Almost A Master Of Evil: James Luceno’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader

Cover art by David Stevenson. Copyright © 2005, Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Being a fan of Star Wars, I feel I have to be careful.  When I set up this site, I did not want to spend all my time talking about Star Wars when there are so many other SF&F works to review.  Plus, there’s the challenge of having to actually discuss works that aren’t already sitting on my bookshelf.

But there are stories that just demand to be told, so here’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno.

Set a few weeks after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Luceno chronicles the terrible state of the galaxy, as the Empire is ascendant, the Jedi Order is shattered, and civil liberties are being swept aside in the name of security.  The main conflict is between Darth Vader–the Sith apprentice to the newly-crowned Emperor Palpatine–and a pack of fugitive Jedi Knights who’ve barely escaped execution and are attempting to encourage resistance against the new regime.

It’s impossible to talk about this story without highlighting the spectacle that is Lord Vader.  Having cast aside his former life as Anakin Skywalker, he has not yet become the perfect image of evil that we see at the start of A New Hope.  Mr. Luceno shows us what a nightmare Vader’s existence is–to fight for control of his artificial limbs, to have a machine control his every breath, and to wield only a fraction of the power of the Force that he once enjoyed.  An important theme of this story is to show how Vader becomes Vader, rejecting his old humanity in his quest for power and conquest.

The other major theme of this story is about managing despair in such dark times.  For that, we follow Jedi fugitives Roan Shryne and Olee Starstone.  They make an interesting duo: Roan is cynical and thus more quickly adapts to the drastic changes of the New Order, while Olee is more bookish, idealistic, and therefore totally oblivious to the full extent by which their Order was betrayed.  Frankly, I felt more sympathy for Roan and less for Olee, who comes off as annoying, but that’s to be expected.  Olee has such a strong bias in favor of the Jedi that she cannot accept the terrible reality.

Dark Lord reveals the man in the machine that is Vader, just as it captures the trapped nature of the Jedi within the greater machine of the Empire.

Be sure to tune in on Thursday for another Star Wars novel review, one that’s been near and dear to my heart for a long time.

Bibliography: Luceno, James.  Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader.  New York: Del Rey Books, 2005.


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