REVIEW SUMMARY: Set during events that take place after Revenge of the Sith, but prior to A New Hope, Star Wars: Tarkin shows us the backstory behind the gaunt Grand Moff and how he and Vader grew to be BFFs (sort of).
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After the rise of Emperor Palpatine, during the construction of the first Death Star, Moff Tarkin uncovers a small band of pre-Rebellion rebels seeking to wreak havoc against the Empire. While the story unfolds, flashbacks reveal how Tarkin rose to power and how his philosophy on leadership helped him earn the title of Grand Moff.
PROS: Luceno’s literary stylings suit the stiff, well-educated lead character; a couple interesting plot twists.
CONS: Toes the line between Tarkin biography and standalone story, which forces some awkwardness; the style, while fitting, slows the pacing somewhat.
BOTTOM LINE: Do you care how Tarkin became a Grand Moff? If so, this book is for you! Only serious Star Wars fans need apply, however.
Tarkin begins with the so-named Moff being sized up for a new Imperial uniform (side note: how come Imperials are so concerned about snappy uniforms when their boss wears a robe everywhere he goes?). Tarkin has been tasked with overseeing the construction of the Empire’s newest, most secretive project—the first Death Star. But, he’ll soon be called upon to aid with the capture of a group of rebels (pre-Rebellion rebel scum) who have been using the HoloNet to wreak havoc upon anyone in an Imperial uniform who hasn’t been promoted to Moff (side note #2: the Empire could really use a better hiring manager).
As you might expect, the high-cheek-boned Moff remains prim and proper, a grim, strategic statesman with ruthless ideals and a rough past that has molded him into the Tarkin we know from Episode 4: A New Hope. Based on what I know of Tarkin (with his somewhat limited screen time), Luceno’s characterization of him rings true.
The story itself follows Tarkin and Vader on a mission assigned to them by the Emperor himself. Someone has been slicing into the HoloNet and confusing the Imperials in one of the first instances of pre-Rebellion…er…rebellion. At first, Vader and Tarkin are reluctant allies, but as the story unfolds, they begin to gain a mutual respect for one another as they pursue a band of frustrating rebels across the galaxy.
I liked Luceno’s take on Tarkin and felt that the story contained enough plot twists to keep me entertained. That said, Vader’s characterization (which would be very challenging) was hot and cold for me. When Vader remains silent or broods, he feels accurate, but the more he speaks, the less he feels like Vader. To be fair, this is almost always how I feel with Vader outside of the movies themselves.
Tarkin feels a little like a biography with a plot thrown on top of it. The flashbacks to his upbringing (no doubt to help us understand his personal philosophy and perspective) slow the plot down, but are interesting. I also liked the group of rebels, though they appear too late in the story for me (in terms of character-building). I’d have preferred to have them introduced earlier. This is a book about Tarkin, though, so I understand sticking with the main theme. One other complaint: it seems like the small band of rebels makes Tarkin and Vader look fairly incompetent at times. In A New Hope, it always felt as though Tarkin and Vader had everything in control, it was just the bumbling idiots under their command that ruined it for them.
Overall, it’s a good entry in the new canon, though likely only for serious Star Wars fans. Those only interested in the movies probably won’t find this all that appealing.
To finish up this post, I thought I’d pose a challenge: Who can guess Grand Moff Tarkin’s first name? First to post in the comments wins! And by “wins,” I mean gets all the pride that comes with winning, because I don’t have a prize.