Book Review – A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

Summary

Ever since the Jedi were marked for death and forced to flee Coruscant, Kanan Jarrus has devoted himself to staying alive rather than serving the Force. Wandering the galaxy alone, from one anonymous job to another, he avoids trouble—especially with the Empire—at all costs. So when he discovers a deadly conflict brewing between ruthless Imperial forces and desperate revolutionaries, he’s not about to get caught in the crossfire. Then the brutal death of a friend at the Empire’s hands forces the ex-Jedi to make a choice: bow down to fear, or stand up and fight.

But Jarrus won’t be fighting alone. Unlikely allies, including a bomb-throwing radical, a former Imperial surveillance agent, a vengeful security officer, and the mysterious Hera Syndulla—an agent provocateur with motives of her own—team up with Jarrus to challenge the Empire. As a crisis of apocalyptic proportions unfolds on the planet Gorse, they must stand together against one of the Empire’s most fearsome enforcers—for the sake of a world and its people.

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A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, released September 2, 2014, was the first Star Wars novel published as a part of Disney’s new canon for the franchise. It is also said to be the first narrative product of Lucasfilm Story Group, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd. founded in 2013 with the responsibility of determining all Star Wars Canon. The novel serves as a prequel for the television series Star Wars Rebels, featuring two of the lead characters Kanan and Hera, telling the story of how they first met six years prior to the series.

To be honest, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading this book. On my laundry list of new Star Wars novels to read it ranked pretty low in terms of my enthusiasm. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, only I had no meaningful investment in the Rebels series. So, I was not particularly attracted to the idea of diving into its prequel. What I failed to consider, however, was that a novel like this might be precisely what I’ve been looking for.

While I enjoyed Lords of the Sith, Ahsoka, and Tarkin for their insights into characters I’m already invested in, they always fell a little short in terms of story. In different ways, each opted for safer or uninspired plot lines and developments that held back the better qualities of each novel, seemingly to avoid stepping on the toes of any pre-existing stories. A New Dawn was released a month before the series premiered, leaving it beholden to no existing content beyond “this is how two characters meet,” and the difference shows. For each character you have a clean slate in a familiar galaxy, and Miller crafts a multi-dimensional cast of characters, among the heroes and villains, set against the backdrop of Imperial greed and the cost of massive military expansion.

Kanan, a former Jedi Padawan who survived the purge and a would-be rogue, is the closest we get to a protagonist for the novel, but the point of view shifts between numerous characters. I enjoyed Kanan’s fast and loose attitude toward life in the galaxy, a lifestyle he needed to adopt to survive, and especially how this is continually compromised by his nature to help and do the right thing when such moments arise. I liked Hera’s affable nature despite her role as prospective rebel, and how capable she was as an agent, able to think on her toes without losing her cool, regardless of frustrating wrenches thrown her way (and there are a number). I liked that she was calculated and driven without being cold towards others. I wish there was more to the development of her character throughout compared to others, she feels she’s the most in the same place as a person between the beginning and the end, but I still liked what they did with her.

The chemistry between her and Kanan was good too, especially since the novel was in no hurry to get the two together in an explicitly romantic way. I’m not sure if they are a couple during the series at any point, but the seeds are certainly planted. They’re clearly attracted to one-another regardless. Kanan is more openly smitten with her, which he isn’t shy about, but save for a one particular misread situation he’s not obnoxious about it. His feelings also clash with his desire to live without attachments that might keep him in place. Hera puts her revolutionary goals ahead of nearly anything else, and while her resolve is clearly strong, a soft spot definitely develops where he is concerned. It strikes a nice balance, playing a romantic angle more subtly than I come to expect from Star Wars.

Equally interesting were the villains, Captain Rae Sloane and Count Denetrius Vidian. The former is an ambitious young naval officer, temporarily holding captain’s post on a Star Destroyer. While dedicated to the cause of the Empire, there are appreciable shades of grey to her character. She doesn’t entirely follow the commands of the sadistic and amoral Vidian blindly, and even balks slightly at the level of destruction the Count’s plans threaten to bring to the mining planet of Gorse. She doesn’t go out of her way to do the right thing, but she’s not moustache-twirling either. Hers is a stern resolve and commitment to the Empire, showing some disdain for the political games others play.

The imposing cyborg Vidian falls far more in line with a more theatrical type of Star Wars villain, except instead emphasis on being combative he is aggressively corporate, tasked with reorganizing mining operations for a precious resource to be as efficient as possible. He murder’s sadistically, manipulates information, and treats most people coldly as mere numbers. There is some enjoyable nuance to his situation too, however, as his despicable deeds are not purely for cruelty, but to meet increasingly outrageous quotas imposed upon him. If he fails to meet them his reputation will be on the line, losing out to competitors. It was interesting to see this level of inside-baseball to the Imperial Machine.

A New Dawn has a great cast of characters and tells an engaging, original story in the galaxy far, far away. Much of its action is fast-paced and fun, but there is so much of it that at times that it did get tiresome, which I’d say was the only major drawback for me. Had a few of the more extended action sequences been trimmed or the pacing reworked, I might have marked it a little higher. Still, the fresh cast of characters kept me hooked.

My rating: 4 out of 5

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