their motives were pretty basic. I think Star Wars characters work best when they’re based on bold archetypes (i.e., “the smuggler,” “the princess,” etc.), but the dissidents were mostly low-key individuals who had similar motives. A great hero needs a great villain – or, in this case, a great villain needs a great hero – but Tarkin just didn’t have a worthy adversary in this novel.
|"Let's take a walkabout in the outback, mate."|
“Tarkin” also answers a few questions fans have long had about the character. For example, we finally learn if and to what extent Tarkin knows Darth Vader’s true identity. We also learn – much to my shock – Palpatine’s first name. For fans of politics, we get to see the Imperial Ruling Council in action during this era for the first time. However, as with much of the Prequel-era of Star Wars, sometimes the fan service goes too far. We see familiar characters like Admiral Motti, Colonel Yularen, etc., but they hold the same exact rank that they do in “A New Hope.” It is simply not plausible that they would hold the same rank for over 15 years, especially for Motti, whose character in “A New Hope” was relatively young (the actor was only 30 at the time of filming).
For Star Wars fans disappointed by Disney’s relaunch of the EU, Luceno goes out of his way to bring some of the stories from his previous novels into continuity. I won’t give any spoilers, but let’s just say that we see a few old EU characters reemerge in this novel. They’re not the focus of the story, but it’s a nice signal to fans that some of those stories and characters live on in the new continuity.
As I said above, “Tarkin” is not nearly the equal of “Darth Plagueis.” There story isn’t particularly epic. That said, I did enjoy it, both as an adventure tale and for what we learn about Tarkin himself. I would definitely recommend the novel to Star Wars fans, but temper your expectations.
Overall: 3.5 Death Stars.