Biweekly Book Review: Tarkin

We’re taking things back, all the way back to fall 2014, when Disney was starting to put out the first of their canon books. The first few, naturally, tied into the then-new Star Wars Rebels. But the first non-Rebels novel for adults to be released was James Luceno’s Tarkin, which I’m sure you’ve noticed is the topic of today’s post. Let’s dive in.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

I’ve read this book before. I know I have. And yet, when it came time to read it again for this, I realized I couldn’t remember a ding dang dong thing about the plot.

Moff Wilhuff Tarkin discovers that guerrilla fighters using old tech from the Clone Wars have managed to successfully hack the HoloNet. Expressing these concerns to higher-ups in the Empire leads to him being sent, along with Darth Vader, and on the Emperor’s orders, to track down the insurgents. Though they do succeed to some extent, Tarkin’s ship is stolen by the very people they were sent to apprehend.

Tarkin and Vader essentially spend the rest of the novel working together to chase down the ship thieves, essentially showing that maybe the real mission objective was the friends we made along the way

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Tarkin’s weirdly intense adolescence

This man’s adolescence is absolutely wild.

Wilhuff Tarkin’s family ran the Outer Rim world of Eriadu, and as such, profited from all the advantages that came with it. Specifically, money and power. But those advantages were earned, not granted, and they won’t let him forget it. Tarkin’s parents regularly remind him that it can all be taken away in an instant, and that he ought to know how to fend for himself if it did all disappear.

This isn’t a case of wealthy parents trying to foster a sense of gratitude and industry in their child, however. They still firmly believe in their worthiness to occupy their social level, just about having a coronary when Tarkin suggests that he wouldn’t be above serving dinner for the family servant.

Rather, what they are doing is preparing Tarkin for the family rite of passage. His great uncle arrives one day to take him to the Carrion Plateau, a large untamed wilderness. There he must prove his mettle among his great-uncle and a group of other super intense survivalists for the entire summer. This goes on for years until he reaches the final test: spending the day on the Carrion Spike, a large hill overrun with bloodthirsty creatures.

I know Leia is just trying to piss him off when she referred to his “foul stench”, but now I’m just convinced the man walks around smelling like animal blood to scare people

The purpose of these tests was to provide him with not only the ability to survive in harsh conditions, but to also teach him to think strategically, no matter the challenge or the foe. And it’s safe to say that it worked.

But be honest. When you watch A New Hope, and you see stuffy buttoned-up, ever-so-perfect Tarkin, with his clipped accent and cool demeanour, did you see this particular backstory for him? I certainly didn’t. But I think it makes him just that much more interesting, when I wouldn’t have given him a second thought before.

2. Tarkin and Vader’s relationship

After the rise of the Empire, hardly anyone knows who this new shadowy monster who calls himself Darth Vader is.

Tarkin does though.

Or at least he thinks he does. And he’s right. He suspects fairly early on that Darth Vader is actually Anakin Skywalker, who he worked with occasionally during the Clone Wars. But he doesn’t make this known to anyone. It’s not strictly necessary that anyone know anyway.

The Emperor throws them together so they can get to know each other a bit better and become friendlier, since he values them both for different reasons. Though their relationship is frosty and professional at the outset, Tarkin finding it difficult to communicate with an expressionless mask, they eventually gain a better understanding of each others methods, and become friendlier. I think this does a nice job of filling in why it is that Vader actually listens to Tarkin in A New Hope when he really doesn’t listen to anyone else: they occupy similar positions in the new power structure, albeit in different branches.

I did find myself wondering if part of the initial frostiness on Vader’s part was Tarkin’s involvement in Ahsoka Tano’s trial (which is ever so briefly mentioned here). Whenever we do see Vader flash back to his life as Anakin, the memories are always spotty and repressed. But because I’m convinced that Ahsoka’s trial contributed to his disillusionment with the Jedi and eventual fall to the Dark Side, I’d bet those memories are a little fresher, used to fuel his anger, and I’d bet he remembers Tarkin’s role in all of it.

3. The narrative style

While the narration does shift between Tarkin and the guerrilla fighters he is tracking (and occasionally the Emperor), the level of intimacy changes in a way I find fascinating.

Occasionally, the narration is very intimate, diving into the innermost thoughts of a character (usually Tarkin), which is fairly common in these books. Other times, the narration appears more distant, as if we are standing in the moment with the characters, looking ahead to the near future with absolute certainty.

Two occasions stand out in particular. One, near the beginning, makes mention of Tarkin’s memoirs that will be published shortly after his death. The second comes as the characters are observing early construction of the Death Star. The narration notes that as of yet, it doesn’t have any of the distinguishing characteristics that will make it so recognizable later on. It gives the overall narration the sense of “I know something you don’t know” and I love it when a story does that.

4. The guerrilla fighters themselves

OK. So here’s my problem with these guerrilla fighters: I have no clue who they are or what they want.

When we meet the rebellion in A New Hope, we meet them through Luke, Leia and Han. We’ve already spent over an hour with these people and we know who they are and what their motivations are. Same thing when we meet the resistance in The Force Awakens. We meet Poe Dameron, then we find out he’s working for Leia, and instantly we know why we should care, even if the reasons for there even being a resistance aren’t super clear at first.

But this random band of insurgents, whose names I couldn’t pick out of a lineup (and I finished this book yesterday) do not get the same treatment. They are introduced all at once, and beyond their constantly expressed need to evade Imperial capture, I have no idea what they’re doing or why I should care.

A case could be made that because the book is called Tarkin, and because most of it is from his point of view, he is the one I should be siding with. But how odd is it to read a Star Wars book and think “you know what, screw those rebels. I hope the Empire does get their warship back”. And yet, that’s what happened.

It is only towards the end, when Tarkin runs facial recognition on the thieves that he realizes he recognizes them. It is also towards the end where we realize they’re trying to throw a wrench in “whatever the Empire is doing over Geonosis” (the Death Star. It’s the Death Star). So they want to stop construction of the Death Star. Cool. It would have helped to know that sometime before the last 20 or so pages.

Random Thoughts

It seems like the Vallorum family has been in charge far longer than I initially thought. They just keep popping up in galactic history. No wonder it was so easy for Padmé to call a vote of no confidence in him and have that vote go her way, even if it meant no one in the Senate trusted her afterwards. Everyone probably thought they’d been running things too long and too often.

One of Vader’s personal stormtroopers is an old clone, and I wonder if he keeps him around for the nostalgia

As Vader is loading his personal meditation chamber onboard the ship, Tarkin doesn’t know what it could be and speculates on a few options. One of those options is “a personal toilet”. I laughed way too hard. My sense of humour is not particularly mature, apparently.

There is apparently an ancient Sith shrine in the basement of the old Jedi temple. A place that only Palpatine knows exists. Massive, ancient, probably cool-yet-scary-looking. An ideal location perhaps for a final showdown in some saga to bring everything full circle by having it on the planet where everything started to go wrong, a planet we all know already, but in a place we haven’t seen before? No? OK

There are traces and tendrils of the Dark Side wrapped all over the Temple in the wake of Order 66. Did you know the Dark Side can apparently infiltrate locations where Dark Side deeds occurred, and just linger there? Because I did not.

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