REVIEW: Star Wars – Tarkin (2014)

A Book by James Luceno

It’s always a daunting task for any author to create a work that uses a villainous person as a protagonist. In the Star Wars canon one cannot get much more villainous than any high-ranking member of The Galactic Empire, and especially a person like Grand Moff Tarkin. It would be easy to write the book in such a way that we are shown him as a sympathetic man that is forced to do evil, or have the narrator constantly criticize his actions – both of which are takes that I’ve seen. Instead, this book is the story of a man that, according to his own values and philosophies, is very hard-working, perhaps even heroic. You see, just like in the real world, “bad guys” rarely see themselves as the “bad guys”. Tarkin is a book that tells the tale of an unlikely success story in The Galactic Empire – a poor outer rim “barbarian” that becomes instrumental to governing one of the core planets until ultimately being one of the three most powerful people in the entire galaxy.

Through Tarkin’s administrative skills, The Empire is second to none. One could even argue that his eventual death in The Battle of Yavin was the beginning of the end for The Emperor simply due to losing the most important part of their triumvirate (also featuring Vader). Tarkin is a fan of order and uniformity and knows that in order to achieve strength in those values, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. He’s an “ends justify the means” guy for sure. The Rebels take exception to those means, which unfortunately usually consist of things such as enslavement and genocide.

“He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.”

Luceno excels at telling stories like this because his technical detail in describing military operations and battle strategies are second only to something such as the Thrawn books by Timothy Zahn. I first came across him when he wrote Catalyst, which is the tie-in book for the film Rogue One. Since then, he has been one of the Star Wars writers that I am looking forward to quite a bit and this book definitely fits the bill for the sort of Star Wars story that I enjoy.

One of the more interesting parts of this book is the dynamic between Tarkin and Darth Vader in the numerous times they are forced to work together. I say forced because neither one actually seemingly likes the other and The Emperor pretty much makes them go out on a couple of tasks together to build a tiny sliver camaraderie between them. Tarkin always gets the sense that Darth Vader resents Tarkin because of his rank and place within the military of The Galactic Empire. Darth Vader, treated as some sort of a imperial superweapon, is basically not a real part of the imperial military, so this assumption may not be far off. As readers, we know that Anakin’s constant need to be praised and given material honors such as ranks was one of his major downfalls, so it’s got to be hard for him. I mean, he basically turned to The Dark Side simply because he was passed over for a job promotion and resorted to killing children as a “logical” progression of that.

Aside from his projections of Vader’s opinions on himself, Tarkin does not seem to be a big fan of Vader early on due to the ambiguity of his identity and why he’s there. He can surmise the man’s origins, being one of the few people that correctly picks up on the fact that he is likely Anakin Skywalker, and he uses this information to assume that The Emperor is likely a Sith Lord and Vader’s master. I think in many ways he is weary of being around Vader and does not trust him.

If you like a bit of a slow burn in your Star Wars books, I think you might enjoy this novel. It won’t be for everyone, especially those wanting huge galaxy-defining battles and crazy heroic feats. This is, after all, the story of a man that achieves most of his goals through politics and administrative skills rather than sword fighting. That is not to say there is not a bit of that, as we do see some flashbacks of young Tarkin on his home planet, but this is not the overall focus of the book. If you can get passed the fact that this is a book about a fairly despicable man, I think you can really learn something about the character from this.

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