We are just a month away from The Force Awakens, I have my movie tickets, and I am finally entering the New Official Canon! If you’re just joining me, the previous novels in the Star Wars franchise–formerly called the “Extended Universe,” now called “Star Wars Legends”–were never officially part of the same continuity as the film universe. However, since we now have a new movie coming with its own continuity and its own future, the old material was rebranded and a new series of books, comics, and television episodes were created to fill out the background.

This new crop of tie-in material is called “Journey to The Force Awakens,” and its first full-length novel is John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn. The story takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, and follows a handful of new characters banding together to create what would eventually become the Rebel Alliance. . . The planet Gorse and its accompanying moon Cynda are rich with a natural resource called “thorilide,” a vital component in the construction of Imperial Star Destroyers. At the start of the novel, the miners on Gorse and Cynda are preparing for an inspection led by Count Vidian–a thuggish cyborg more interested in having his will obeyed than literally anything else. He’s there because the Empire needs more thorilide, and fast, possibly faster than the miners can obtain it even if they jettison all their safety measures and triple their speed. The reason for this sudden rush is the Empire is building something much bigger and more destructive than a fleet of Star Destroyers: a planet-sized battle station designed to wipe out entire star systems. This is never stated outright, but it’s heavily implied, and any good Star Wars geek will pick up the hints.

Like Miller’s previous book, Kenobi, this one focuses on a cast of unfamiliar characters in a single location, rather than reaching across the cosmos to a number of different storylines and perspectives. This one is a special case, however, because it was conceived as a companion book to the Star Wars Rebels television series. Basically, the book is a prequel to the show, the first season of which you can find here. I haven’t watched any of Star Wars Rebels yet, or its predecessor, The Clone Wars, but this book was a lot of fun.

One of Miller’s greatest strengths is handling a sizeable cast of characters and giving them all fresh, distinctive personalities that you immediately start to care for, even when they aren’t the best people. One of my favorites was Skelly, a hilariously self-righteous, paranoid Clone Wars veteran who tends to blow things up to prove his point when people won’t listen to him–which is a lot. The two main players are Kanan Jarrus, a half-trained former Jedi who is basically what Han Solo would be if he’d flunked out of the Jedi Academy for mouthing off too much; and Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek renegade intent on finding all the potential Rebels she can. These last two are the main characters in the television series, as I understand it, and they’re both natural leaders determined to find a better way of life than simply bending to the Empire’s will. Although in Kanan’s case, he needs to be coaxed into action a little more, content to be left alone if at all possible.

Having read both this and Kenobi, I feel like I can comfortably call John Jackson Miller one of my favorite authors in the Star Wars universe, both past and present. He’s excellent at the three things most important to me when telling an entertaining story: character development, atmosphere, and a well-paced plot. The action is frequent enough that it feels like the story’s moving quickly, but never so much that you feel overwhelmed by it, and the twists in the plot hit at just the right moments. It flew by at 367 pages, and I would happily read it again. Most importantly, this book got me excited for The Force Awakens. Not that I wasn’t excited before, but now I’m counting down the days, hours and minutes. Let the movie marathon begin!

Next time, it’s a Two-for-One Skywalker Special: Heir to the Jedi, by Kevin Hearne; and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, by Matthew Stover

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