The following is the Star Wars Report’s review of Lords of the Sith, presented by Joseph Tavano of RetroZAP!
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice, Darth Vader, find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.
“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”
Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters—and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.
On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.
For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.
With Lords of the Sith Paul S. Kemp has written a wonderful book that is a true pleasure to read. (I told him so directly). I feel like Kemp must has relished the chance to write Vader and the Emperor doing something we have never seen before—going on an adventure. He nailed the voice of both of these characters, as well as the cadence of their relationship.
I see a consistency between the Palpatine of Revenge of the Sith and the Emperor of Return of the Jedi. His contempt and power are, well, palpable. Now deeply enmeshed in the dark side of the Force, this is the Emperor you expect: spiteful, challenging, and always in control.
Meanwhile, Darth Vader takes on the expected layers of complexity. Anakin is as gone as Anakin would ever be; Vader here is the personification of anger and a full devotee of the dark side. He accesses the Force only through anger, and any hint of his previous life brings only a cycle of pain and anger. What we, the audience, would see as a moment of clarity when Vader thinks of good things he once had, turns out to be a moment of distraction and confusion to Vader. It’s this turnabout of focus and worldview that shows us just how far gone Darth Vader is.
Internal struggle aside, Darth Vader is a mysterious wraith to the rest of the galaxy. He is the visage of death, unconquerable and rumored not to be human. Simply put—Darth Vader rips it up in Lords of the Sith. We see Vader the tactician; Vader the pilot; Vader the conquering warrior. Cham Syndulla and his crew are right to fear him. This isn’t the stiff figure of the OT, he can move with inhuman speed and power.
Kemp nails the relationship between the Sith master and apprentice.
Interestingly enough, Vader the Sith apprentice is a dual-edged sword. Again, Kemp nails the relationship between the Sith master and apprentice. The Emperor is forever needling Vader, stoking his anger and reminding him that he is a thrall to be destroyed at any time. And then there is Vader, who is an honest Sith apprentice; he is unflinchingly loyal to the power of his master, and at all times wondering if he can (and should) take him out. There’s more than a few tense moments where you wonder if the pot is going to boil over between these two. I’ll say no more.
Maybe it’s just me, but I do feel like there is one thing lacking from the Palpatine-Vader relationship—when does Palpatine ever actually train Vader in the dark side? There is nothing of that in this story; Darth Vader is a complete and fully trained dark side adept. I had expectations that at this point in the timeline (less than halfway through the Dark Times), that the Emperor would be imparting more knowledge of the Dark Side to Vader other than reminding him that he needs to be obedient. Perhaps some discussion about Force lightning? If and when Vader can use it? Why purple energy wind escapes from Palpatine’s body when he dies? The dark side is a path many things some would deem to be unnatural, and I want to know more about that path!
There is one criticism I do have, and it has nothing to do with Kemp or the novel specifically. When the new canon was announced about a year ago, I welcomed it as the great opportunity that it is to finally tell one coherent, canon, and legitimate Star Wars story. Now, the medium did not matter; all stories put forth by Lucasfilm would work together to tell the complete history of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
This changes the storytelling approach quite a bit. Authors did not have to be constrained to telling a Star Wars story where 1.) Things began in a familiar place 2.) New characters were introduced to tell a unique story and not overuse the major film players 3.) New characters take up a large portion of the book, but inevitably die or recede into the background 4.) The overall story of Star Wars is not impacted by the end of the book.
Why have the first four books in the new Star Wars canon not deviated from this formula? With the editorial input of the Story Group, these stories can be so much more. I want Star Wars books to answer canonical questions and tell powerful impactful stories that focus on the characters we love. I don’t want them to hint and scratch at such things—after almost forty years, it’s time to dive in. A cavalcade of new characters are on the way, you know. I think that authors would relish that opportunity, and I hope that this is a trend we are moving towards.
Read this book. It is a worthy entry into the new canon, and you will get a great perspective into the relationship between the Emperor and Darth Vader, and to me, that is always essential reading. Oh, by the way, there are also Royal Guards that get to see some serious action on the planet of Ryloth, a rebel cell lead by Cham Syndulla (you know, Hera’s father), and one of the most inventive attacks on a Star Destroyer I’ve ever read or seen.
Also, minor spoiler here:
Vader uses the Force to rip apart his enemies while flying a TIE fighter.
I hope Kemp gets the chance to write more Star Wars books. He has an ease with the galaxy far, far away that feels natural and intuitive. And, if we get to see more of the relationship between the Emperor and Darth Vader, I would want him to be the person to write it.