Last week, I finished reading Shadow of the Sith, a new novel in the sequel-era of Star Wars that seems to pull together a lot of the story whisps that we’ve been getting pretty much since 2015 and The Force Awakens.
The book begins with a young couple, Miramir and Dathan, escaping from some nebulous threat with their young daughter Rey. Pirates attack, but they are saved by the New Republic. However, the New Republic squadron that helped them is unable to provide further shelter, so they are sent on their way to a former Alliance collaborator. Meanwhile, we meet Ochi of Bestoon, the Jedi hunter from Episode IX, who is trying to find the lost Sith planet of Exegol to heal himself. His chance comes when some Sith cultists arrive, telling him to bring them “the girl”, and giving him a Sith dagger that seems to be somewhat sentient.
While Ochi is recruiting muscle, he is overheard by Lando Calrissian, who decides he must help the family as he has been unable to rescue his own missing daughter, Kadara. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker travels with Lor San Tekka to Yoturba to investigate a possible Jedi Temple site, and discovers some fragments of kyber crystal along with a damaged Sith holocron. Luke has been plagued for weeks with visions of a dark wasteland planet, so travels to Tython where he has the strongest vision yet – indeed, it is only through his father’s spiritual intervention that he is able to return to reality. Lando arrives and recruits Luke’s help in tracking down the family, so they head to the New Republic base where they find out the family was given directions to the former collaborator.
However, Ochi almost beats them to it, but fortunately Miramir is able to hijack a ship and flee. Luke is attacked by a mysterious figure in a mask wielding a scimitar-shaped lightsaber, the blade of Darth Noctyss, who is clearly after the fragments of kyber crystal he has recovered. With the family gone, Luke and Lando travel to an acquaintance of the Jedi Master, a former Acolyte of the Beyond who is able to track ships through hyperspace. Komat is able to track the family to a refuelling station, but Ochi, with the help of the Corporate Sector Authority troopers, also gets to them. Turns out, Dathan has come up with a plan to deal with the pursuit once and for all – stealing Ochi’s own ship being part one. Thanks to Lando and Komat’s help, they are able to get away. Luke has left to track down his attacker, Kiza, and finds her in a ruined Trade Federation core ship. The mask she wears is possessed by an ancient Sith lord, and imbues her with power as the Sith aims to be reborn. During their fight, Luke believes both Kiza and the mask to have been destroyed and so returns to Lando in time to help the family to flee.
Miramir and Dathan return to Jakku, where they strike a deal with Unkar Plutt to look after Rey while they attempt to deal with their pursuers once and for all. Luke, Lando and Komat are confronted by the spectre of the ancient Sith lord using Kiza’s corpse to attempt to find a way to Exegol to be reborn, but Luke is able to destroy the mask and defeat it once and for all. Lando learns that the family have possibly travelled to Jakku, so follows them. However, Ochi has got there first, and already killed both the parents in orbit. Believing them to have hidden Rey on Pasaana, thanks to some beads Miramir dies holding, Ochi travels to the desert planet but, filled with the power of the Sith dagger, his judgment is clouded and he is swallowed by the quicksand there.
Luke and Lando bury Miramir and Dathan on a former smuggler’s hideout world, then travel to Pasaana where they find Ochi’s ship but the trail has seemingly gone cold. Lando decides to stay on-world to continue his search both for Rey and his own daughter, while Luke continues to build his Jedi Temple on Ossus.
There is a hell of a lot going on in this book, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. It does have a fairly narrow focus, with just Luke and Lando chasing after Rey’s parents, with some hijinks from Ochi along the way, but otherwise it’s not exactly a galaxy spanning epic in the vein of some of the Bantam books from years ago. But the story is dense, and there are so many call-backs (and call-forwards, if such a thing is, well, a thing) that I can’t help but love it.
First off, it does feel a bit like Rey’s parents are a bit of a mcguffin for the whole thing, and there’s no real character behind them. They’re obviously fleeing from something nefarious, but we don’t really get to know what. It is inferred that the Sith cultists from Exegol want him back, possibly because he is a loose end in Palpatine’s return, maybe because he could potentially lead people to Exegol, but it is never explicit, and after a while it begins to wear thin. I feel like I would have wanted more meat on those bones, but never mind. We do get the flashback scenes, where Rey is saying goodbye to her parents, and then reaching for the sky and their departing ship, which nicely serves to link into the sequel films in that way.
I think the main tie-in comes with Ochi from Episode IX, and of course, the droid D-O. The final chapters feel like everything is being tied into a neat little bow so that Ochi’s ship is waiting to be discovered, Lando is now living on Pasaana, etc. There isn’t really a timeline specific point for the book, much like all of the new novels, but we do know this book takes place before Bloodline. Given that the Rey flashback scenes take place here, and we’re told that she’s six years old, this places it thirteen years before The Force Awakens, or seventeen years after Return of the Jedi. So we can fix it in 21ABY, if we’re using the old calendar. In case you find it easier (like me!) to refer back to what happened during the Legends timeline, this book takes place after the Hand of Thrawn duology, but before Survivor’s Quest.
A lot of this book made me want to re-watch The Rise of Skywalker, I have to admit. The way it deftly sets things up so that a lot of the plot threads are woven into something more like a cohesive narrative is really quite nice. I really liked the addition of the Corporate Sector Authority, and the fact their soldiers are still called Espos made me smile. I like the fact that Lor San Tekka is given a little bit more of a role to play, although we still need something that deals with the Church of the Force, I feel! I would love there to be something that would pull together these sorts of spiritual elements, like the Guardians of the Whills and whatnot. But even while we get more blanks filled in with books like this, the post-Original Trilogy era still feels wide open and a mystery, which is more than a little annoying. I want more of the full galactic picture, you know? It feels like the focus is too narrow these days, and nobody wants to give us novels like the old Legends stuff that gave us an idea of what the galaxy was like. But I could go on about this all day.
I do also like the callbacks to those interludes from the Aftermath trilogy. While the books didn’t really inspire me, I think I most enjoyed seeing those interludes, as we did get more of that galactic scale from them. It’s where we first got to see the Acolytes of the Beyond (the acknowledgements actually refers to Kiza being Chuck Wendig’s character, I’d clearly forgotten the specifics there!) so I did like the fact that was drawn on. We get more on the role that Yupe Tashu played in the earlier trilogy, as well, which further helps to join things together. Star Wars has always striven to be one long narrative, and it’s something that really irritates me recently about the new canon stuff being all over the place, and almost existing in a vacuum. I think we had a tiny bit in Resistance Reborn, and now we’ve got this as well, so slowly things are beginning to cross-reference and give us that feel of it all being one big story.
Of course, there are still so many problems with the sequel trilogy, the book cannot remedy that. In fact, I was quite dismayed by the way Disney is handling the source material here, when Luke is fighting Kiza and says something along the lines of nobody is ever too far gone over to the Dark Side of the Force. I mean, what does Yoda say? “Forever will it dominate your destiny”? Is this the House of Mouse telling us that it’s all sunshine and rainbows after all? It’s just one line, sure, and I can kinda see Luke would maybe think that after redeeming his father, but as we’ve discussed already, he did that seventeen years prior to this novel. It’s not like he’s all that optimistic still, surely?
Definitely have to deduct a star for that slip up.
But otherwise, this book is pretty much the sort of thing I want from Star Wars. We’re getting a good space adventure with Luke and Lando, we’ve got the Sith working in the shadows to their own ends, and we’ve got some serious effort to draw elements from earlier books together and join up those dots. As a bonus, we even get some Ben Solo being undervalued action – I’m not saying I can totally see why he’d turn out a wrong ‘un, but it does make it easy to see how Luke’s treatment of Ben would leave the padawan susceptible to Snoke’s manipulations.
Possibly the best new Star Wars novel since Bloodline. I liked it a lot!