It has been years since I have read a new Star Wars novel. I was an early fan of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and kept up with subsequent Star Wars volumes, but they started coming out at greater speed with lesser quality and I lost interest after a few years, reentering the galaxy only when Zahn contributed another book.
I picked up A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller because I enjoy the Star Wars Rebels animated series and wanted to learn more about the surviving Jedi Kanan Jarrus. The book is basically “When Kanan Met Hera” (something Jackson admits on his website) as it details the first encounter between Kanan and Hera, the Twi’ilek leader of the rebel cell on the Disney XD show. In broad strokes, Kanan is a combination of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, and in A New Dawn he is firmly in his Han Solo mode, a Rick Blaine-like loner who doesn’t want to get involved in anyone else’s problems.
Miller alludes only briefly to Kanan’s final days as a Jedi apprentice named Caleb Dume who somehow survived Order 66. That story apparently is being reserved for the new Marvel comic written by Greg Weissman. Miller picks up Kanan’s story about 15 years after the Clone Wars and an indeterminate time before Rebels. Kanan has been drifting from one Outer-Rim planet to the next, picking up odd jobs, and moving on before anyone discovers his Jedi abilities. In A New Dawn, Kanan is a space trucker, hauling equipment in a mining community based on the planet Gorse and its moon, Cynda.
The moon is rich with a mineral called thorilde, and Cynda has just become important to the Empire, which needs huge new supplies of thorilde to build its fleet of star destroyers. Kanan has just decided to bug out of the Gorse system and look for work elsewhere. Too bad for him he made his decision just as the Empire arrives to put Gorse’s mining industry under its jackboot.
Hera also arrives the same day because she is gathering intelligence on the book’s villain, Count Vidian. Cunningly, Miller casts Vidian as the Emperor’s top efficiency expert, brought in to streamline the Gorse system’s mining operation. Vidian has his own secrets and his own agenda that he keeps hidden from the Emperor.
You expect to see allegories for contemporary social situations in Star Trek, but not Star Wars. It is something of a shock to see Miller paint a picture of management crushing labor. The plot is ignited when a miner friend of Kanan’s literally becomes a bomb-throwing radical and a labor dispute uncovers Vidian’s apocalyptic plans for Gorse and Cynda.
The paths of Hera the burgeoning revolutionary and Kanan the professional outsider intersect several times until they become allies in a desperate attempt to stop Vidian’s plot. Although Kanan and Hera are fighting alongside each other by the midpoint, Miller wisely delays the moment until Kanan steps aboard her tricked-out cruiser, Ghost, which is their home on Rebels.
Miller gets too involved in the technical workings of the mining industry. I lost track of whether or not thorilde could be refined under a certain set of circumstances. Otherwise, A New Dawn is pure Star Wars, with frenzied running battles aboard space stations and a few dogfights with TIEs. In two instances my mind’s ear heard a dying stormtrooper let loose a Wilhelm scream, and I suspect Miller wanted me to hear it.
All villains in the Star Wars universe will be measured against Darth Vader first and Admiral Thrawn second. Vidian may not be on their level, but he is a fine villain. Vidian grew his fame as a motivational speaker, so Miller has fashioned him as an evil, cybernetic Tony Robbins. Vidian doesn’t meet anyone he doesn’t think he can exploit.
A New Dawn is a fun read that picks up speed toward the end, as a good adventure should. Miller also spills more information on Kanan, one of the most interesting Star Wars characters to emerge recently. The Ghost crew grows by three members in between this book’s final page and the first episode of Rebels. I hope this means Miller will write a sequel or two.