Tarkin, a book by James Luceno, gives a back story to one of the Star Wars Saga’s most important villains. What I knew of Grand Moff Tarkin before reading this book was probably about all I needed to know of the character. He blew up a planet and all of its inhabitants to prove a point. He seemed to be the quintessential evil perpetuated by the Empire. But what leads to that kind of a person?
This book served to fill in that character profile.
The book takes place around the same time period as A New Dawn: Post EpIII, pre-EpIV but closer to Ep IV. It centers around a (rather contrived) conspiracy of a small group of loyalists turned rebels who seek to hit the Empire in any soft spot it can.
A Back Story
The book really delves into the formative elements into Wilhuff (yes…) Tarkin’s upbrining and rise to power. Frankly, it seemed a bit over the top for me. Tarkin in A New Hope seemed to have been brought up in aristocracy. He has an appreciation for decorum, formality, and heirarchy. But he’s also very comfortable with torture and murder/genocide.
In attempting to develop a back-story about him, the author unfortunately took a rather linear path to a personal story. Tarkin comes from a frontier family who developed great wealth in providing security for the government and enterprises of his home world. While he is as rich as anyone in the galaxy, his family continued a generations-standing tradition of trial by fire. Tarkin’s elders (Uncle) would take him out for months into the wilderness and have him track, hunt, and be tracked and hunted by wild, murderous animals. He literally learned to kill or be killed in quite the literal (and barbaric self). And there you have it – a skillful, refined murder from a long line of skillful refined murderers who is comfortable in a suit.
The real point of this back story was to compare his upbringing with those of the trials of the Sith. Power is strength is the sith way. They were comparing and comparing his upbrining with those of Vader/Anakin. Whereas Vader fell into his angry, murderous self, Tarkin was born and bred this way. Tarkin, Vader, and the Emperor make up triumvirate with a similar sets of values.
That’s fine, I guess. Just a bit unimaginative. I guess I don’t need my tyrants to be so cut and dry.
A Buddy Adventure
This book is a bit of a buddy adventure with Tarkin and Vader. Essentially, the Emperor calls Tarkin in from the Death Star construction to go handle a seemingly small issue that needed more personal attention. Mostly, though, he wanted Tarkin to get some quality time hunting down dissidents with Vader and have them develop a nice working relationship.
It was kind of like Rush Hour (though not quite). Through working together they were able to uncover the plot and bring the conspirators – and traitors – to justice. Meaning they were killed. That’s not a spoiler right? You knew that was going to happen. And unfortunately, we did know that was going to happen. Again, a bit too cut and dry. A bit too 80’s-esque contrived plot for me.
Not Quite the Guys I know
James Luceno does do a good job with Tarkin’s character. While I take issue with the general plot elements, the voice of Tarkin I think is pretty good. Vader… not really. You’d think getting Vader right would be easy. But Vader isn’t really a conversationalist. He tells you, in some fashion, that you ain’t sh#t. Maybe asks you a few specific questions. Then tells you what you need to do… or else. That’s pretty much how it goes with him. That’s how he talked to Luke and Lando on Bespin. That’s how he talked to Princess Leia. That’s how he talked to Moff Jerjerrod on the second Death Star. But he has actual conversations with Vader. Vader asks introspective questions. It’s all quite strange and a bit out of character.
The Emperor, as I’ve stated before, seems a bit off too. We see him sitting in meetings and asking probing questions of his reports. That’s actually decent leadership, not dictatorial. He’s not sitting in a throne room (though there IS a throne room in this) and telling people what to do without any real dialog.
But more so, as I’ve said before, it’s really not clear what The Emperor’s motivations are. There’s even a little segment at the end of the book that tries to characterize the Emperor’s motivations strictly being those of acquiring power (even with a mention of Darth Plagueis). But it’s still not clear. I’ve spoken on this before, but the Emperor’s end game is really unclear. I mean if he had a fleet of Death Stars and planets were afraid to oppose him… then what? How is that ‘better’? How does that not somehow lead to an insurrection at some point? It’s all so strange.
Overall, this is an ok book. If you’re a Star Wars fan, go for it. But this was one of the least satisfying Star Wars books I’ve encountered.