So, the second book in my collection that also contains “Tarkin” is “A New Dawn” by John Jackson Miller. “Tarkin” was a disappointment. “A New Dawn” is a disaster.
The big problem, for me, is that all of the characters are, essentially, cardboard cut-outs. Kanan Jarrus is arguably the main character … but has pretty much no actual connection to the main plot at all. He’s highlighted as a former Jedi who escaped the Clone Wars and has been in hiding ever since, but other than a few asides when talking about his history that fact is utterly irrelevant to the book. At the end, he uses Force powers after a big deal was made of his bringing his lightsaber, and the book is quick to point out that he still didn’t use his lightsaber … but it’s utterly irrelevant and, in the context of the book (there may be more in other media, but I’m not following them) it comes across as merely the author crowing about how they subverted expectations, as when the book makes a big deal about him bringing his lightsaber everyone expects that he’ll use it at some point … but he doesn’t, and instead uses levitation. Big deal. Also, his using Force powers isn’t all that big a deal given his history, as he was only really not using them to avoid detection; he didn’t seem to be the sort of Jedi who, in the aftermath, rejected the Force and/or just wanted to be normal again.
His personality is built around him now enjoying having fun, but his upbringing didn’t seem that repressed, and his moving to essentially a scoundrel type from a Jedi moves far too quickly. He’s even only getting involved, from both internal and external dialogue, because he thinks the semi-Rebel agent, Hera, is hot, or in some cases to protect or avenge the few people he actually likes. And there’s no real change at the end, as per Han Solo; at the end, the book still implies that finding Hera hot is the main reason he goes with her after the events of the book. This doesn’t make him a sympathetic character.
Hera, on the other hand, seems to fit the model of the Mary Sue: she’s so attractive that everyone wants her (again, Jarrus only gets involved because of how hot she is), she’s super-competent at everything, runs the entire show, is the most moral out of all of them, everyone keeps pointing out how impressive she is, and she even is explicitly told to fly craft because she’s better at it than the former Jedi who actually flies them regularly. Generally in Star Wars you get one or the other; either the Jedi flies over the non-Jedi with experience because of Jedi reflexes, or the non-Jedi flies over the Jedi because they’re used to flying the ships. She has neither, and is still better at it than the Jedi pilot. And beyond that, she has no actual personality. She’s there to be cool, and provides nothing else.
The two remaining semi-heroes are Skelly — a pretty standard conspiracy theorist type that no one likes (for good reason) who manages to die semi-heroically — and the Sullustan Zaluna, who at least gets some character development in that she’s an information gatherer who has always been, well, a snoop, which at least fits … but isn’t all that interesting beyond a momentary “Huh”.
The main villain, Baron Vidian, is essentially a comic book/cartoon villain, despite the set-up given in the short story with him and Tarkin. His plan is equally cartoonish: blow up a moon to get at the goodies inside, meeting the Emperor’s short-term goals while ruining it in the future. His physicality is over-the-top and mostly there to cause problems for direct attacks, and his plans and penchant for violence is itself, well, cartoonish. His main henchwoman — Captain Sloane — is as much a cardboard cutout as everyone else, but this would be acceptable in a Star Wars villain if it wasn’t for the fact that the book spends a lot of time on her, and her thoughts, and her situation … and at the end, we don’t know if she informed the Emperor of the issues due to morality or ambition, mostly because it seems that she herself doesn’t know. No, it’s not left ambiguous what her real thoughts are, it’s just that her thoughts as presented in the novel actually contradict each other. Again, it’s not that they can be interpreted that way, but in fact seem to directly contradict each other. Also, a female Star Destroyer captain with no comment on how rare and difficult that would be to achieve violates the EU stand that the Empire was sexist, which made it an even better Nazi analogy (as one of the reasons they lost WWII was because they only let women work in the factories late in the war, if at all, while the Western nations and the Soviet Union did that pretty much from the start). And if the novel had included that, it would have given her some much needed personality.
The plot is not strong enough to carry such weak characters, so for the most part I found myself not really caring about what might happen. There are little real surprises and plot twists, and the characters aren’t interesting enough for me to care about what happens to them. All in all, that made “A New Dawn” a very uninteresting book.