A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller – Review

In the fall of 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion.  When the dust cleared from that incredible transaction, Disney made a number of decisions on how to proceed with its Star Wars franchise. One such decision was to declare the then existing Expanded Universe invalid.  As part of this choice, Disney outlined what would remain canonical going forward and essentially left nothing but Star Wars trilogies and the animated show, Clone Wars.  The next decision, to the dismay of many fans of Clone Wars, was to end the series, which had been intended to bridge the gap between the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (an earlier incarnation of Clone Wars had actually done this over approximately two hours, but Lucasfilm deemed it no longer canonical so as to introduce the second coming of Clone Wars).

The cancellation of Clone Wars created grief because for many viewers, it was the closest thing to the experience of the Original Trilogies that could be found. Many would point to the show as correcting or fixing the very things that were the source of complaints in the Prequel Trilogy.  None the less, Disney cancelled the show, but did make one smart decision: they retained most of the folks who made Clone Wars such a great show, such as Dave Filoni. In turn, the Clone Wars team was set to create a new show, this one to air on Disney’s DisneyXD channel (Clone Wars had broadcast on the Cartoon Network), keeping the Star Wars name under the Disney Umbrella.  The show became known as Rebels.

Drawing upon the rich illustrated work of Ralph McQuarrie to inform the style and appearance of the new show, Rebels was set only a few years before A New Hope and centered on the crew of the ship Ghost.  Among that crew are the Ghost’s owner and pilot, Hera Syndulla, and Kanan Jarrus, a former Jedi padewan who had survived Darth Vader’s extinction level effort to wipe out the Jedi in the Dark Times.  Since its inception, Rebels has quickly become nearly as popular, if not as much.  (In a bit of irony, much of Season Two of the show draws upon the history and stories created in the Clone Wars.)

In the course of the show, tidbits of Hera’s and Kanan’s background have been provided, but not anything very substantial.  This changed in the fall of 2014 with the publication of A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller.

A New Dawn, set approximately six years before the events of Rebels, provides the background of Hera’s and Kanan’s first meeting and how the pair ended up together on the Ghost.  One, Hera, we discover is already well upon her way toward becoming the rebel we now know her to be.  The other, Kanan, is nothing but an exemplary reluctant hero whose life has been spent on the run, avoiding doing anything that might out him as the former Jedi Padewan Caleb Dume.  The planet upon which the two meet each other provides the background for the conflict that draws them together.

Gorse is former mining planet, exhausted of minerals, which serves as the processing point for ore mined from the tidally locked mineral rich moon of Cynda.  The importance of the mineral arises entirely in its use for manufacturing starships (or large construction efforts, say as small moon sized battle stations).  A still strong and rising Empire sends Count Denetrius Vidian, a renown industrialist to squeeze as much of the ore as possible from the moon. Vidian, a cyborg, serves as A New Dawn’s antagonist, threatening to destroy anything and anyone who stands in his way to achieving success.  This draws him into conflict with our two, so far, unassociated heroes.

Hera arrives on Gorse on what amounts to a fact finding mission, sent to meet up with a surveillance official who is sympathetic to the Rebellion and has information they want to pass on to her.  The Empire’s tight control of surveillance results in her contact’s apprehension, but not before he passes on his information to a colleague who we learn later finds herself unwillingly drawn into the conflict by Vidian’s actions. Kanan’s presence on Gorse precedes either of Hera’s or Vidian’s, as he acquired the dangerous job of flying the space ship equivalent of dump trucks of the mineral from the moon to the planet, and extremely fragile explosives from the planet to the moon.

Kanan is presented as a loner, someone who leaves when he realizes emotional attachments may jeopardize his desire to remain anonymous in a galaxy where Jedi are still ruthlessly hunted.  His past is littered with places and people who he’s had to abandon in the name of self-preservation.  In A New Dawn, attachment to others is what ultimately draws him into confrontation with Vidian and the Empire and into meeting Hera.

It’s not the purpose of this review to lay out every event or plot point of A New Dawn, so we will not go any further into the novel than already covered.  The purpose is to discuss the quality of the book and its enjoyability for fans of the Star Wars franchise.  On those lines, the book succeeds tremendously depending on where one has planted their flag of fan involvement with the Star Wars universe.

It begins with the writing.  A New Dawn was one of the first novels of the new canon overseen by Disney, but in the year and a half since, remains one of the strongest and well written such books released.  John Jackson Miller succeeds in creating dimensional characters for which the reader cannot help but sympathize with and worry for when dangerous situations arise. Likewise, for our characters Hera and Kanan, whom we are already familiar with from Rebels, Miller manages to infuse them with aspects of their personalities we already know, but at the same time convincingly create facets still waiting to be molded into the rebels they become.

While Vidian falls into a growing mold of Star Wars antagonists who are half machine and half (fill in the blank), he is allowed to embody what might be called an industrialist version of Darth Vader, a character who has no compunction about lives or damage in the pursuit of fulfilling his goals.  In A New Dawn, Vidian leaves bodies in his wake, but not without ramifications which most of our Star Wars villains benefit and enjoy. This connectivity of events, where one can draw a line from action A to result B, helps breath life into the narrative as motivations are clearly drawn and nothing happens in a vacuum.  It might be noted, joining Vidian in the antagonist spot, is a Captain Rae Sloane, who later reappears years later in Aftermath as Admiral Rae Sloane.

A New Dawn succeeds because of the thought put into its writing.  Its narrative is one where believable characters react realistically to the world they find themselves in, be it resisting the actions of a cruel Industrialist or being motivated to counter the political maneuverings of rivals within the circle of ambitious Imperials that surround the Emperor. For those who are already fans of Rebels, A New Dawn should become a must read if only to learn the background of the show’s two closest characters.  For those who are fans of the Star Wars expanded universe, it’s a must read for the lines it begins to connect to the greater story and also because it’s simply a well written adventure worth one’s time.  Ultimately, John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn serves admirably as one of the best new contributions to our new Star Wars Expanded Universe and the adventures to come.

 

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