Book Review: Star Wars Tarkin

Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Discolsure: If you don’t like Star Wars and aren’t familiar with its basic timeline, this review won’t matter to you. This is a book that you’d only be picking up if you’re already a fan of the greater Star Wars EU.

This book takes place an undetermined time after Revenge of the Sith, but while there are still Separatist forces in great enough number to cause problems for the Emperor (he hasn’t dissolved the Senate yet). The focus of the book, as the name suggests, is Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (learning characters first names–a joy of Star Wars EU). For those of you going ‘who the eff is Tarkin…what did he do again?’ let me refresh your memory with a picture:

The emperor is looking for ‘a commander with the will to be as merciless as he [the Emperor] is’, and in Tarkin, he’s found his man. The book starts off with Tarkin designing his signature uniform when his secret weapons base (negative guesses as to what secret weapon he’s building) is attacked. The attack involves a fake HoloNet transmission, which reminds Tarkin of the time he dealt with Count Dooku and his hacking of the HoloNet feeds.

The real joy in this book is learning about Tarkin’s childhood on his home Outer Rim planet of Eriadu; the Tarkins were one of the first settling families of the hostile planet, but grew wealthy after Eriadu became a major exporter of lommite. Tarkin grows up in a wealthy, patrician branch of the family, but he’s not spoiled or treated softly by his parents. His parents tell him that someday, he’ll have to go out to the Carrion Spike, and young Tarkin doesn’t know what this means, but he builds himself a special vest in hopes it’ll help him survive. One day, his uncle Jova, a hunter and frontiers man, comes to take Tarkin to the Carrion, which is a massive mesa/savannah on the vast expanse of Tarkin land on Eriadu. Years later, the final test is for Tarkin to climb and spend a night on top of The Carrion Spike, and the experience is so pivotal to him that he names his ship The Carrion Spike in its memory.

The main plot involves said ship (The Carrion Spike) being stolen by a group of rebel shipjackers; this book is clearly designed to tie into the new Rebels series, and I’m wondering if we won’t see a particular character from the shipjacking crew pop up later. The shipjackers are a sympathetic band of characters, and I found myself genuinely curious to see if they could outwit Tarkin and for how long. Tarkin is a Magnificent Bastard, and the more the shipjackers push him, the more of his cleverness he has to use to subdue them. That means that the real winner in all of this is you, the reader, because the plot becomes seriously fun.

There’s also a large section where we’re treated to a Dark Side buddy cop drama between Vadar and Tarkin, and don’t tell me that doesn’t want to make you read this book because then you’d be a liar. The Emperor, as he does, manipulates the situation because he needs Vadar and Tarkin to work together to make his fledgling Empire powerful and terrifying. While the Emperor is plumbing the depths of Sith power in his newly excavated Sith shrine, Tarkin and Vadar are tasked with figuring out who attacked Tarkin’s weapons base; it becomes clear during this part that there’s a mole in the Imperial forces, but that plot is for the end of the book as this is also when the shipjackers take Tarkin’s ship.

The strength of this novel is that it weaves the plot with Tarkin’s past on Eriadu. What Tarkin did to survive with his uncle, Jova, on the plains shaped him into the ruthless man he later became. He tells Jova that he carries his time on the Carrion with him wherever he goes; he never really left the Savannah. Tarkin is a social Darwinist, and there’s literally a chapter labeled ‘Red, In Tooth and Claw’. Tarkin believes that those who aren’t the predators are the prey; there are the rulers and those who must be subjugated. It’s not a pretty philosophy, but it’s genuine and explains why someone who wasn’t a Sith would sincerely work for the Empire. Maybe it’s because I just watched Ken Burns’s Roosevelt documentary, but Tarkin reminds me a lot of Teddy Roosevelt and the type of opinions on imperialism held by him and many well-to-do and wealthy men of the late 19th and early 20th century. (The documentary also mentions the red-in-tooth-and-claw line, too, which is what made me make the connection.) It’s valuable to note that the ideas behind Social Darwinism are racist and were used to justify many terrible crimes, and despite how fascinated we might be with someone like Tarkin–with his successes and his cunning–we’re ultimately reminded that it’s this philosophy that imperialism is built upon. Tarkin is akin to a Dark Side Walter White in that way; he does everything for himself, for his beliefs, and he likes upholding what he believes is the ultimate order of the universe.

Random Thoughts:

  • There is clearly a character who is being introduced in this novel for the Rebels series. Being that I liked the character, that might not be a bad thing.
  • Lots of scenes between the Emperor, Vadar, and Tarkin. Get your fill, villain love-to-haters.
  • My mind glazed over at any technical terms, but there aren’t so many that they get in the way of the story.
  • The frontier aspect of the Carrion made me want to go back to the Badlands SO MUCH. I mean, between that the The Roosevelts, I seriously started to think how much time I would have to drive out there again this spring.
  • The parts about Tarkin living on the Carrion were my favorite in the novel, for sure. Those of you who like a more Western feel to your Space Operas should like these parts, too.

Read if: You like your Star Wars villains. The book does reference The Clone Wars a lot, but I’m fine with this because Clone Wars is my favorite piece of Star Wars media. It’s a smart move for this story to cling so closely to it and the characterizations developed there. Tarkin’s life philosophy is well-done, too, and the hunt for the shipjackers is exciting.

Beware if: You don’t like the EU, I guess. I mean, if you’re reading this review, I’m assuming you do like the EU; if you’re chill with cheering for the empire a bit, or even in understanding their psychology, just read this.

Rating: 5. This is all for you, Star Wars villain fans. It’s a good read that delves into the workings of the Empire and it’s most famous Moff.

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