Star Wars – Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (2005)
By James Luceno
Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader is James Luceno’s literary sequel to Matthew Stover’s novelization of Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Along with Stover’s book, Luceno’s 2005 novel forms, with his own Episode III prequel Labyrinth of Evil, a complete story arc that explains the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the machinations of Darth Sidious/Supreme Chancellor Palpatine as he seeks to transform the dying Republic to a totalitarian Empire.
Interestingly, Luceno chooses to begin Dark Lord during the final hours of the Clone Wars as clone troopers led by Jedi Master Roan Shryne and five other Jedi are landing on the Separatist world Murkhana. Unlike many of the planets in the Outer Rim of the galaxy, Murkhana is one of the host worlds of the now dead Count Dooku’s Confederacy of Independent Systems, home of Passel Argente and a military base full of battle droids, droidekas, and humanoid mercenaries willing to fight against the Republic for huge sums of credits.
Along with his contingent of Kamino-bred clones, Shryne arrives on Murkhana with Bol Chatak, an Iridonian Zabrak Jedi Master, and her human Padawan, Olee Starstone. And at first everything seems to go well even after this Jedi-clone contingent loses contact with the other Jedi team assigned to this Outer Rim siege. Shryne, although his Force powers are somehow unfocused and diminished, leads his Grand Army of the Republic troops on a successful mission to destroy a Separatist shield generator that’s impeding a larger invasion force from a fleet of Republic Star Destroyers.
Little does the trio of Jedi realize that this last battle will be the end of their heretofore-strong relationship with the clone troopers. Commander Salvo, the senior officer on scene, has received an encrypted transmission from Supreme Chancellor Palpatine:
“Execute Order Sixty-Six.”
Kill the Jedi.
But when Salvo relays Order 66 to a small team of clone commandos led by a trooper named Climber, he is faced with an unpleasant bit of insubordination. Climber is too loyal to his Jedi comrades to kill them in spite of his inbred clone’s obedience to the chain of command. Thinking that it could be, at the very least, a Separatist trick or, at the very worst, an immoral command from Coruscant, Climber and his small team temporarily disable their clone comrades and help Shryne, Chatak, and Starstone to escape, consequences be damned.
Inevitably, word of this mini-mutiny reaches Emperor Palpatine on the newly designated Imperial Center, formerly known as Coruscant. As the three fugitive Jedi play a deadly game of hide-and-seek with Salvo’s clone troopers – now known as “stormtroopers” – Palpatine assigns his young apprentice Darth Vader to discipline Climber and – if possible – find and eradicate the three missing Jedi.
Several weeks have passed since Anakin Skywalker’s betrayal of the Jedi Order and his acceptance of his new title of Darth Vader and his pledge of fealty to Darth Sidious. He is also still recovering from the devastating injuries he suffered at the hands of his former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi during their duel on Mustafar. Three-fourths of his body and vital functions are now artificial, making him more machine than man – a cyborg similar to General Grievous.
Yet Vader is still not quite the powerful Dark Lord of the Classic film trilogy. At this point in time, he is still caught between his Skywalker past and his possible Sith future; powerful in the Force still but with his skills now hampered by the limitations of the Suit he now must wear for the rest of his life. Worse, he suspects that Darth Sidious has been manipulating him for years just as he manipulated the Trade Federation, the Separatists, Count Dooku, Grievous, and even the Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars with the sole purpose of gaining total control of the galaxy. Vader – or what little remains of Skywalker in his heart – even wonders if Sidious is relieved that his apprentice is a shadow of his former healthy and vital self.
Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader focuses on the first few weeks of Lord Vader’s life as a black armored Sith Lord and his pursuit of Jedi who survived the implementation of Order 66, especially Roan Shryne and the almost-too-idealistic-for-her-own-good Olee Starstone. And in chronicling Vader’s obsessive quest to hunt and destroy his former comrades, Luceno does a remarkable job of portraying the newly-minted Sith Lord as he shakes off some of the post-trauma depression he feels after Mustafar and starts growing stronger in the dark side of the Force.
Luceno also excels at blending details established in both trilogies, particularly those related to characters and situations established in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope. We get to see, for instance, the beginning of the uneasy alliance between Wilhuff Tarkin and Vader; Palpatine has assigned Tarkin to oversee the construction of the yet unnamed Death Star, and Vader has to help him acquire slave labor to speed up progress of this secret enterprise.
We also are given insights into the even more dangerous rancors’ dance that is the Master-apprentice relationship between Palpatine/Sidious and Vader. Emperor Palpatine wants a powerful acolyte to serve as the Empire’s public face and personal emissary, while Vader seeks Sith knowledge and power to become even stronger in the dark side of the Force…until he is ready to overthrow the Emperor with his own Sith apprentice. Finally, Luceno gives us brief but revealing glimpses into the lives of Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Luke Skywalker.
In this excerpt from Dark Lord, Luceno shows a suspenseful meeting between Vader and Bail Organa on Alderaan:
”You are Lord Vader?” Organa asked.
“Senator,” Vader said, inclining his head slightly.
“I demand to know why you’ve come to Alderaan.”
“Senator, you are in a position to demand nothing.”
The vocoder built into his mask added menace to the remark. But, in fact, for the first time Vader felt as if he were wearing a disguise – a macabre costume, as opposed to a suit of life-sustaining devices and durasteel armor.
As Anakin, Vader hadn’t known Bail Organa well, even though he had been in his company on various occasions, in the Jedi Temple, the corridors of the Senate, and in Palpatine’s former office. Padme had spoken of him highly and often, and Vader suspected that it was Organa, along with Mon Mothma, Fang Zar, and a few others, who had persuaded Padme to withdraw her support of Palpatine prior to the war’s finish. That, however, didn’t trouble Vader as much as the fact that Organa, according to stormtroopers of the 501st, had been the first outsider to turn up at the Temple following the massacre, and was lucky to have escaped with his life.
Vader wondered if Organa had had a hand in helping Yoda, and presumably Obi-Wan, recalibrate the Temple beacon to cancel the message Vader had transmitted, which should have called all the Jedi back to Coruscant.
Aristocratic Organa was Anakin’s height, dark-haired and handsome, and always meticulously dressed in the style of the Republic’s Classic era, like the Naboo, rather than in the ostentatious fashion of Coruscant. But where Padme had earned her status by being elected Queen, Organa had been born into wealth and privilege, on picture-perfect Alderaan.
Mercy missions or no, Vader wondered whether Organa had any real sense of what it meant to live in the outlying systems, on worlds like sand-swept Tatooine, plagued by Tusken Raiders and lorded over by Hutts.
He felt a sudden urge to put Organa in his place. Pinch off his breath with a narrowing of his thumb and forefinger; crush him in his fist…But the situation didn’t call for that – yet. Besides, Vader could see in Organa’s nervous gestures that he understood who was in charge.
He had power over Organa, and over all like him.
And it was Skywalker, not Vader, who had lived on Tatooine.
Vader’s life was just beginning.
As a writer, Luceno excels at getting the details of the characters and situations just right. All of his prequel era novels plus his e-book Darth Maul: Saboteur closely resemble George Lucas’s vision for the films. When Luceno writes dialog for an established character such as Darth Vader, Bail Organa, or Obi-Wan Kenobi, the reader can almost hear James Earl Jones, Jimmy Smits, or Ewan McGregor “reading the lines.”
Luceno is also adept at description; every detail of a large battle, such as the book’s opening chapters set on Murkhana, is so vivid and visually true to the Star Wars saga that the only thing missing is John Williams’ musical score.
Readers will like this novel not just because Luceno’s style is elegantly simple without dropping to ridiculous levels of minimalism, but because Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader has a well-balanced mix of action, political intrigue, and interesting insights into characters whose ultimate fate we know from having seen the six films of the Star Wars series. Luceno somehow manages to throw subliminal references that recall the entire saga from beginning to end, giving readers a wonderfully entertaining and satisfying literary romp in the Star Wars galaxy.
- Publisher: Del Rey
- Release date: November 22, 2005
- Original edition format: Hardcover
- Pages: 336