Miller, John Jackson

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

3.8 out of 5

(17 books)

Star Wars: A New Dawn

11 BBY (although, technically, the old EU dating system no longer applies).  This standalone novel is the first book of Disney's rebooted Star Wars canon and tells the story of how two of the protagonists of the 'Rebels' CGI animated series meet; former Jedi Kanan Jarrus and fledgling rebel Hera Syndulla.

I won't lie to you, Disney's decision to erase the Expanded Universe from canon really pissed me off and I therefore had pretty negative presentiments towards this, the poster boy for the new canon.  However, having enjoyed Miller's 'Kenobi' immensely, I decided to give it a go.

With the unsubtley-named 'A New Dawn' Miller presents us with a perfectly enjoyable Star Wars adventure.  No more nor less than that.  I was surprised by how enjoyable a protagonist Kanan turned out to be too.  Here, having spent the majority of his life fleeing his Jedi heritage, he's a hard-drinking, brawling womaniser with a reckless streak.  Almost like he's an attempt at Han Solo, Jedi Knight.  Hera is less interesting overall but still makes quite a good foil to Kanan in that she's much more focused and driven but shares the same inherent goodness.

Also worthy of note is the villain of the piece, Count Vidian.  At first I was unimpressed by this ten-a-penny Imperial official but he soon proves himself to be a genuinely chilling antagonist.  In fact, I was shocked and haunted by the scene in which he shoves another character into a vat of industrial acid and then uses a pole to hold her under the surface.  A good Star Wars villain should definitely be the sort of evil bastard who we can't wait to see get his comeuppance!

Followed by A. C. Crispin's 'The Paradise Snare'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Kenobi

Set in the weeks after Episode III, 19 BBY, this book tells the story of two families of settlers on the harsh planet Tatooine and how their lives and plans for the future are forever changed by the arrival of the titular bearded exile.

Miller's prose writing has come on leaps and bounds since 'Knight Errant' and here he presents us with one of the Expanded Universe's best (and sadly last) novels.  His approach to the project, originally envisioned as a comic, is simple and inspired; Star Wars as a Western.  The harsh lives of Tatooine's settlers are a perfect cypher for a 'Big Country'-style epic Western and Kenobi couldn't possibly be a better 'wanderer with a secret past'.  With the Tusken Raiders taking the place of the Native Americans, warlike and misunderstood, all the pieces are there for a great story.

Bear in mind, however, that this is no sweeping epic across the stars with action at every turn.  Instead Miller gives us a slower-paced story in which we see the bantering Obi-Wan of the prequel movies begin to transition into the more pensive Old Ben of 'A New Hope'.  Perhaps most impressively, the author manages to capture the spirit of the performances of both Ewan MacGregor and Alec Guinness in how he writes the character here.

For me the only real downside to this book was the fact that Miller rather blatantly only references his own previous Star Wars stories.  In a scene where Obi-Wan is considering Jedi to use as examples for himself, of all the thousands of Jedi there have been, he just happens to specifically settle on Kerra Holt and Zayne Carrick.  Zero points for subtlety Mr Miller.

Followed by Karen Traviss' 'Imperial Commando: 501st'.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knight Errant

1,032 BBY.  Miller's first novel and a tie-in to his 'Knight Errant' comic book series.  Set just after 'Knight Errant: Aflame' this book follows Kerra Holt, a lone Jedi who finds herself adrift in Sith space and caught in the machinations of the various Sith Lords who rule there.

I'm not a fan of the trend of making the Sith numerous, feeling that it diminishes their individual potency (I guess I'm like Darth Bane in that respect), so I was a bit unsure going into this novel.  However, Miller has created a diverse group of Sith Lords, each of whom is unique in their philosophies and characters.  Similarly, Kerra Holt is an interesting protagonist.  She's not some moody on-the-edge-of-the-dark-side type but she's also not some over-powered Chosen One; she's simply a normal Jedi trying to do the best she can in a situation that's far beyond her.

It's not all good news though.  Miller's background in writing comics negatively affects the structure of the novel with the skip-a-bit-between-issues nature of the comic book media not translating well into the chapter divisions of a prose novel.  Something else the book has in common with comics is that we don't get a satisfactory tying-up of all the plot threads and will, presumably, have to buy the 'Knight Errant' comics to see what happens next.  My final gripe is simply that Kerra's bickering with the mercenary Rusher is both constant and constantly annoying.

Not a bad first novel but not everything it could have been.

Followed by 'Knight Errant: Deluge'.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knight Errant - Aflame

(Art by Federico Dallocchio, Ivan Rodriguez, Belardino Brabo and Marcio Loezer)

1,032 BBY.  Book one of three.  This first book of the series introduces us to Kerra Holt a Jedi who returns to her homeworld with a Jedi strike team only to rapidly find herself cut off and alone deep in Sith territory.  There she becomes caught between the competing plots of demented Sith brothers Daimain, who believes himself the universe's creator, and Odion, who wants nothing so much as to destroy all life.

At first I was dubious of trying to introduce a whole new era in the Star Wars mythos featuring a galaxy where huge areas are ruled by competing Sith Lords, but it actually falls into place quite quickly.  Inexperienced Star Wars readers should be warned that there are some similarities with the era of 'The Old Republic' and the two should not be confused (if it helps, this book is set in the era that leads up to Darth Bane's story).

Although this book is mostly just 'okay', where Miller makes a masterstroke is in the creation of Daiman and Odion, two equally insane villains whose diametrically opposed philosophies create a great sense of conflict into which Kerra must operate.

Followed by 'Knight Errant'.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knight Errant - Deluge

(Art by Ivan Rodriguez, Iban Coello, David Daza and Sergio Abad)

The second book of the series, set 1,032 BBY.  Following the events of the 'Knight Errant' novel, Kerra Holt continues to work to save the innocents trapped under the rule of the demented Sith Lords of the Grumani Sector.  She soon finds help in the Republic starfighter pilots of Grace Command but there is more to their story than Kerra realises and a new enemy has entered the fray; a ruthless Hutt crimelord.

This book, although not bad at any point, is not as good as either the first book of the series or its accompanying novel.  When Miller has gone to great pains to establish a diverse pantheon of Sith nutters it seemed a poor choice to divert the story to one about drug (sorry, 'spice') smugglers and Hutts.

However, there is a moment of redemption when the aforementioned Sith Lords form an unlikely alliance against the Hutt who is infringing on their territory.

Followed by 'Knight Errant: Escape'.

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knight Errant - Escape

(Art by Marco Castiello and Vincenzo Acunzo)

1,032 BBY.  The third and final book of the series.  Kerra Holt is forced to forge an alliance with Sith Lord Daiman in order to search for her lost parents and confront her true arch-enemy; Daiman's death-obsessed brother Odion.

This book is far superior to the rest of the series and is a slightly saddening example of where this series could have gone if it hadn't been cancelled.  Here we get to see what we've wanted all along; Kerra using her limited means to take the fight to the Sith.

We're also given all of the backstory that was previously missing, both regarding Kerra's parents and the origins of Daiman and Odion and their respective philosophies.  I particularly enjoyed discovering the cause of Odion's madness, adding depth to someone who could otherwise have come across as 'generic evil nutter #2'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Commencement

(Art by Brian Ching and Travel Foreman)

The first book of the KOTOR series is set amid the Mandalorian Wars, 3,964 BBY, eight years before the start of the popular 'Knights of the Old Republic' computer game.  The story focuses on Jedi Padawan Zayne Carrick, who is failing his training.  His luck turns worse when he finds his fellow Padawans murdered by their own Masters and is then blamed for the crime himself.  He flees into the underworld of the planet Taris and finds an unlikely ally in the criminal Gryph.  The book follows the fugitives as they attempt to avoid capture and discover the reasons behind the murders of the other Padawans. 

This is a very interesting story and is made all the better by the truth of why five Jedi Masters felt they had to kill their students, showing the confusion and fear sown by war and the dark side. 

Ultimately, though, I was a bit disappointed by this book.  It fails to capitalise on the potential of the Mandalorian Wars and doesn't make enough of it's connections to the KotoR games.  Fair enough, the writer has to save something up for the rest of the series, but I still felt disappointed.  Not played the computer games?  Then you're better off reading the 'Tales of the Jedi' series if you're after stories of the ancient Republic.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Days Of Fear, Nights Of Anger

(Art by Dustin Weaver, Brian Ching and Harvey Tolibao)

The third book of the series, set 3,963 BBY, begins with the main characters going their separate ways.  We then follow Zayne and Gryph as they seek their fortunes as restauranteurs on a planet called Serroco.  But when Zayne has a vision about the impending Mandalorian attack he is forced to place himself in the hands of the Republic Navy.  The second half of the book focuses on Jarael and Camper as they return to their homeworld, Arkania, and become embroiled in the plots of Lord Arkoh Adasca. 

This book has certain flaws, which heavily affect its enjoyability.  The most obvious is that it raises a great number of questions but answers very few of them, even ending on something of a cliffhanger.  The one that frustrated me the most was regarding Rohlan's reappearance; we're given enough to fill in some of the gaps, but we never learn (here at least) the truth.  I know that these issues are because this is part of an ongoing series, but the fact that it doesn't stand alone is annoying.  However, those specific issues aside, this book is a nice little read. 

Fans of the KOTOR games will be especially pleased to see the likes of Admiral Karath and Carth Onasi.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Daze Of Hate, Knights Of Suffering

(Art by Bong Dazo, Dustin Weaver and Dan Parsons)

3,963 BBY.  The fourth book of the series picks up the cliffhanger from 'Days of Fear, Nights of Anger', with Zayne and his friends in the clutches of Lord Arkoh Adasca.

I was very pleased to see the resolution of the Adasca plotline as it began to bore me very early on in the last book and continued to do so here.  In a time period where the Sith are about to rise again and the Mandalorian Wars are in full swing, it seemed stupid to focus so much time on someone who's basically just an unpleasant and ruthless businessman.  He was not a good antagonist in my book (or in these two books, for that matter).

It is the second half of this book, once Adasca is out of the way, where the story really finds its stride, with Zayne finally returning to Taris to join the resistance against the Mandalorian occupation.  Here we get to see Zayne properly confront one of the Masters who framed him for murder, a Jedi who is slowly losing her mind.  This story line actually gives us a mini-climax that the previous books have lacked somewhat.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most in this book was its increased links to the KOTOR games (plenty of familiar faces for avid games), with the high point being a young Twi'lek girl saying to Zayne "I'm Mission' to which Carrick replies "I'm Fool's Errand".

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Demon

(Art by Brian Ching)

3,963 BBY, book nine of ten.  The conclusion of the Crucible story arc sees Jarael confronting her past and making remarkable discoveries about her heritage before a showdown with Chantique, her dark mirror image.

This book wraps up the series as a whole (book ten is more of an epilogue) and does so very satisfyingly.  All of the mysteries which have continued throughout the preceeding eight books find their resolutions here, be it the truth about Rohlan and his relationship to Demagol, Jarael's mysterious past or the underlying romantic tension between her and Zayne.

So, whilst the Crucible storyline was never as entertaining as the Jedi Covenant one, we get a nice final chapter here that ticks all of the boxes it needed to.  It also manages to feature a surprising role for the lightsaber of Sith Lord Exar Kun.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Destroyer

(Art by Ron Chan, Brian Ching and Bong Dazo)

The eighth book in the KOTOR series, set 3,963 BBY.  Zayne Carrick and his friends decided to take the fight to a group of slavers known as the Crucible but when Zayne is captured he learns things about one of his closest allies that will tear their team apart.

Whilst this book in a definite improvement over 'Duelling Ambitions', the series continues to suffer from not having the Jedi Covenant or the Mandalorians as antagonists, with the Crucible being a poor substitute.  That said, however, I did enjoy the character of the Crucible's leader Chantique, who is very much a dark twisted reflection of Jarael.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Duelling Ambitions

(Art by Brian Ching, Bong Dazo and Dean Zachary)

Book seven of ten, set 3,963 BBY.  Freed from the false allegations of murder, Zayne and his companions begin travelling the galaxy in search of their fortunes and of people in need of their help.  Their travels take them into conflict with slavers, onto a ghost ship prowled by a serial killer and into a gladiatorial arena.

After the brilliant 'Vindication', this book feels like a real downturn for the series.  Most of the events in the story here could probably best be described as 'capers', which is a bit too light and pointless for a series which has already shown us it can tackle epic sweeping plotlines like the Jedi Covenant.

I did like the middle story, featuring a murder mystery in space, which has a suitably dark and forboding tone, as well as a satisfyingly violent conclusion.  But ultimately, its not enough to elevate the book as a whole.

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Flashpoint

(Art by Dustin Weaver, Brian Ching and Harvey Tolibao)

The second book of the KOTOR series, set 3,963 BBY, features the continuing adventures of fugitive Padawan Zayne Carrick and his friends Gryph, Jarael and Camper.  There are three story threads presented to us here and the first features the crew of the Last Resort being caught on a planet as the Mandalorians invade.  They are then forced into an alliance with Mandalorian warrior Rohlan Dyre, who is as much a fugitive as they are.  Now, ever since Boba Fett first appeared, Mandalorians have been cool.  With the recent expansion of their culture in Star Wars literature, they make for really good antagonists and that is very much the case here. 

The second story thread follows Jedi Master Lucien Draay and reveals some more of the mysterious Jedi Covenant who are pledged to prevent the return of the Sith regardless of the cost in lives.  The final part of the book shows how Zayne and his friends try to lay their hands on Gryph's ill-gotten gains, but instead come face to face with two bounty hunters and someone from the failed Padawan's past. 

This book contains what it's predecessor lacked; good use of the Mandalorian Wars and stronger connections to the KOTOR games.  The best element of this book?  Well, it's the fact that Miller keeps throwing up hints and red herrings about which of the characters is likely to go Sith.  Here we're presented with possible candidates for Revan, Malak, Traya and Sion. 

My favourite bit is where a cloaked individual (likely a pre-Sith Revan) is repremanded for proactivity by the Jedi Council and then later one of the members of the Covenant says "A Sith Lord could walk right in front of the Council and they'd lecture him about neutrality!".

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - Vindication

(Art by Bong Dazo, Brian Ching, Alan Robinson and Joe Pimentel)

3,963 BBY.  The sixth book of the series, following on from the events of 'Vector: Volume One'.  In this book Zayne Carrick and his allies finally go on the offensive against the secretive Jedi Covenant, gathering their allies for a strike against the Covenant's base on Coruscant.

'Vindication' represents the conclusion to the first act of the KOTOR comics, as Zayne exposes those behind his fall from grace.  However, there's a deeply satisfying twist in which the Covenant, ruthlessly trying to stamp out any possibility of the Sith returning, have a wolf in the hen house.

For me the whole 'blamed for a crime he didn't commit' thing had dragged on a little too far, so I was very pleased to get a genuinely thrilling and satisfying conclusion to that storyline in this book.  Here Miller treats us to everything we could possibly want from a Star Wars graphic novel; lightsaber duels, intrigue, starships in combat and Jedi under fire.  Truth be told, they might have been better off ending the series here as this is its high-water mark.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - War

(Art by Andrea Mutti and Pierluigi Baldassini)

3,962 BBY.  The tenth and final book of the series, serving more as an epilogue than as a conclusion (for that, read the last book 'Demon').  Here dedicated pacifist Zayne Carrick finds himself dragged into the frontlines of the Mandalorian War, first conscripted by the Republic and then recruited by the Mandalorians.  He then discovers a traitorous Jedi Master who plans to create an unstoppable army of Mandalorian Knights.

This book is an enjoyable standalone adventure for a somewhat more mature Zayne, finally taking us into a bit of the fighting of the ongoing conflict in a way in which most of the other books of the series studiously (and inexplicably) avoided.  I was also surprised to find myself enjoying the development of Dallan Morvis as a character, someone who in previous appearances has been little more than a reactionary annoyance.

The downside to this book stems from the fact that it's somewhat disassociated from the rest of the series, meaning that we don't get much of the stuff that we're used to, in particular Zayne's diverse group of friends, who barely feature at all.  For instance, I actually would've enjoyed seeing a bit more of Zayne and Jarael's relationship after it came to a head in the last book.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Lost Tribe Of The Sith - Spiral

(Art by Andrea Mutti and Pierluigi Baldassini)

Set 2,974 BBY, this graphic novel serves as a follow-up to Miller's Lost Tribe novellas (featured in the anthology 'Lost Tribe of the Sith - The Collected Stories').  In this book Takara Hilts, daughter of the Grand Lord of the Sith, finds herself forced into an uneasy alliance with the rebel Parlan Spinner to combat a reawakened ancient evil.

Having really enjoyed the novellas set on Kesh, I enjoyed this follow up and the chance to see a little bit more of the rather surprising Sith Lord Varner Hilts and his remade Sith Order.  Once again we're introduced to a new lost continent on Kesh but this time it leads to the discovery of the true history of the Skyborn, a Keshian myth which the Sith appropriated for their own devices.

Where a lot of Star Wars is good versus evil, here it's refreshing to see a story of slightly evil versus very evil, where you do find yourself rooting for the Sith of the Lost Tribe.  As well as being a follow up to the Lost Tribe novellas, this book also enjoys strong links to the 'Vector' books and Kevin J. Anderson's 'Jedi Academy - Leviathan'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Lost Tribe Of The Sith - The Collected Stories

An anthology of novellas set between 5,000 BBY to 2,975 BBY.  This collection of stories follow a group of Sith who crashland on a remote planet and over the ensuing years, decades, centuries and millennia remake the world in their of dark image.  The stories here offer significant background to the Lost Tribe of the Sith who go toe-to-toe with Luke Skywalker millennia later in the Fate of the Jedi series.

Between the 'Old Republic' subfranchise and the 'Legacy' comics I was frustrated by the concept of the Lost Tribe; yet another numerous group of Sith who've been hiding out in the shadows and who we're supposed to believe are as dangerous as the likes of Darths Vader or Maul.  However, Miller's take on Sith society makes them unique and uniquely compelling.  I genuinely enjoyed reading about these characters and how they cope not only with a hostile new world, but also with the violence and betrayal that lies at the heart of Sith society.

You have to remember that this is an anthology, however, as some readers I know have been put off by the broken narrative, originally thinking that they were getting into a novel.  However, the author's background as a comic book writer serves him very well in telling these vignettes set across millennia.

5 out of 5

Collaborations & Anthologies:

Star Wars: Empire - The Wrong Side Of The War (here)

Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View (here)

Star Wars: Vector - Volume One (here)

Read more...

Star Wars (here)