New Star Wars! Always a pleasure. As you can probably tell from the title and cover art, this particular entry into the canon is focused on the most powerful duo in the Galaxy Far, Far Away: Emperor Palpatine (AKA Darth Sidious) and his apprentice Darth Vader. Or at least it’s supposed to be, according to the marketing people. But since it’s really hard to write a book focused entirely on the villains, they share the spotlight with the rebellious Free Ryloth Movement. Also, the particular scene on the cover doesn’t actually happen therein–no AT-ATs appear, for example, and the Emperor doesn’t use the Force openly unless he’s assured there will be no survivors to let slip his secret. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive visual, and does accurately depict more or less what you’re in for. The details are wrong, but the impression is accurate. Clear as mud? Good.
It’s been five years since the end of the Clone Wars,* since the Old Republic transitioned to the Galactic Empire, and the turmoil across the galaxy is still settling slowly. On Ryloth, the Republic’s benevolent military occupation has transitioned into a much more authoritarian and exploitative arrangement, much as partisan Cham Syndulla feared. His dream of a free Ryloth is once more a long way from reality, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop fighting for it. So when word comes that the Emperor himself is planning to visit Ryloth along with his chief enforcer and mysterious right hand Darth Vader, it is an opportunity far too tempting for Cham and his Free Ryloth Movement to pass up. Without the Emperor and Vader, the Empire would be in turmoil, and Ryloth would have a chance to throw off the Imperial shackles it’s been forced into. Of course, to pull this off they’ll have to destroy an Imperial Star Destroyer, something that has never been done before, and even then there’s no guarantee that Vader and the Emperor would be taken out in the destruction. This is going to take all the resources the movement has managed to gather over the years, and even that may not be enough. Can they afford to take the shot? More importantly, can they afford not to?
As you can probably expect, I loved the book. It does have a few difficulties, though. From the title and cover, you’d expect more Vader/Palpatine focus than there actually is. Instead, while they are heavily featured, most of the novel is devoted to the heroes of the Free Ryloth Movement. You might remember them from one of the arcs of the Clone Wars television series, or because Cham Syndulla is the father of Hera Syndulla from the show Star Wars: Rebels and the novel A New Dawn. Newcomers won’t have that connection, but I think matters are adequately explained so they won’t feel lost. The book does an excellent job of getting inside Vader’s head and showing his damaged psyche, exploring how he has rationalized his past to justify his betrayal of all he held dear, every friend he ever knew. Unfortunately, we don’t get that same insight into the Emperor like I was hoping. Oh well. The other difficulty is that the ending is pretty proscribed. This is set before the original films, so Vader and the Emperor are going to emerge pretty much unscathed. There’s nothing anyone can do about that. Which means that the book really has to get you invested in the secondary characters to keep you engaged. For my money, Mr. Kemp succeeded in that, but I’ve seen some other reviewers who felt differently.
As for how this fits in with other works in the Star Wars universe, as part of the newly-rebooted official canon it’s undergone strenuous continuity checks to make sure it aligns with the rest of the works sharing that status. It ties in explicitly to The Clone Wars series, and I’m assuming the yet-unwatched Rebels series as well.** It does, however, depart significantly from previously-established Legends material. The Legends depiction of Ryloth was thrown out a couple years ago, with the planet’s appearance on The Clone Wars, and this is consistent with that, unsurprisingly. More notable is the change to the Empire’s attitude towards women. In the Legends canon, the Empire was fiercely sexist. Admiral Daala, despite her fierce ambition and competency, only got her position because she was Tarkin’s mistress. In contrast, Lords of the Sith gives us Delian Mors, a female Moff who isn’t even particularly competent. Maybe the Empire gets more sexist later, or maybe they’re discarding that element of the previous continuity. We’ll see. Mors also has the distinction of being the first homosexual character in the Star Wars universe, though that fact has almost no significance to the story.
CONTENT: Mild profanity. This is Star Wars, so they keep it tame. Strong violence, occasionally gory or disturbing. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing too explicit. There’s the implication that a character was a sex slave before escaping to the resistance, and we meet another character still in that situation.
*The opening crawl states that it’s set “Eight years after the Clone Wars ravaged the galaxy,” which would imply eight years after Revenge of the Sith, but an interview with the publisher made clear that this was referring to the start of the war, or Attack of the Clones. This makes little sense, either grammatically or thematically, so I’m racking it up to aftereffects of a change made late in the production of the novel. Maybe I’m wrong though, who knows….
**Since I don’t have cable, I’m waiting for the home release to catch up on that.