The Star Wars galaxy is a busy place right now. Things have been changing since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, and Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller is tied up in two of those developments. For starters, it’s a prequel to the upcoming animated series Star Wars Rebels. Other than shorts, this is our first introduction to the two lead characters of the series, Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus. Secondly, A New Dawn is the first book of the new Expanded Universe. That means it’s part of official Star Wars canon, just like the films and television series. So, you know, no pressure.
I’m pleased to say John Jackson Miller more than delivered. A New Dawn sets the board and is meant to compliment and enhance the upcoming series. The story details the first time Hera and Kanan meet and also effectively shows a galaxy in turmoil. The Empire’s cruelty and coldness is on full display, and they’re so ruthless that many citizens are afraid to fight back. One of my favorite aspects about this book is that it examines the seeds of rebellion and explores what makes a rebellion effective. There’s a point at which Hera describes how dissidents must unite when they strike back against the Empire because individuals acting only for the sake of personal vengeance won’t make a difference across the big picture. In hindsight, it seems like an obvious point, but something about the way it’s explained in this book makes me appreciate the difficulties of forming a rebellion against such a tremendous force. It hit home.
Hera and Kanan encounter each other on the backwater planet Gorse. Hera’s gathering intel and looking for the right kind of people to add to her team; Kanan, a former Jedi in training who escaped Order 66 and the purge that followed, is on the mining planet for work. He’s a drifter. The Empire blows into town to push the output of a mineral they need to build starships, thorilide, and chaos and death ensue. I won’t go into specifics, because spoilers, but the Empire takes actions against civilians that are nothing short of brutal. We know they’re bad guys, but seeing it action? I was ready to sign up for the rebellion.
While the story of A New Dawn undoubtedly has some dark and morose moments, it also has humor and spirit. Kanan’s sarcastic and if you’ve seen Firefly, he strikes me as a mix between Malcolm Reynolds and Jayne. He’s funny, he’s quick to action (for better or worse), but at the same time, he’s carrying a world of pain and confusion on his shoulders because of his former, pre-Empire life. Hera is the heart of the story. She’s a talented pilot, a caring person who seems to feel every wrong the Empire delivers, and she’s brave. The book delved into just the right amount of backstory. I got to know Kanan and Hera well enough that I consider them friends (enough to add them on Facebook), but there’s still so much to learn about each of them – Hera in particular.
The supporting cast in the book is nothing to sneeze at either. They’re interesting as individuals and archetypes. I felt connections to each of them but more so, I saw them as a sampling of personalities you’d find throughout the galaxy. Some are mistreated by the Empire, some fight back begrudgingly even when they know the evil the Empire is capable of, and others gladly take up arms. I imagine what happens on Gorse is indicative of what’s going on around the universe.
Count Vidian is the face of the Empire at large our heroes are up against in A New Dawn. Like Darth Vader, he’s more machine than man, and he’s vicious. His past makes you feel a teensy bit sympathetic towards him, and I feel that’s necessary for a villain to be meaningful. His actions and attitude are an effective representation of the Imperial forces, and he’s so scary that you can understand why people would rather hide than risk everything by pushing back.
In short, A New Dawn is a fine start to the new Expanded Universe. Miller steps confidently into the unexplored territory and owns it; he’s crafted a story with pacing and dialogue that feels like classic Star Wars. The book feels like an extension of the vibe in A New Hope, and the hits pack more of a punch since you know the rebels still have a very long way to go.