Book Review: Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

TarkinStar Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In

Series: Star Wars Universe

Publisher: Del Rey (November 4, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been a great admirer of James Luceno’s Star Wars work in the past, especially his book Darth Plagueis about the eponymous Sith Lord who was the master of Darth Sidious. Having experienced Luceno’s approach to writing Star Wars villains and the credit he does them, I didn’t hesitate to add Tarkin to my reading list with high hopes for the author’s insight into the formidable Grand Moff.

Even if you’re only passing familiar with the films, you’ve probably heard of the name Tarkin. Introduced as the primary antagonist in the first original Star Wars movie, you may recall he’s the evil bastard who threatens Princess Leia with the destruction of her home planet Alderaan if she doesn’t give up the location of the rebel base, and then turns around and blows it up anyway when she gives him a name. But he’s also a soldier and a politician. A scion of a great house. A former Republic proponent and friend of the Jedi. This novel explores all this and more as we delve deeper into this notorious character’s background and history.

In the wake of Palpatine’s rise to power, rebels and freedom fighters continue to be a bane to the empire. As a trusted advisor to his emperor, Tarkin is tasked along with the fearsome and mysterious Darth Vader to squirrel out pockets of the insurgency and extinguish the spark of rebellion before it has a chance to catch.

As expected, Luceno’s work here is solid. If I have any criticisms at all with this novel – and I do have a few – it would have absolutely nothing to do with his writing or storytelling. Quite simply, the author does a thoroughly impressive job pulling together the past and present in order to paint a comprehensive picture of Wilhuff Tarkin. The story is deftly told using a combination of flashbacks and memories woven into the narrative that tells us what’s currently happening. Considering the way we go back and forth throughout the course of the story, I’m somewhat surprised that the pacing did not suffer.

Instead, most of my problems with this book lies with the character. Let’s face it, despite being one of the most ruthless and cold-blooded villains in Star Wars history who even holds “Darth Vader’s leash”, you’re just not as sexy or high on the popularity food chain if you aren’t swinging a lightsaber or wielding the force. Luceno had his work cut out for him making Tarkin a more interesting and appealing character, and I don’t know if he quite manages. We all know Tarkin’s an evil bastard. And after this book, he’s still an evil bastard. Sure, there are some great insights into his past here, such as how his experience playing “Survivor” in the Carrion honed his future skills as a cunning soldier and military strategist. But what does that tell me about the man inside? Everything we learn about him merely scratches the surface while the core of his personality remains aloof. There’s scant little dynamic in his character and I felt like an observer kept at arm’s length.

However, we do gain more understanding into Tarkin’s relationship with both the Emperor and Darth Vader. These were the three who controlled the galaxy by sowing fear after the Clone Wars, and long has it been speculated that Palpatine partnered up the other two on purpose so that they could benefit from each other’s skills. The story in this book showed how that plan ultimately created one of the most fearsome teams that ever existed. In a way, the plot here played out almost like a twisted buddy movie, with the added irony that Tarkin and the Jedi Anakin Skywalker used to be friendly and worked quite closely together. It’s the little moments, like when Tarkin regards Darth Vader and starts surmising his true identity that are probably more rewarding than anything else.

This book was actually quite enjoyable, even if it probably won’t rank up there with my favorite Star Wars novels. It doesn’t stand out, though not for want of trying. Luceno did a great job on the writing front, and was probably only held back by the limitations that are inherent in Tarkin’s character himself.


A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Del Rey Books!

4 Comments on “Book Review: Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno”

  1. I had to stop. Draw a line in the sand. I wont get sucked into more Star Wars books, no way. Even if it is about the coolest Moff around. Do me a favor, pan all future star wars books so I won’t be tempted, no matter how much you like them.


    • I actually took the “reset” as a chance to start anew with SW books and have been trying to read everything to come out since. I’m sure I’ll start falling behind sooner or later.


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