A New Dawn was the first adult novel from the new Star Wars canon, released over a year prior to The Force Awakens hit cinemas and one month before the first episode of Star Wars Rebels aired. In it, we spend time with Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus six years prior to the beginning of the Rebels TV show, and learn how they came to meet when they were thrown together to save the planet of Gorse and its moon, Cynda.
Gorse and Cynda are mining colonies filled with rough types who work hard and dirty jobs that pay them just enough to drink their unhappiness away every night, and it is here that we find Kanan at the beginning of A New Dawn having become, perhaps, a little too fond of the booze and brawls lifestyle. An Imperial inspection soon shakes things up for Kanan with the arrival of Imperial advisor Count Vidian. Vidian is a half-cyborg famous across the galaxy for his business acumen and ability to improve production at factories and other Imperial facilities. His next target is the Gorse system which produces thorilide (a material used to build shock absorbers for turbolaser cannons – a detail I really enjoyed for its specificness) for Imperial construction. Given its massive expansion at the time of A New Dawn, the Empire needs more and more thorilide at faster and faster rates, and Vidian is determined to see that they get it and keep his reputation intact, no matter the consequences for Gorse, Cynda, and the people who call them home.
Following Vidian is Hera Syndulla. At the point of A New Dawn‘s opening, Hera is a solo operative working purely to gather information. She’s learning all she can about the Empire and its operations, and also picking up information on people who are unhappy with the new regime and ready to shake things up. She’s not ready to start actively rebelling just yet but is casting her net out across the galaxy to find the people, places, and resources she needs to begin something big. At this point in her arc, Hera is actually somewhat naive, thinking of the Empire more in terms of an unpleasant employer than something actually evil, but the events of A New Dawn begin to open her eyes to the scale of the atrocities it is willing to commit and that speeds along her timescale by necessity as she comes to realize there will never be a perfect moment when everyone is ready to begin rebelling.
Hera and Kanan’s paths cross after Kanan’s mining colleague Skelly – a known trouble maker with good intentions – detonates an explosive charge in a mine on Cynda in an attempt to demonstrate the dangers of the invasive mining techniques the Empire wants to use. Only Skelly’s plan backfires. His demonstration does indeed show that Cynda itself will be at risk if large detonations continue, but where Skelly saw disaster for the moon, its workers, and the people of Gorse, Vidian sees the potential to curry favor with the Emperor and rid himself of a competitor. Soon, Kanan, Hera, Skelly, and a former mining surveillance operator named Zaluna are forced to work together to stop Vidian enacting a plan which will have apocalyptic consequences for Gorse and Cynda.
I really enjoyed A New Dawn. This is a story that allows us to see the Empire at a relatively young age, its tendrils still creeping out into the galaxy as its influence spreads ever further from Coruscant. This is also a galaxy not yet aware of the cruelty its new rulers are capable of. The people of Gorse, and even Hera to an extent, still believe that the Empire is working for the good of the galaxy as a whole, just with more draconian methods than they are used to. Skelly actually welcomes the arrival of Count Vidian and his entourage, believing he will be able to show Vidian his projections of catastrophe and have the Empire put a stop to the dangerous practices on Cynda in order to improve safety. His shock when he realizes the Empire is happy to kill not just individuals but entire populations simply to increase production rates and further their own ends is tragic. Only Kanan, whose youthful experience as a Jedi padawan have shaped his outlook, really sees the Empire for what it is, and his desire to keep those memories repressed means he keeps that information to himself most of the time.
While Hera is recognizably Hera in A New Dawn, just a younger and more naive version of the character we saw in Rebels, Kanan is frequently unrecognizable. The Kanan of these pages is a very long way from his padawan roots as Caleb Dume and he is actively seeking to hide from his past, not only physically to keep him safe from the Empire, but also mentally. During one passage, he notes to himself that whenever he feels himself taking a course of action that Caleb would approve of, he knows he is making a bad choice. However, no matter how he acts or what he tries to make himself believe, Kanan and Caleb share the same heart and Kanan cannot bear to see people hurt when he has the opportunity to intervene.
Again and again, throughout A New Dawn, Kanan risks exposure and unwelcome attention by stepping into the fray to help others, and it is this that makes Hera really see him as a potential ally. Their initial interaction is not how I pictured it, with Kanan acting more infatuated teenager than calm and collected Jedi, but their relationship is an enjoyable thread woven through the story. I enjoyed seeing Hera’s impressions of Kanan slowly shift as he changes in her eyes from gadabout with a heart through to a potential partner, and the end point for their relationship as this story concludes is entirely believable, allaying my fears that their partnership would feel rushed in order to go from meeting to teaming up in the course of a single book.
Vidian is an in interesting new villain, and I was pleased to note a young Captain Rae Sloane making an appearance here too on the Imperial side of things. I’m always wary of new villains being brought into the novels as it’s so easy to fall back on standard tropes that give them Sith powers, and just how many dark side Force users are we supposed to believe materialized at the rise of the Empire? Vidian is different, and I was pleased that we were given a surprisingly detailed background for him that helped his increasingly self-serving motivations throughout the story make sense. Physically, he reminded me in many ways of General Grievous but without the obvious outward health issues. I can’t help wondering if the technology used to create Vidian’s cybernetic body parts are an improved version of those used on Grievous, although the timeline suggests that Vivian’s enhancements may well have been completed before Grievous’.
All in all, I enjoyed this trip back to the early days of the new canon thanks to A New Dawn. It made me want to do a re-watch of Star Wars Rebels in order to see the growth of Kanan and Hera once again, and it also made me even more excited to read Alphabet Squadron in a couple of weeks time where I’ll get to read about an older, New Republic era Hera.
Despite being based on a TV show aimed at kids, this is definitely an adult novel and some of the violence may be a little much for younglings – one death, in particular, was very shocking – so I would advise parents to read through first to determine if the book will be suitable for their younger readers. I would absolutely recommend A New Dawn to adult Rebels fans and other mature readers, however, you don’t need to be a fan of the show to enjoy this one.