BOOK REVIEW: TARKIN / AUTHOR: JAMES LUCENO / PUBLISHER: DEL REY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars movie lent an air of menace and gravitas to the character of Darth Vader; it was Cushing’s presence and acting that contrasted against Darth Vader’s rather wooden presence. As such, the character of Grand Moff Tarkin is regarded as one of the great villains of the franchise, despite the fact that we barely got to know him.
Star Wars: Tarkin is the story of Willhuff Tarkin, born from a backwater world into a family that had great privilege but also had a brutal, almost sociopathic regard for other people. The plot is split between two events; the incident of sedition that brought Tarkin, the Emperor and Vader into a close working relationship, and the coming-of-age rites that his parents put him through. Of these, the sedition is most interesting; the book swiftly becomes a tale of Imperial forces attempting to apprehend a gang of cunning renegades, and Luceno gives this element a lot of pace and excitement; it’s a fun tale of starship combat and cunning, and it is quite gripping. The deep character background-based tale that makes up the rest of the book is less exciting and it humanises Tarkin a little too much.
Luceno does take the time to deliver an awful lot of fine detail about the Star Wars universe. This book taught me more than I ever actually wanted to know about Tarkin’s ship, the Carrion Spike, with the pages filled with fine detail. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a turn-off; I don’t really care which dockyard built which system for whichever ship. If I wanted to know that, I’d have looked it up in one of the great many Star Wars sourcebooks. This slavish attention to detail makes the whole thing read more like a standard spin-off book for a roleplaying game or some other hyper-detailed franchise, rather than a tribute to a fine actor who played an excellent role in one of the most popular movies ever made.
Star Wars: Tarkin is a treat for diehard Star Wars fans and for the most part works as a tightly written adventure thriller, and the sort of person who is desperate to learn Emperor Palpatine’s first name will get a big kick out of this. The novel does meander in places and the cinematic menace of Cushing’s performance is rather lost in translation; Tarkin is just not as sinister on the page as he is on the screen. Over all, this is a good page-turner detailing on of the most underrated villains of the Star Wars setting. It would be nice to see more of this character’s exploits, even though we all know how his story ends.
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