It is ironic that Disney, the new home of Star Wars, has acted somewhat like the evil Empire itself in declaring the so-called Expanded Universe non-canon. A big corporate broom has come in and swept away all that has gone before. The first salvo in the New Approved (if not entirely Improved) Canon is, of course, A New Dawn, which also serves as a lead-in to the Star Wars: Rebels animated series.
George Lucas himself began the Disneyfication of Star Wars with the child-friendly Return of the Jedi, with those adorable little Ewoks yub-nubbing in their own telly-movie trilogy (culminating in the aw shucks cuteness of Jar Jar Binks, but that is another story).
What surprised me about A New Dawn is that it is probably not as Disneyfied as the Empire would like it to be, which could be a welcome holdover from the grittiness and entangled storylines of the Expanded Universe.
There are welcome shades of grey to the depiction of the rise of the Empire, with a particularly brilliant touch being the portrayal of Vidian as a famous ‘efficiency expert’ and motivational business lecturer. That he is more cyborg than human, of course, does not detract from his, er, efficiency, for when did the Empire ever quibble over something like humanity?
This is a colourful tale that teeters in the direction of fantasy rather than SF, particularly with the overly fanciful descriptions of the thorilide mining operation in the Gorse/Cynda system, not to mention that the planetary dynamics of this particular solar system are rather glossed over.
Vidian refers to Kanan as ‘gunslinger’, and while there is definitely something Wild West to Star Wars, a writer like John Jackson Miller has to be careful not to paint Kanan as too much of a louche. There is a seedy side to the Empire and the first flickers of rebellion, an anarchic dissolution, that can only be hinted at in broad strokes.
Hera is perhaps the least carefully delineated character here, as she has to bear the brunt of the background sexism and implicit patriarchy in this universe. She certainly has her work cut out in taming the overflowing testosterone of a character like Kanan.
At the end of the day, John Jackson Miller has delivered a perfectly adequate, if not scintillating, initial instalment in the New Canon. He does a great job of adding texture to what is essentially a cartoonish depiction of the ongoing battle between good and evil, where the good guys like Kanan inevitably have to have a hint of this evil in their own characters in order to fan the spark of rebellion.
That such careful gradation is achieved much more successfully in the written form of Star Wars than on the screen to date, especially with the later trilogy, reveals the hope riding on J.J. Abrams’ shoulders that The Force Awakens will, indeed, be the new dawn that all fans are longing for.