A New Dawn is the first Star Wars novel to excite me since High School. They are pedestrian at best in their writing, and I always had better books to read. However, this novel, and the cartoon Rebels featuring the same characters, are the first introduction to the new post-Lucas Star Wars universe under Disney. As The Empire Strikes Back (and the Clone Wars, and Knights of the Old Republic) prove, Star Wars is best the less George Lucas has to do with it. As an unrepentant fanboy, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.
A Note on Star Wars Canon
For those of you who don’t care, skip this section. But Star Wars canon (or, more accurately, its demise) was a big reason for my excitement about this book. I used to work for a gaming company that published Star Wars material, and canon mattered a great deal.
All Star Wars information ever presented publically in anything was put into a database known as the Holocron and assigned one of five levels of veracity. Each level of canon superseded the levels below in legitimacy if there were contradictions. The most recent versions of the films were the ultimate canon (G-canon, IE George canon). That meant yes, Greedo still shot first.
The whole canon idea was a valiant, well-intentioned mess.
Disney did away with canon. They announced the movies and Clone Wars cartoons were immovable objects, and put all previous material under the “Legendary” heading. New books, movies, shows, comics and games will be coordinated. That means boo, no Heir to the Empire, yay, no Vector Prime and double yay, no more canon chaos. Everything new is planned and holds equal weight in Star Wars history.
If you skipped the above section, you had a significant other way before I did.
The (Spoiler Free) Plot
A New Dawn takes place twenty years after Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi have been hunted to near extinction and the Republic has fully transformed into the Galactic Empire. Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi padawan who escaped death during the purge, is now a sarcastic drifter plagued by the death of the entire Jedi order. He survives by hiding his Jedi skills and never forming attachments, moving constantly from job to job. On the distant mining world Gorse he encounters a Twi’lek pilot named Hera who is gathering intel for the nascent Rebellion. She follows the cyborg Count Vidian, an Imperial bureaucrat dispatched to squeeze every resource from Gorse for the new Imperial armada. Vidian’s tactics against the local populace are brutal, and soon Kanan and Hera lead a small group of locals to save the planet and thwart Vidian’s plans.
The prose itself is unassuming and straightforward, which is to be expected. But I don’t consume Star Wars to appreciate the art. I consume it for the adventure, the grand sweep of a space opera in a galaxy far, far away. To my glee, A New Dawn delivers as promised.
Kanan and Hera are both well fleshed-out characters with clear motivations and backgrounds. Both, but Hera in particular, are mysterious enough that the cartoon has ample room to expand. Kanan plays the rogue well, trying to remain flippant and aloof while unable to hide his altruistic bent, or shed his inner pain. His struggle to obscure his Jedi abilities struggles with the reader’s wish to see him throw stuff around with the Force and whip out his lightsaber. The two protagonists are robust enough that I can forgive the “unrequited love interest by the boy” relationship stereotype. The characters stand well on their own.
Count Vidian is not your stock “more machine than man” villain, either. At first I recoiled at him being an efficiency administrator (horrors of Episode One “trade disputes” and other boring conflicts still haunt me), but when his first act of efficiency is to beat an incompetent middle manager to death in front of his stormtroopers, my fears evaporated. He embodies the terror of the Empire in all its dark, ruthless glory. His backstory and motivations also lend him an element of sympathy, which all good villains need. When other rival players in the Empire start back-stabbing him for their own gain, at times you root for Vidian to prevail–even if prevailing means he blows up an entire planet.
The supporting cast is just as engaging. Not only do the two protagonists’ accomplices stand well on their own, they also represent archetypes of the galaxy’s rebels. Some are more than willing to fight, some only do so when the Empire wrongs them, and some are forced into rebellion and are reluctant to the very end. The characters in this book are a microcosm of the Rebellion itself. Those on the side of the Empire serve as the same, from ambitious captains to government stooges to leaders not afraid to betray a rival for their own gain.
All this works within an adventure yarn that never slows down. This is a page turner, moving swiftly from crisis to crisis in every storyline. It also maintains a gritty and dark edge that I found welcome. The ever-present Empire is always spying to catch dissidents, always preparing to crush opposition, always there to enforce its will. The novel portrays the forces of evil in a more deadly light than any of the Star Wars prequels did.
Star Wars: A New Dawn is no scholarly piece of literature, but it has no aspiration to be. It’s a fun, fast-paced space adventure in a galaxy desperate for a refresh. It checks all the boxes that a Star Wars story needs to. If this novel is the blueprint for things to come, this galaxy far, far away is getting brighter and brighter.
William Reid Schmadeka is a freelance writer, editor and stay-at-home father of three. When not writing, editing or reading sci fi and fantasy (or changing diapers and cleaning up after a toddler), he loves cooking and playing board games.