Tarkin Review: Inside the Mind of the Galaxy’s Most Ruthless Imperial.

Tarkin CoverPomojema here with an advance review of James Luceno’s newest Star Wars novel, Tarkin. One of his earlier books, Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, was one of my favorite stories in the Legends continuity, and I’ve heard great things about Darth Plagueis (which was more about Palpatine than the titular Sith Lord, amusingly enough). Does lightning strike thrice with Luceno’s Wilhuff-Tarkin-centric title? You’re one click away from finding out.


So, you made the click? Good. Before we get going, I’d personally like to recommend watching the Citadel and the Jedi Fugitive arcs of The Clone Wars (episodes 62-64 and episodes 105-108 respectively), both of which feature the title character and feature events that are referenced within the book. While they aren’t necessary to enjoy the story at large, they do provide a greater context to the story and make the narrative that much more enjoyable. Anyway, let’s get down to business.


Tarkin Clone Wars

The story follows Wilhuff Tarkin five years after the end of the Clone Wars and the formation of the Galactic Empire. While Tarkin is eager to develop the space station that will become the Death Star, circumstances call him to deal with a small outbreak of a few Separatists stragglers. While Tarkin is able to handle the revolts in the Outer Rim, the insurgency grows in size, and leads to Darth Vader having to step in in order to crush any revolt before it can begin. Ever the opportunist, Tarkin takes advantage of the situation, both as a military leader and as an aspiring heir to the Empire, leading him to ultimately seek Darth Vader’s approval while tactfully and tactically dealing with the threat to Imperial sovereignty.


Tarkin is above all else a character study, like Dark Lord and Darth Plagueis before it, and as such focuses on his upbringing and his state of mind instead of dedicating the greater part of the 288-page chronicle to assorted battles in space. That’s not to say the book is devoid of any action whatsoever, or that the pace of the novel is slow; there are a number of cool action sequences in the book. Nonetheless, a lot of the narrative is driven by the intrigue of Tarkin’s personality and seeing how he became the utterly unfettered individual that we first saw in A New Hope. Granted, who wouldn’t want to figure out what was kind of thoughts would go through his head when he was first introduced blowing a peaceful planet up to make a demonstration?


Alderaan Explodes
Source: AggelW/DarthVenal, DeviantArt.


Well, as luck would have it, living in a long-declining government as it turns into a more oppressive state had something to do with it – but ultimately, the blame of the monster that Tarkin became falls upon himself, as his ambition-driven rise in power and his increasingly merciless actions go on to show. You never quite feel sympathy for the character – after all, he already tried to have Ahsoka Tano executed for a crime she did not commit, and was hardly concerned about her innocence or guilt as long as it meant striking a political blow against the Jedi order – and you aren’t supposed to. Still, you’re able to understand why he carries out the actions that he does, no matter how heinous they are, and a villain with depth is fascinating to read about. I won’t reveal what happens in the climax, but you’ll know what causes the metamorphasis of the future Gran Moff when you read it, leading to his complete transformation from a (quite literally) petty officer to the callous despot that takes more offense to being lied to about the location of a Rebel base than killing billions of people. It’s satisfying to read in the most horrific way.


Aside from Tarkin, his superiors are also featured prominently in the novel – Darth Vader and Emperor Sheev Palpatine (yes, I’m still getting used to that weird-sounding first name, too). Both characters have the right amount of balance between their Prequel-Era selves and their incarnations in the first three films to hit the silver screen – for instance, Darth Vader is still internally upset about what he has done in the past, but he is also more uncompromising and imposing than he ever was as Anakin Skywalker. Likewise, Palpatine still acts a bit like the affable chancellor figure that he was in spite of his scars, but is ultimately the wicked tyrant that has everything done according to his designs. Luceno proves again that he is able to bridge the gaps of time in the canon meaningfully, and brings greater depth to characters that we’ve known since our childhoods.



Tarkin is a good sign of what’s yet to come from the new canon – even with the Legends decision wiping out most of the old continuity, the book lifts a substantial number of references from the former Expanded Universe and refits them into the narrative (and in a more cohesive way, thanks to the growing influence of the Lucasfilm Story Group guiding the new canon). I also spotted a pair of references to The Clone Wars and Rebels in the same chapter – which, true to form, occur early on in the novel and only further indicate Luceno’s love of the lore of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. I can only hope that Disney keeps him around to write more novels, as someone with such an understanding and dedication to the fictional universe is simply too good to pass up when world-building proves itself to be an important undertaking after the continuity reboot.


In any case, the book explores a number of aspects in the Star Wars Galaxy that most writers don’t touch upon, and for that the story becomes all the more unique and interesting to read. The pacing of the book is just right, leaving descriptions of the title character’s tact-yet-firm positions on his crew’s next course of action entertaining to read as ever, all done without forsaking the good old-fashioned space battle that we’ve all come to love Star Wars for. Even when the narrative discusses something unremarkable, such as the tailoring of Tarkin’s uniform, it still manages to be engaging by granting us a window into his psychology. If you like political intrigue and character development, give Tarkin a whirl. You won’t regret it.


Tarkin hits the shelves on November 4. Special thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey/Random House for providing the advance copy of the text – I will deal with buying a physical copy soon enough.


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Grant has been a fan of Star Wars for as long as he can remember, having seen every movie on the big screen. When he’s not hard at work with his college studies, he keeps himself busy by reporting on all kinds of Star Wars news for SWNN and general movie news on the sister site, Movie News Net. He served as a frequent commentator on SWNN’s The Resistance Broadcast.

Grant Davis (Pomojema)

Grant has been a fan of Star Wars for as long as he can remember, having seen every movie on the big screen. When he’s not hard at work with his college studies, he keeps himself busy by reporting on all kinds of Star Wars news for SWNN and general movie news on the sister site, Movie News Net. He served as a frequent commentator on SWNN’s The Resistance Broadcast.

25 thoughts on “Tarkin Review: Inside the Mind of the Galaxy’s Most Ruthless Imperial.

  • October 22, 2014 at 1:37 am

    Great review, looking forward to reading it.

    • October 22, 2014 at 2:31 am

      Thanks, Tom! I was really looking forward to this, too, and it’s an interesting read. The wait was worth it.

  • October 22, 2014 at 1:45 am

    What kind of references to the old EU does the book make? Are there actually EU characters, or is it just some general things like EU planets or something?

    • October 22, 2014 at 2:27 am

      Mostly references to old planets and the like. Luceno does allude to Darth Plagueis a bit in Palpatine’s scenes – both the character and the now non-canon novel. I hope that means he could get another shot at telling that story, or that the novel could be reinstated into the canon.

      • October 22, 2014 at 3:21 am

        I really hope they do reinstate the darth Plagueis narrative into the new canon. His story was one of the best ever done by Luceno for the franchise.
        My number one SW novel.
        And the audiobook reading by Daniel Davis was A+ excellent.
        I do hope they get him to read the audio version of Tarkin….it’ll be a shame if he doesn’t
        I am quite looking forward on his take on the new canon timeline with this new novel, however.

        • October 22, 2014 at 11:44 am

          There’s no need to dismiss the Plageus narrative unless there is something that actually contradicts that in the Tarkin novel or any new canon material to come.

          • October 22, 2014 at 8:47 pm

            Yeah, the EU is stil canon unless something from the new canon contradicts it. Hasn’t Zahn said sth like that in an interview.

            For example: Mara Jade – by the Emperor’s Hand is still canon (because no one said the Emperor did not have a personal assassin he sent after Luke). But her whole after RotJ story line with meeting up with Luke, actually joining the new Republic and marrying Luke is now not-canon, because the new movies obviously don’t include her.

        • October 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm

          I absolutely agree with the comment about the audio book narration by Daniel Davis. The plagueis audio book narration was the best I’ve heard in a long time.

  • October 22, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Feels more like an ad than a review though. There’s nothing at all wrong with this site being a platform to promote Star Wars products but they should be totally up front about it. Transparency inspires trust and respect.

    • October 22, 2014 at 2:30 am

      Well, I didn’t *try* to make this an ad, if that’s what you’re getting at. But when that when more novels are on the table, I will do more when necessary to analyze the content of the novels themselves.

  • October 22, 2014 at 2:34 am


  • October 22, 2014 at 2:42 am

    “Aside from Tarkin, his superiors are also featured prominently in the novel – Darth Vader…”

    Curious if the book gives any hint of how Tarkin goes from Vader’s subordinate to seemingly his superior in ANH.

  • October 22, 2014 at 10:07 am

    This seems like a really positive review. I am hopeful that it does NOT repeat some of the mistakes of DARK LORD: THE RISE OF DARTH VADER, where the story meandered between the ( intriguing ) dynamic of Darth Vader, and some forgettable new jedi fodder.
    I would have preffered if the whole book had dealt with Darth, Bail Organa and Obi-Wan Kenobi as those were the most fascinating and enjoyable parts.

    At least with this Tarkin novel, it would appear that Tarkin, Darth, and Plaptine are the focus, so hopefully the reader will not be disappointed.Thank you for the review.

  • October 22, 2014 at 11:39 am

    A comment about canon – it seems fans are having different ideas of what the Canon situation is.
    I am reading it this way: Post-Jedi material specifically will be contradicted by the onset of EP 7, so all the novels/books/games/etc. related to that period are definitely non-canon.

    Pre-Original Trilogy, let’s say specifically things like Old Republic, Darth Plageus the novel and other things – as long as they are not contradicted by any of the new material coming out, they can easily still stand.

    Those who are concerned that the Plageus novel never happened, I’m sure you can read Tarkin and Plageius and understand them to be in the same reality.
    This COULD change if something comes out that goes against that, but until then, you can still enjoy them as part of the same continuity.

    • October 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      This is the way I personally see it.
      But in fact, right now the OFFICIAL Canon is:
      * The six episodes: Just the movies. Not the comic adaptations; and part of the novelizations are non-canon too
      * The Clone Wars series: All six seasons plus the movie, the unfinished arc “Crystal crisis on Utapau”, the “Darth Maul Son of Dathomir” comic and the forthcoming novel “Dark Apprentice”
      * Rebels series: Not just the episodes, but also all the related material (children books, etc…). All of this is Canon.
      * “Tarkin” novel
      * Every future story (movie, TV series, videogame, novel, comic, etc…) unless it’s obviously non-canon (such as LEGO Star Wars, Phineas & Ferb, etc…)

      • October 22, 2014 at 8:14 pm

        You’re right of course. That is the core canon, and whilst spin-off stories ( anything outside of that core group ) is not considered canon, I don’t think we should worry about them being considered something to be completely dismissed.

        Going back to the Darth Plageus novel, it seemingly still fits right in with the new canon. It will only be a completely outside of continuity if/when some story point is contradicted in future.

        As it stands, there really is no need to throw it out with the bath water.

  • October 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    To say the Plagueis book is more about Palpatine is silly.

    • October 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      I would disagree. Sure, it’s about Plagueis, but it ends up ultimately being more about Palpatine’s rise to power, in my opinion.

  • October 22, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Does Tarkin know Vader is Anakin in the novel?

    • October 22, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      He’s able to figure it out, but he keeps it to himself. The way he does it is pretty clever.

      – Pomojema (Mobile)

      • October 23, 2014 at 3:53 pm

        There must be a point in time when Vader figures out that he knows and they have a conversation about it. In ep4 Tarkin knows Obi-Wan was Vader’s master when he was a Jedi and they speak freely about it.

  • October 22, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I’ll be buying this straight away…luceno is a fantastic novelist…totally understands how to write a star wars novel

  • October 23, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I would like to know how Tarkin figures out Anakin is Vader. I imagine it’s based on a question or slight mannerism that betrays his identity to the astute Tarkin.

  • October 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Hope Tarkin makes an appearance in Rebels

Comments are closed.