Star Wars: A New Dawn Review

Writing A New Dawn must have been rough for John Jackson Miller. After all, the title is a double entendre – referencing the events of the book, but also referring to the fact that this is the first Star Wars book to be released after all, or most, of the Expanded Universe was officially declared “not canon.” Regardless of how you may feel about that, A New Dawn is a new dawn for the Star Wars franchise. This isn’t the same universe the harbored the Yuuzhan Vong War, or even a universe in which Jacen and Jaina Solo will come to exist. Right off the bat, the differences are apparent, as we’re introduced to a female commander of a Star Destroyer, and she isn’t viewed as being an exception, like Daala was. This immediately removes the sexist aspect of the Empire that was mostly established by the EU.

Aside from the changes it makes, though, how does A New Dawn work out quality -wise as a fresh start to the new, canonical, Expanded Universe? Well… it’s good. It definitely is very, very far from being at the bottom of the pile of EU stuff, but it also isn’t exactly rubbing shoulders with the Zahn trilogy, though that may be an unfair comparison. In addition to establishing the new Expanded Universe, author John Jackson Miller also had to establish the universe and at least two of the characters of Star Wars Rebels. In that respect, Miller does a pretty solid job. As a result of this book, I feel completely attached to Kanan and Hera, even if Hera’s motives are never fully explained.

The biggest issue with A New Dawn, however, is that it faces something of an identity crisis in the first half of its 400 pages. Miller simply cannot decide whether he wants this to be a nuanced layered story or simply a fun way to introduce Star Wars fans to the characters of Rebels. At times, he comments on the social issues, namely security vs. privacy. In this respect, he uses Zaluna’s character quite well. Zaluna is possibly the most interesting, as her character progression shows her slipping from one side of the security vs. privacy argument to the other. The social commentary that this particular arc provides is quite well done, even if her eventual transition is a little sudden. However, there are times when the novel will jump from a deep, layered scene to two chapters of fairly simplistic story telling.

That said, the end result is a fairly nuanced look at the Star Wars galaxy, at least initially. We really get a lens into the lives of normal people during the reign of the Empire. In many respects, it’s not as bad as it is often made out to be, as long as people avoided the Empire. This is an interesting way to look at the universe, especially during this time period. Unfortunately, the novel leaves this particular subject matter behind fairly early on, in favor of establishing that the Empire is, in fact, evil. The beginning teases readers with a story of somewhat normal life during the Empire, and this may leave you wanting more of that.

What we do get turns out to be your fairly typical Star Wars adventure, just minus the character arcs that generally make these types of stories so interesting. Kanan’s character arc feels extremely artificial, and ends up detracting from his character. From the get-go, I felt like I was able to connect with Kanan on a personal level. He’s a great character, but his development as the story progresses turns him into a fairly shallow character. The catalyst for his entire character arc is the appearance of Hera on Gorse, and this just doesn’t seem in line with how the character is established in the first third of the book.

Speaking of thirds of the book, the last third feels somewhat unnecessary. There’s a lot of great characterization and character development going on at this point, but the book felt like it had already reached its climax. That isn’t to say that the last third or so is bad, because it certainly isn’t. Unfortunately, the plot line – dealing with the destruction of a moon – feels like it was added simply to artificially raise the stakes of the conflict between the antagonists and protagonists. It seemed like little more than an attempt to add excitement, where quieter, character focused scenes earlier on in the book may have sufficed to give the characters the development they get towards the end.

Regardless, as the plot gets progressively less interesting, the characters become progressively more interesting. A New Dawn can never strike a balance between the two, as it comes out of the gate swinging plot wise, and a little lacking character wise. By the end, this has completely flipped. By that logic, it’s hard to call any part of this book “bad,” simply because there’s always something interesting going on. That said, the failure to strike a balance really harms the book at points. It’s easy to get over the downhill quality of the plot because Miller writes such intriguing, nuanced characters who share great dynamics, so the beginning is arguably the weaker part of the novel.

That being said, the beginning has a much greater focus on Count Vidian, the villain. Vidian is great throughout the novel, despite him being a cyborg, a trope used seemingly endlessly in Star Wars. We’ve had Grievous, Vader, and most recently, Darth Maul. However, despite similar biology, Vidian is a very different character than either of those three. He fits the description of being more machine than man better than any of those three on their worst days, and not simply because of his inorganic components. He feels like he’s had his humanity stripped away from him, and he’s simply a shell of a person, who’s only goal is to create efficiency. This isn’t the type of villain that we’re necessarily used to in Star Wars, however, he is nonetheless one of the best written parts of A New Dawn.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to complain about Star Wars: A New Dawn. It’s a thoroughly entertaining, if fairly standard, Star Wars story. Fans of the franchise will obviously find a lot to love here, and even those who aren’t as familiar with the franchise will find A New Dawn to be easily accessible. A New Dawn is far from perfect, but no Star Wars novel has really ever been written with the intent of being a critically analyzed work of literature. A New Dawn definitely fits that mold, but even manages to exceed it at times, with some interesting use of social commentary and an exceedingly nuanced cast of characters, even though the nuance is lost at times. It is, in my eyes at least, a success. And what more could you ask for?