There’s a rebellion in its infancy on Ryloth, home of the head-tailed Twi’leks, and the Emperor tags along with his Sith apprentice Darth Vader for some reason to go nip it in the bud.
That’s a basic synopsis of Lords of the Sith, the latest entry in the new Star Wars literary canon with the force of Disney’s mandate for unity between Star Wars movies, novels, comics and video games. The hardcover and e-book by Paul S. Kemp came out April 28, and here is my long overdue review.
Lords of the Sith takes place before both previous releases in the new lore, Tarkin by James Luceno and A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller — both of which are soon to be re-released in an omnibus edition called “Rise of the Empire” along with three pieces of short fiction.
Eight years into the New Order of the Galactic Empire, the human-cyber ruin formerly known as Anakin Skywalker is still making a name for himself as Lord Vader among both malconents and his own forces with his amazing and efficient feats of destruction. All who witness his exploits — Imperial and insurgent alike — are suitably amazed, and it’s equally amazing that no one connects the dots and realizes he’s a former Jedi. In fact, no one even seems to remember that there ever were any Jedi.
The Emperor has things well in hand, as we’re reminded over and over again, making you wonder why he even keeps Vader around except to avoid the heavy lifting (sometimes literally). There is some interesting exploration of the relationship between Sith master and apprentice, and the delicate facade that Palpatine has to maintain to keep his Force-armed Sith persona Lord Sidious a secret from most of his underlings. But it’s difficult to imagine Sidious actually seeing Vader as his heir, though he talks a good game about how the apprentice is expected to one day overthrow him. He ensnared Anakin with promises of helping him hold back death when he had someone to love forever, but now that’s gone and the pointlessness of Vader’s existence is like the proverbial bantha in the room. And yet still the buddy-bad-cop revenge-porn action-drama plays on.
Lords of the Sith neatly ties together the prequels with the Clone Wars TV series (Twi’lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla appeared on that show, and Anakin Skywalker served on Ryloth with his padawan Ahsoka Tano when the Jedi were trying to keep the Separatists from taking that world), as well as the newer TV series Star Wars Rebels, which features a grown Hera Syndulla, Cham’s daughter. (Hera got the novel spotlight in A New Dawn, recently released in paperback format.)
Cham’s struggle to see himself as a revolutionary leader and not a terrorist is well wrought, and it will be interesting to see if this foreshadows a similar soul-searching as his daughter’s campaign intensifies in Rebels’ second season and beyond.
There are also some interesting character portraits among the Imperial rank-and-file and functionaries, including a complicated Moff who could have a been a cookie-cutter villain and is notable for being the first LGBT character in the new canon, and the quick descent into madness of a duplicitous adjutant as events unfold and conspiracies come tumbling down.
Ultimately, while a lot happens in Lords of the Sith, there’s not much of a story, nor are there really any lasting consequences to build on that the canonical film and television adventures hasn’t already given us. There’s plenty of mayhem and massacres, making this a novelization for the greatest Star Wars video game never made.