I’ll put this tidbit of information on front street: I’ve never been a huge Star Wars fan.
I’ll give you just a moment to process that, especially those who read it and are currently struggling to comprehend this revelation that someone exists that isn’t crazy in love with Lucas’ baby.
Now, assuming you’re still with me, allow me to extrapolate.
I like Star Wars; I just don’t know why or how its developed the hardcore following that it has. Jedi; Sith; The Force? All awesome concepts, without a doubt. But the films, though fun, never affected me in the way I know it has so many.
I don’t question the reach or popularity of Star Wars, I’ve just always been curious as to how it has become so beloved. I say this as an appreciator of its concepts, rather than a devoted fan of its Universe.
Now, with that out the way, A New Dawn (Nope, not Hope) is the first book of new canon, created to support and expand the new universe being crafted by JJ Abrams.
Because of this, I figured now would be an awesome time to jump on board, delving into a Universe that I’ve always been curious about, but have never taken the time to further explore due to a few major factors:
1) My aforementioned lack of understanding towards the Kool-Aid adulation for the ol’ Galaxy far, far away.
2) The extended universe was already so expansive and developed, even beginning to jump in was an intimidating proposition.
3) I read IGN’s glowing review on Star Wars: Lords Of The Sith, and decided rather than jumping in there, starting from the beginning would be a smarter decision.
So with JJ comes new movies, books, cartoons and, importantly, new canon.
With JJ there was an opportunity to come in near enough at the ground floor of the new wave, and I decided to dip my toe into the Star Wars EU for the first time.
What I found there was a mixed bag.
The story, written by author John Jackson Miller, takes place prior to the events of Episodes IV, and is set roughly ten years after Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. I also discovered, albeit after the fact, that it also takes place five years before the new Rebels series, which this acts as an introductory prequel to for its protagonists Kanan and Hera.
The plot itself follows Kanan, once a young Padawan who was robbed of his chance to graduate to full Jedi Master, thanks to the eradication of the Jedi Council by the rise of the Empire and Order 66.
Jaded and constantly on the run whilst hiding his true background and identity, Kanan’s story eventually intertwines with that of Hera, a mysterious character with radical ideas and a rebellious spirit, as they form part of a rag tag group who have found themselves pitted against the coldly mechanical cyborg Count Vidian, an interesting antagonist hell bent on mining efficiency for the Emperor, no matter the cost to life, even if that extends to blowing up whole moons/plaets (sounds kinda familiar…) who felt to be more rounded than the majority of the heroes of this piece who, on the whole, felt somewhat predictable and flat in comparison.
The whole thing takes a while to really hit its stride, with about two thirds of the book switching between plodding character development and uninspired traversing to and from limited locations (despite those locations being between a planet and its moon – it is a sci fi book, after all!) Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on how it’s utilised, in A New Dawn it just made the whole thing feel padded out and longer than it needed to be.
The final act however was great, it’s just such a damn shame it took so much un-engaging mediocrity to get to it. The strength of Vidian as a villain, especially with the story unfolding against a wider backdrop of civil and social unrest as the Empire’s strength expands and grows, gave this an interesting edge that Kanan and Hera didn’t really provide, despite their genuinely heroic motives to save an entire mining colony/moon from the clutches of the efficient, Emperor-pleasing, Vidian.
There are a few elements addressed, and some terminology used throughout, that are potentially ostracising if you aren’t familiar with the Star Wars EU. It provided a little bit of a steep reading experience at the start – hitting the ground running into a pre established Universe normally does – but stick with it and it ends up with quite a fun resolution that contains some fatal consequences for certain members Kanan and his motley crew.
I’d be interested to check out a few episodes of Rebels, knowing now that A New Dawn acts as a prequel to it and the furthered adventures of Kanan and Hera who, thankfully, don’t end this story with a typical lover story relationship. Miller flirts with the idea throughout, with one of the characters falling quite quickly for the other, but the story steers clear of what would be a heavy handed, forced, love story in any other work, and their relationship is stronger and more believable because of it.
Star Wars: A New Dawn was ultimately a bit of a difficult read to get into initially, made all the more so by its steep adjustment curve to the Star Wars EU and its underdeveloped protagonists. But a strong villain, exploration of societal unrest against the Empire, and an enjoyable, action packed final act do help to elevate this novel and its story.
The fact it took so long to finally get to that level of engagement was a little disheartening for a newcomer such as myself, given the amount of excitement and hype behind the new canon, and ultimately left me feeling a little disappointment by my first foray into the new canon, and somewhat trepidatious about jumping into the others.
If you’ve read the other books in the new canon and feel they are better than A New Dawn, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them below, so feel free to shout out!