Right after the three prequel films in the Star Wars saga were released, there were fans picking apart the story as to how certain things seemed different between Luke and Leia’s birth and the first time they are seen as adults. There were questions about what seemed to be Anakin Skywalker’s rapid descent to the Dark Side. One moment he’s good, the next he seemed to be totally evil.
To bridge some of the gaps and fill in some of the stories, James Luceno wrote Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. I read a few very positive reviews and picked it up. However, the first couple of chapters didn’t really draw me in and I put it down for a while. The characters Luceno writes about seemed completely unfamiliar to me, with the exception of Vader and Emperor Palpantine. It took me a while to finally get through it.
The book basically begins at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi have been destroyed, with a few survivors of the Emperor’s execution order scattered across the galaxy. The Emperor has consolidated his power and the Republic has turned into an Empire under his control. Lord Vader is trying to heal, both physically and emotionally, from his encounter with Obi-Wan Kenobi on the molten planet, Mustafar.
All of the good hasn’t left Anakin yet. There are doubts about his new path and about his abilities. At the same time, those around the Emperor are reluctant to accept this new figure as suddenly being the Emperor’s right hand.
Into this Luceno writes some interesting new characters. A trio of Jedi has managed to escape the execution order and make their way out from under the watchful eyes of the Imperial Forces. Roan Shryne, Olee Starstone, and Bol Chatak must fight their way out. Only Shryne and Starstone survive. He is the jaded veteran looking at the events that have taken place, while she is still a Padawan – a learner – and is full of belief that if they can just somehow hook up with other Jedi who must have surely survived, the wrongs which have occurred can be righted.
I think the fact that so much of Luceno’s story focused on characters I wasn’t acquainted with was what threw me at first. Once I pushed on past the first few chapters, Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader drew me in. The conflicts inside Anakin/Vader are written very well, as well as his growing thirst for power and resentment of the Emperor. This already is laying the groundwork for the betrayal which will occur years down the line in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Luceno also lays the groundwork for the Rebel Alliance with the character of Bail Organa meeting with other dissidents. At the same time, he treads a dangerous line as Vader comes to Organa’s home planet of Alderaan and Bail scurries to keep R2D2, C3PO, and keep Leia hidden from the Dark Lord, lest he figure out that his children did not die with Padme in childbirth.
The weakest part of the book to me was some of the contrivances. In such a big galaxy, it seems a bit too coincidental that Vader would end up so conveniently at Organa’s doorstep, as well as the encounters with Chewbacca. I did like the whole plot of the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk falling, as well as the motivation for why the Emperor needed the Wookies. Although I still don’t quite understand why it took something like twenty years to complete the first Death Star and the second one seemed to appear in less than three.
The pacing of Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader was good once I got into it. I found that I wanted to find out how the characters Luceno created had their stories resolved and I had trouble putting the book down. I also wanted to read about how Anakin/Vader changed over the course of the book, and Luceno takes that character from point A to point B in such a way that it seems to be a path that fits what we know about him from the films.
All in all, this is a good read. If you have trouble getting into it, I would recommend pushing on and giving it a shot. I know I am glad that I did.