A New Dawn (AND) is a preamble to Star Wars Rebels. In particular, it depicts the first meeting between Kanan and Hera as well as help to describe the Empire’s oppressive activities.
There are no other characters from Star Wars Rebels other than Kanan and Hera. So, no Zeb, Chopper, or Sabine. Even the Ghost is only mentioned very briefly. So this is a tale that is focused solely on Kanan and his encounter with Hera.
To avoid spoilers, I only give a bit of a cursory review (this is a good one). I think it’s perhaps, more helpful to describe some of the themes and questions that emerge from having read the book after the first season of Rebels.
In AND, Kanan is a freightor pilot, carrying an explosive ore from planet Gorse to its adjacent asteroid moon Cynda which is being mined for thorilide. Thorilide, as we find, has a relatively trivial use (it’s used in the mounting apparatus for turbo lasers) yet still merits destructive and oppressive actions from the Empire.
For some unforseen reason, more thorilide is needed in order to meet an ever expanding Imperial Navy (or perhaps, some other large project).
In order to improve production, the Emperor has dispatched Count Vidian, a wealthy industrialist who has subplanted much of his humanity with digital implants. His highly efficient actions makes him efficient and ruthless.
Kanan and Hera discover each other and ultimately team up to prevent the destruction brought on by Count Vidian and attempt to better understand why the Empire is going to such lengths to mine Cynda.
In this story, Kanan is a drifter, never staying in one particular location long enough to develop attachments or reveal anything about his painful past.
The biggest element that we learn about Kanan is his discomfort of his Force abilities, while, at the same time, he derives courage from them. What’s interesting is that there were many times when Kanan could have pulled out his light saber and taken care of business. But he continually chooses not to.
This is an interesting characterization of him, because it raises the question as to why he chose to expose himself in the Rebels pilot Spark of Rebellion. Not only does he pull out his light saber and expose himself, he does so in a direct conflict with the Empire (Agent Callus no less). This is the ultimate of exposure and seems very out of character with Kanan’s actions in AND. What exactly changed? Why did he take that step?
We also learn more about Hera’s character in this story. Hera comes to Gorse in order to contact a special operative to learn more about the Empire’s activities. It is through these covert activities that she encounters Kanan. We see Hera encounter dangerous gang members, move surreptitiously through the mines, and show off her piloting skills with rather unorthodox vehicles.
While in Rebels we get to see Hera’s leadership and skills as a pilot, we rarely see her skills and courage on missions. We’ve only had glimpses of her cunning from episodes like Idiot’s Array where she escapes from being sold into captivity by Lando Calrissian. We see some quick thinking in Fire Across the Galaxy, Call to Action and Out of Darkness. AND, however, shows us just how versatile she is as a freedom fighter, and literal fighter.
Measures of the Empire
The ever-present subtext of this story serves to highlight the petty and destructive nature of the Empire. The entire plot circles around the empire oppressing the people of Gorse in order to squeeze it for its natural resources for a rather minuscule use. There is constant destruction and murder to push the objectives of Count Vidian and the Empire.
The story serves to illustrate how destructive and repressive the Empire is for the various planets through the Outer Rim as well as show how few options there are for citizens to rebel. Everyone is constantly monitored and anyone who speaks out against the Empire is taken away never to be seen again.
It’s also clear in this story that Kanan is in love with Hera. They talk about her beauty, but it’s clearly her kunning and courage that he finds most attractive. But Hera is having none of it.
But we also get to understand Kanan’s internal conflict with attachments. While he claims to have rejected the Jedi order, he does his best remain hidden and not to form emotional attachments. Though he clearly resets his Jedi abilities at this point (a clear indication of a lack of guidance during his formative years and guilt for losing his Master), he also is quite selfless in protecting others and shows significant skill in all of his endeavors.
Hera seems too focused on being a freedom fighter to give much credence to Kanan’s advances. But it’s clear she also admires him (not quite clear if there’s an attraction).
We see some elements of Kanan and Hera’s relationship in spurts in Rebels, but it’s clear there’s more going on there. AND sparks this interest even more so I hope we get to see where this goes as the series continues.
The setting for AND is on a mining plant and its adjacent asteroid moon Cynda. But the scale of the operations needed are far beyond what would be needed to support a typical star fleet. As the story moves on, the needs for more resources from these planets increases dramatically. What is driving this increase?
The story insinuates its more political gamesmanship between the story’s antagonist and his political adversary. But it could also be the implication of the emergence of the Death Star.
I’ve read a number of Star Wars Expanded Universe books and am a bit partial to the various stories from Timothy Zahn. This book is great on its own, especially if you’ve been watching Rebels. I would actually recommend reading this after seeing the first season of Rebels as it helps to understand context a bit better. I’m not sure how much someone who isn’t familiar with these characters would take to them without understanding a bit more about them. But certainly by the middle of it, you’re fully immersed. You get a good dose of Imperial boorishness, but also get quite a lot of rebelliousness from Kanan, Hera, and others. There’s even some comedy.
What’s most notable in this is the lack of a Jedi. If the point of Jedi are to confront empowered evil, then this story definitely needs one. This is also the point, however. The biggest takeaway of this story is the role that Jedi can play holding evil – driven by rather petty ambitions – in check. We see, throughout the story, was Kanan’s drive not to expose himself – either for protection or of fear (perhaps not not measuring up?).
This all contrasts with the heroism he displays on Rebels and his decision to expose himself as a “Jedi” (kinda, but not). We see continued heroism and him staying with the Rebel family. We love this Kanan. The Kanan in this book is a bit younger and more at odds with his past. And that’s perhaps the most interesting part of this story.