Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno (book review)

May 22, 2015 | By | Reply More

Grand Moff Tarkin, exquisitely played by Peter Cushing in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ was always an intriguing character. The man tasked with ‘holding Vader’s leash’ came across as ruthless but eloquent. In his few brief scenes in the original movie, he conveys an intellect that is at once in sync, but different to the Dark Lord of the Sith he is paired with. It is the beginning of this pairing as well as the Moff’s background that James Luceno examines in his book ‘Star Wars: Tarkin’.


Five years since the end of the Clone Wars and the Emperor is dedicated to restoring peace to the galaxy. Some rogue AIs and their droids are still slaved to the Separatist movement and make random attacks on the Empire. Wary of this, as well as pirates and other insurgents, is Governor Moff Tarkin, loyal to the Emperor. When Tarkin discovers that an attack on an Imperial base broadcast over the Holonet is actually fake, an old trick of the Separatist leader Count Dooku, it sets Tarkin on a mission to discover the perpetrators. The Emperor, though, has one caveat, that Tarkin has to work with the mysterious and terrifying Darth Vader. Thus, a fruitful partnership is born.

Rather like Luceno’s novel ‘Darth Plagueis’, this is an origin story about how greed, cunning and self-determination can lead to a suitable career in the Dark Side. Also, like that book, it deals with the somewhat banal details of what that evil entails. There are a lot of meetings. There are lots of arguments between varying politicians and military personnel. When we first meet Tarkin, he’s getting a new suit fitted. It’s therefore fair to say I think that this novel is somewhat lacking in excitement.

There are moments when the pace does pick-up, as Tarkin and Vader pick up the scent of their mysterious broadcasters and begin to chase them across space, there are some short space battles and we get to read about Vader still piloting his Eta-2 shuttle that we saw in ‘Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith’. Tarkin, though, remains very much the strategist, the cool head behind Vader’s angry determination.

Rather like other tales of the Sith, ‘Tarkin’ seems to have undergone a survival orientated rite of passage. This seems rather like previous novels involving Darths Sidious or Maul. There is a sense of familiarity about the narrative that ‘only the strong survive, nature has no altruism, there is only the will to power,’ etc. It’s a little predictable.

Luceno is a good writer and he draws Tarkin’s mannerisms well. He’s clearly studied Cushing’s performance and uses it to his advantage. The younger, less considered, but still brooding version of Vader is also believable. Meanwhile, their adversaries are a little less well-drawn. This is down to us as the reader discovering as much about them as Tarkin does as his investigation progresses, but this also means we care less about them as antagonists against the Empire.

‘Star Wars: Tarkin’ is a considered and interesting novel, but it doesn’t feel like Luceno gets into his stride in perhaps the same way as some of his previous ‘Star Wars’ novels have. Despite its comparatively short length, the novel doesn’t move that quickly neither. There is one neat piece of space opera involving the disruption of ships in hyperspace but, overall, the ideas seem a little leaden.

Overall, I enjoyed Luceno’s characterisation of his novel’s subject, but as a ‘Star Wars’ novel this may be for the completests and the fans only. Tarkin’s rise to power maybe meteoric, but this novel feels more like being in a slowly decaying orbit

John Rivers

May 2015

(pub: Century 2011/Lucas Films/Random House. 258 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK) ISBN: 978-1-846-05677-2)

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Category: Books, Star Wars

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