It’s a new day for Star Wars as A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller is released today. Fans won’t have to wait a month to meet Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla. But just how good is Miller’s latest foray into the Star Wars universe? We’re off on an adventure to a remote planet to find out!
Gorse. Not the best planet in the galaxy to visit but it’s home or at least a place where Kanan Jarrus has a job. He’s just happy to avoid the Empire’s attention, fly his cargo, and have a couple of drinks at the end of the day. But there are two newcomers to Gorse will change this: Count Vidian of the Empire and Hera Syndulla, a revolutionary with her own agenda. Vidian’s plans have the potential to bring more terror and death to the far reaches of the galaxy. How long can a former Jedi sit back before he must act?
It’s been almost exactly a year since the last time we got a book by John Jackson Miller about a Purge survivor. Comparisons are inevitable so let’s go ahead and get those out of the way. Is A New Dawn as good as Kenobi? No but Kenobi is also a book that exists amongst a very elite selection of Expanded Universe Legends books that were universally hailed as being fantastic. It’s an unfair comparison to make. What is a fair comparison is to look at how Miller handles two sides of the same coin with that coin being a Jedi survivor. Whereas Master Obi-Wan Kenobi went into hiding as a desert hermit and stayed dedicated to his mission, Padawan Caleb Dume jumped headfirst into being what, from all outward appearances, the last person anyone would suspect was a Jedi. And right there, really, is where the comparisons stop.
A New Dawn is fun origin story that’s told on a small scale that will likely delight more than a few readers. It’s a fantastic way to introduce fans to Kanan and Hera and to give them some of their backstory that Rebels won’t necessarily have time to go into. It also helps set the stage for how the galaxy is now after a decade with the Empire in charge. What happens in A New Dawn isn’t galaxy shattering but it doesn’t need to be to have an impact and tell an enjoyable story.
One thing that Jackson does well is casually work in diversity worthy of a galaxy such as this. In the very first chapter, we’re introduced to Rae Sloane, an Imperial Star Destroyer Captain who just happens to be a dark skinned woman. The main cast is split evenly in terms of gender and human/alien and Jackson takes every opportunity to remind readers that this is a galaxy filled with aliens when it comes to the supporting and background characters. It’s refreshing to say the least.
My favorite part of the book was definitely Kanan and Hera which is fortunate since this is the story that introduces us to them and tells us how they met. As mentioned above, Kanan is definitely not like many of the Purge survivors we’ve seen before. He is 100% about not being a Jedi and trying to live his life without anyone finding out and yes that includes drinking and sleeping with females he finds attractive. It was jarring at first but the more I got to know him, the more it made sense. (This also allows for a fantastic line about halfway through that shows he’s still respectful even while hitting on women.) Despite not ever staying in one place for too long, he still has a strong sense of loyalty towards those he deems friends even when it’s against his better judgment. Throughout the book, we get to watch as these tiny shifts help towards shaping him into the character we’ll see in Rebels a few years down the line. On the other hand, Hera Syndulla is our first Capable Lady of the overarching canon. She’s a dedicated revolutionary who knows how to get a job done but never falls into the stereotypical action girl trope. She knows what she wants to accomplish but still has a strong sense of empathy towards that helps humanize her. (I say this realizing the irony given that she’s a twi’lek.) It’s hard to say what I love more about her: her personality or her fantastic piloting skills that she gets to show off later in the book.
When you put Kanan and Hera together, it’s simply fantastic. The chemistry between them really helps bring the book to life as they end up working together despite all other plans. They work well together and even though Kanan is clearly attracted to her from the start, they don’t let that get in the way of the bigger picture. It’s fun to see how the rapport between them evolves during the book and it’ll be even more fun to see how to evolves in the show.
What didn’t necessarily thrill me about the book was the bad guy, Count Vidian. He was a little bit too much of a comic book villain for my tastes. I do, however, respect that every villain won’t have the same amount of layered depth to them and nor will most villains from this era have many sympathetic qualities. This did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book but Count Vidian won’t necessarily be making any Top 10 Lists for me anytime soon. On the other hand, I did find Captain Sloane to be a fair bit more interesting. It’s different to see a woman higher up in the Imperial ranks. There was an intriguing line in the book about how Sloane was one of the first of the “new Imperials” in that her class was one of the first to grow up under the Empire and not the Republic. That’s definitely something to take under consideration when looking at these somewhat younger Imperial types.
Overall, A New Dawn is a well-written novel full of intrigue and twists and turns that does an excellent job of letting Star Wars fans get to know Kanan and Hera. Hopefully, it will also help bring new Star Wars fans to the book side of the fandom.
I give A New Dawn a 4/5 along with my recommendation that you give it a read before Rebels starts airing in October.