- Author: John Jackson Miller
- 381 pages
- Published in 2014
- Placement In Timeline: 11 years before A New Hope
What It’s About:
A New Dawn is a prequel to the animated series Rebels, and tells of how Kanan Jarrus met Hera Syndulla. It concerns the events of a few days on a mining planet, Gorse, and its moon, Cynda, during the middle reign of the Empire, about 11 BBY.
Erstwhile Jedi Kanan Jarrus is a worker shuttling dangerous explosive material from Gorse to Cynda to be used in the production of thoralide, a material widely used in the construction of the Empire’s fleet. Ever since Order 66, Kanan has been wandering, hiding his Jedi abilities, taking on odd jobs, and never getting close to anyone, if he could help it.
However, he meets Hera on Gorse, who is on a reconnaissance mission; they get mixed up in some chaos caused by a detonation-happy miner called Skelly, and a mining surveillance leader named Zaluna. Together they attempt to foil the destructive plans of Denetrius Vidian, a cyborg minion of the Emperor, who has cataclysmic plans for Cynda.
I was hoping for a Rebels “how they all met” story in A New Dawn, one that included Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper, but I had to make do with Hera and Kanan. I suppose it makes sense, as they didn’t all meet at the same time, apparently.
Anyway, the only other John Jackson Miller book I’d read was Kenobi, which remains a favorite Star Wars novel of mine. But like that one, I had to be patient and let the story grow on me. At first I thought, hmmm, mining? B-O-R-I-N-G. And it was a little, at first. But Miller is a master at doling out disparate threads one at a time, and then slowly tightening said threads until they come together to weave a complete picture, leading to a great story.
I loved getting into Kanan’s head and his memories of the Jedi, though he’s a tad bitter and tries to convince himself that he’s not affected by any of it–he tries to shrug it all off and get on with his life. After all, he was quite young when Order 66 happened, and not a full Jedi Knight yet. But in a crisis, it’s clear that you can take the Jedi out of the Temple, but you can’t take the Temple out of the Jedi. Caleb Dume (his given name) makes an appearance when needed, despite himself, and it’s often hard to hide it from others, even when he doesn’t use the Force.
Hera is her usual dedicated, smart, and capable self, and a great pilot. She’s everything we expect her to be. She’s the only one of the ghost crew who doesn’t seem to go through some big change or growth, except at the very end of Rebels, when she loses Kanan. She’s the rock the others rely on.
The two supporting characters are Skelly, a miner who is a Clone Wars veteran, a rabble-rouser who agitates for safer mining conditions and respect for Cynda’s natural environment; and Zaluna, a Sullustan woman who works for a mining surveillance company, but finds herself unexpectedly on the other side of the cams. Like Skelly, she realizes that the Empire has changed the rules, and not for the better–they both must decide how involved they want to get in Hera’s mission.
That mission turns into something she hadn’t expected: foiling Vidian’s plans to ruin Cynda for his own gain.
As a villain, Vidian is appropriately repulsive. His backstory helps us understand how he became the way he is, but he’s no less vile for it. Lacking completely in empathy or compassion, his cyborg enhancements have replaced any kind of human feeling he might once have had. The only thing he cares about is efficiency and advancing his own stature.
Captain Sloane, of the Star Destroyer Ultimatum, is another story. She’s an Imperial, but she’s not inherently evil. She does her job and follows orders, but is nobody’s fool. She’s ambitious, like most in her position, and will do what she needs to do to advance. But she’s not needlessly cruel; she’s also smart, and makes sure she knows what she’s dealing with in Vidian. She’s an interesting foil to the cyborg, and plays a crucial role in the climax.
Once it got going, I enjoyed this book, mostly because I’m a Rebels fan, and of Kanan Jarrus in particular. If you’re a John Jackson Miller fan, you’ll enjoy his style of writing, which is to say, thoughtful and character-driven, but certainly capable in action scenes, which are plentiful here.
As I said before, it’s not a Rebels “how they all met”, so if you’re expecting that, you’ll be disappointed. Otherwise it’s a good Star Wars adventure, though it doesn’t add anything spectacular to the canon.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Lightsabers