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Lords of the Sith: Are Star Wars Novels Getting Literary?

Updated on May 18, 2015

Star Wars: A New Level of Quality

Time was, the Star Wars Expanded Universe could fill a whole bookshelf worth of novels. The level of quality was generally on the low side of middling, and while the action could reliably guarantee x-wing dogfights and lightsaber duels, it was hard to get a sense of the stakes. Apart from occasionally killing off Chewbacca, the Star Wars status quo never experienced much of a seismic shift.

Now that Disney has done to the EU what the Death Star did to Alderaan, that's all changed.

Lords of the Sith is the fourth novel in Disney's Star War's canon, which booted up with last year's A New Dawn (micro review: it was okay). As far as quality, it is easily the best of the new canon, and it easily outstrips most of what Disney now refers to as Star Wars: Legends - the old expanded universe. If you like Star Wars and don't want to see spoilers, stop reading and buy the book - it's good enough. A brief summary follows.

Our protagonist, as seen on Star Wars: The Clone Wars


Our protagonist, Cham Syndulla, is the leader of a successful insurgency on the planet Ryloth. Ryloth - and its inhabitants, the Twi'leks - occupies an unfortunate position in Star Wars lore. It has been subject to multiple invasions to exploit its mineral wealth, and its people are considered chattel. The Empire - freshly minted at the point the Star Wars timeline - considers Ryloth to be no different. When the Emperor, and his sinister agent Darth Vader catch wind of rebel activity, they make a trip to Ryloth for the express purpose of snuffing it out. Cham, learning of this visit, commits all the resources of his (not inconsiderable) Rebel military to assassinating the Imperial leadership. I won't spoil what follows, except to say that this is some of the most awesome Star Wars action that has ever been committed to the page.

What surprises me the most, however, is that this novel isn't simply an exploration of how many adjectives one can use to describe a laser beam (searing, scintillating, coruscating, etc.). Cham is a conflicted protagonist. He has to constantly remind himself that he is, "a freedom fighter, not a terrorist," and he often flinches when faced with the reality that, when confronting the awesome military might of the Empire, he has to spend lives as though they were pennies.

The other great conceit of the novel is that it contains actual stakes. Star Wars fans have seen Cham before in the animated series, "The Clone Wars," but his fate isn't capped by any particular event. The author can do whatever he likes with the character, which is such a rarity in any licensed Star Wars property, and what he does, he does extremely well. Cham is easy to root for, and as he ever-more-desperately attempts to take on the two heavyweights of the Star Wars universe, an atmosphere of genuine dread pervades the novel.

This brings us to the book's one drawback: The Lords of the Sith themselves. Both are masterfully executed - Emperor Palpatine cackles and shoots lightning from his fingertips, Darth Vader broods and tries to forget his past as the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. However, if you were looking for genuinely new insights into their character and motivations, it's really all been written about before. That said, they both kick eloquently-written amounts of ass, which more than makes up for the drawbacks in characterization.

All in all, this is an excellent novel for a variety of reasons, chiefly the fantastic set-pieces and the well-drawn characters. Fans of the animated series will enjoy the nods to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Wars: Rebels. True devotees will scrutinize the text for hints to the upcoming movie, and neophytes might find this a good entry point as well. For any reader, this novel represents a fantastic keystone in the new Star Wars literary canon.

Although, for my money, the cover art is still bad as ever


Like my review? Buy the book!


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