James Luceno has made a niche for himself in penning the stories behind the greatest villains in Star Wars history. Thanks to him, fans have crawled inside the heads of Darth Plagueis, Emperor Palpatine, and Darth Vader. At long last, the man who controlled the Death Star takes center stage.
Taking place 5 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, this book offers both amazing insight into the buildup and workings of the Imperial war machine as well as flashbacks into the rise of Tarkin under Palapatine’s guidance. Luceno builds on story points from the prequel films and The Clone Wars TV series, showing us how those events helped to shape Tarkin as a person, then driving the story forward to organically lay the groundwork for what is seen in the original trilogy. As a character study, it is a master class, and worthy of Luceno’s already gifted reputation.
According to interviews I’ve read, Luceno revisited early Hammer films to help craft Tarkin’s mannerisms and speech patterns, relying on performances from the late, great Peter Cushing. Between Luceno’s writing and Euan Morton’s narration, the effect is remarkable, as if Cushing is being channeled from the beyond. As a bonus, a flashback sequence with Count Dooku before the beginning of the Clone Wars offers the idea of reuniting Cushing with his friend and counterpart, Christopher Lee. Little moments like this and the little references Star Wars history add to the geek level, but the story itself is far bigger than such things. New threats and ideas are built out of the rubble from the Clone Wars, making this story worthy of a man of Tarkin’s caliber.
The production team earns high marks for this audiobook. In addition to a narrator that demonstrates as much love for Peter Cushing as the author, the production team adds in all of the bells and whistles that are the hallmarks of every major Star Wars audiobook, including voice filters for Vader and various droids, sound effects straight from the films, and familiar cues from the scores of John Williams.
Bottom line, this is one story that needed to be told. Whether you’re a casual Star Wars fan or one dedicated to understanding the full canon, this has plenty to offer. Tarkin is unassuming at first by comparison of those like Vader or the Emperor, but his contributions to the Empire are undeniable. This book takes on the same sort of character. It starts a bit slow, and you might wonder if you really need to read it. Once the story gets going (which it does in short order), it’s easy to understand why Tarkin is a giant in the saga’s lore. By pairing him off with Darth Vader for this adventure, who is also written to perfection, Tarkin is given his chance to shine in a way that differentiates him from the Dark Lord’s classic style, ultimately allowing him to demonstrate why he was in command of the Death Star.