Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno
When you think about Darth Vader, many things come to mind. Dark Lord of the Sith. Bane of the Jedi. Throat-Crusher Supreme.
No. Or rather, “NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”
Of all my complaints about the new trilogy – and there are many – the biggest one has to do with how Anakin Skywalker was handled. I grew up loving Darth Vader. He was a vicious bastard, but by gods he was awesome about it. He was a hard-ass who inspired terror wherever he went, and he was a man who overcame insurmountable evils to ultimately redeem himself. From the moment we see him emerge from the smoke in A New Hope, we know that this is a man to be feared and reckoned with.
He never said, “Yippee,” and he most certainly was never a mopey little emoboi. I despised the choice to make Anakin a whiny little brat who was turned to the Dark Side. And please note the passive voice there – “was turned.” He was manipulated and pushed and pulled, and finally when Palpatine said, “Go murder children,” Anakin just said, “Okay,” and did it. I never got the feeling that Anakin was making his own choices in these movies, or doing terrible things because he truly thought they were the right thing to do.
The title of Darth Vader fit very, very poorly on this wet noodle of a Sith-wannabe, and that, more than anything else, made me very angry about the new trilogy.
So, in comes James Luceno to clean things up.
Set about a month after the events in Episode 3, this book starts Vader’s transformation from mopey to malicious.Despite the best efforts of the Clone Army, some Jedi survived the initial massacre of Order 66. One of those, a Jedi named Roan Shyne, is trying to lead his dead comrade’s padawan to safety, wherever safety may be found. He’s questioning his purpose now, in a world where evil has emerged victorious, and where the Jedi are no more. Should he make a stand and die defending the Idea, or should he obey Yoda’s last orders and go to ground?
Sadly, he’s a principle character in a Star Wars novel, so the Force takes the choice out of his hands. He finds himself drawn ever closer into the mystery of the Empire and the Emperor. And Vader.
Who, I might add, is having issues of his own. The first three pages of his first POV scene are about how uncomfortable the Suit is (Luceno talked to the folks at LucasArts to find out what it was like), and how miserable he is being a nubby lump of burned flesh inside a mobile life-support system. He can’t see properly, can’t hear normally, can’t move like he used to – hell, he can barely walk steady, much less wield a lightsaber like he used to.
Palpatine, being the good mentor that he is, knows exactly how to cure Vader’s blues: give him a project, something to keep his mind off things. Like hunting people down and killing them.
Luceno handles the transition from brat to demon very delicately and very smoothly. By the time the book is over, Vader still isn’t the avatar of evil that he will one day become, but he’s certainly over the hump. In addition, the advantage of writing a prequel story is that you can boost the power of events that happen later on, giving them much more significance. When Vader finally kills Palpatine at the end of Return of the Jedi, for example, the moment is a little richer and more powerful for having seen what Palpatine put Vader through in his early days.In this book, we get a good look at the Master-Disciple relationship of the Sith, and the precarious balance that it requires. The Master works his hardest to break and subjugate his disciple in order to make him strong enough so that he will one day exceed his master. The problem is that, traditionally, the disciple usually kills the master at that point, finds a new disciple of his own, and the cycle begins anew. Palpatine is looking to avoid that, if at all possible, and Vader is just itching for a chance. The key is that power is an end unto itself, and the cycle of murder is just a part of that.
But at the end of Jedi, Vader kills his master for the benefit of another, something that is antithetical to the core philosophy of the Sith. Vader gained no power by killing Palpatine, at least not in the sense that he understood “power” up to that point.
Star Wars purists might stay away from the novels, and that’s certainly their right. I think this one is worth reading, though. It’s an excellent move away from the horrorshow that was the new trilogy, and does a very good job at helping us rediscover the Darth Vader that we all came to know and love.
“The old system is dead, senator. You would be wise to subscribe to the new one.”
– Darth Vader