Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Star Wars: A New Dawn - a Novel by John Jackson Miller

 ** Warning Spoilers Below **

A NEW DAWN ushers in a new era of publishing for the Sci-Fi franchise being the first novel to be "officially" included in Disney's canon for its Star Wars Universe and serves as an introduction to the animated series Star Wars: Rebels.  This book is a decent romp of an adventure for the teen and young adult audience that the Star Wars: Rebels television show is being developed for and marketed to.  The tie-in to the Disney XD tv series and Star Wars universe is a great hook to get a young audience, that probably doesn't read literature as much as they should, to pick up and enjoy a book.  While the novel isn't designated as a Young Adult (YA) book [The Young Adult Library Service of the American Library Association defines the young adult genre as for ages twelve to eighteen although many publishers and authors market materials as either Teen Fiction for ten to fifteen year olds or Young Adult for sixteen to twenty-five year olds] that should be its key audience as it really is a flop when it comes to providing an enjoyable read for more mature adult Star Wars fans who may be more discerning readers. 

The story begins with a young fourteen year old Jedi in training (known as a Padawan) named Caleb Dume who escapes the Empire's purge of the Jedi Order and goes into hiding.  Ten years pass and Caleb has changed his ways and his identity to avoid detection from the bounty out on the heads of any remaining Jedi.  Hiding out in a backworld mining community far away from the heart of the Empire, he enjoys a lifestyle of drinking and carousing with the ladies when not performing menial labor to get by.  Caleb never uses the force or his real name to avoid any chance of being associated as a Jedi which would undoubtedly lead to his death at the hands of Imperial authorities.  The problem becomes that the mineral being exclusively mined where he is hiding out suddenly becomes a hot commodity being used to build the Empire's Star Destroyers (and probably the Death Star too) bringing with it the novel's villain and a lot of attention to the planet that Caleb, now known as Kannan Jarrus, doesn't want.

Kannan Jarrus is one of the primary characters of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series described as a Jedi in hiding from the Empire.  So anyone who has looked into the show in advance or watches any of its episodes will quickly pickup that Kannan Jarrus is Caleb Dume.  I suspected this about a page into when the Kannan Jarrus character was introduced but the author tries to spin this angle into a huge plot twist for the story.  Younger audiences may not connect the dots and appreciate this story angle but more sophisticated readers will find this angle overplayed and a rather boring element of the story that drags on way too long. 

John Jackson Miller originally became associated with the Star Wars universe by scripting  some pretty good stories for Dark Horse Comic Books which he parlayed into a gig as an author for Star Wars novels.  I've read all of his Star Wars books so far because their descriptions always sound interesting and I enjoy  Star Wars stories. A New Dawn though just really finally cemented for me that I'm not a fan of John Jackson Miller's novels which I find to be very simplistic and uninspiring.  I give him credit for having great story ideas but beyond delivering a decent outline for a novel's premise he just can't deliver a quality final product in my opinion.  Yet, I will say his work is probably good enough to amuse and entertain a younger reader so I would recommend A New Dawn to that demographic; but John Jackson Miller's writing just doesn't cut it for me when it comes to wanting to devote my valuable time towards enjoying a good book.  To be honest, if I wasn't reading A New Dawn for this review I probably would have stopped reading it halfway through the story. 

A New Dawn also introduces another major character from Star Wars: Rebels known as Hera Syndulla, but beyond introducing this mysterious Twi'lek as being "mysterious" that is about all we get about her.  We find out that she owns a space ship called the Ghost which is a big part of Rebels but don't learn anything about her past or present that really connects her to the television show.  I thought the book was supposed to be setting up the television series but telling the story of how Kannan and Hera meet before Rebels is about all the novel accomplishes.  Hera seems to have a lot of information and intel about the story's main villain and other Imperial activities but the story doesn't delve into how she acquired it, how she funds her secret agent type activities, who, if anyone, she is associated with, what is she actually doing traveling around the galaxy piloting an expensive starship, and so on.  The story actually goes out of its way to say there isn't a Rebellion what is Hera up to and what brought her to mingle in the Empire's affairs.  None of these issues is brought up and it just leaves you scratching your head.

Miller doesn't even do a nice job of creating a reason for Kannan and Hera to team up.  Essentially the author has Kannan lusting after Hera and offering to follow her and help her in whatever she wants him to do because he's fallen for this mysterious beauty? Really! that just seems a little naive and uncreative. Fortunately for readers incidents beyond the two of them bring Kannan and Hera together for a more rational reason to join forces rather than her being an attractive female that caught his eye.  In the end, the two of them fly off together into the sunset to do who knows what because John Jackson Miller doesn't elaborate anything about Hera other than she is a good fighter and pilot who hates the Empire.

The best part of the story is probably the villain who is sort of a parallel Darth Vader.  While Darth Vader went from being a healthy and powerful person that was crippled into a robotic cyborg form, Count Vidian was a sickly and weak individual that became physically and professionally powerful when he transformed his body into a mechanical cyborg.  Count Vidian was a worthwhile adversary and featured the best plot elements and twists in the story.  I appreciated how he demonstrates the corruption and abuses of the Empire from a business perspective versus the military viewpoint that is the normal perspective in Star Wars novels.  Unfortunately in the end, the reader isn't invested enough within the story and its characters to really care if County Vidian succeeds with his villainous scheme or not but rather is just curious to find out how the story will wrap up.

For this being the first book to be included in the canon for the overall Star Wars storyline and the introduction to the highly anticipated Rebels, I have to say it was disappointing that the novel didn't contribute anything memorable to either. 

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