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Star Wars: Knight Errant
Author: John Jackson Miller Publisher: Arrow
Release Date: 17 February 2011 Price: £7.99
The Star Wars canon, as it stands today, is vast.
Over 5,000 years of the history of this galaxy far, far away has been fleshed out over the myriad of games, books, TV shows and comics released since A New Hope, and now the Expanded Universe can be said, without irony, to rival Middle Earth as one of the most abundantly detailed fantasy settings in existence.
This is largely thanks to George Lucas, of course; not simply because it was his fuzzy little head which first came up with the idea of this intergalactic struggle between good and evil, but also because he was so willing to allow others to take his creation and run with it.
As a result (and hateful Ewok movies notwithstanding) the Expanded Universe is home to many fine ancillary tales, arguably peaking –as far as literature is concerned – with Timothy Zahn’s brilliant Thrawn trilogy, which are seen by many as the sequels that were never made to the original films.
To escape the problems inherent in weaving new narratives into an already dense web of timelines, authors began to work in the times of The Old Republic, thousands of years before Darth Vader was even a twinkle in The Force’s eye. This yielded the opportunity and freedom to create entirely new stories with unknown characters with whose fates we are entirely unfamiliar. After all, if you read a novel about Han Solo you’re pretty certain he’s going to survive, aren’t you?
Knight Errant is set 1032 years before A New Hope and is the first novel by comic author John Jackson Miller, whose Star Wars career began with Dark Horse’s Knights Of The Old Republic series back in 2006. The events of this book follow directly on from the Knight Errant comics Miller penned last year, and follow the story of Kerra Holt: a young, lone Jedi stranded in Sith space.
The Sith of this era are wholly different entities from those we are familiar with from the films. Set before Darth Bane first introduced the ‘master and apprentice’ model of Sithdom, Knight Errant sees the individual lords squabbling amongst themselves to expand their territories at the expense of both their rivals and their enslaved, indoctrinated subjects. The Republic is barely a concern for these warlords; Republic space is a pocket of freedom nestled far away across the patchwork of warring factions, the Jedi nothing more than the instigators of sporadic shock-and-awe sorties into Sith space.
Kerra is the sole surviving member of one such raid. Now stuck on Darkknell, a planet deep into Sith territory and ruled by the young and ruthless Daiman, she is on a lone, self-imposed mission seeking revenge on the Sith responsible for her family’s death: Daiman’s psychotic brother Odion.
When sneaking around one of Daiman’s military testing facilities Kerra meets the similarly clandestine Bothan, Narsk Ka’Hane. Under the employ of Odion, Narsk is on a sabotage mission of his own; one with which Kerra becomes involved, and in doing so triggers a sudden war between the two brothers and other rival Sith attempting to exploit the power vacuum that will inevitably be left behind.
Jarrow Rusher, a mercenary brigadier who finds himself in the unfortunate position of relying on contracts from Daiman in order to stay in business, is employed in the war effort, and it is with Rusher who Kerra must form an uncomfortable alliance as she seeks to disrupt the Sith status quo on each planet on which she subsequently finds herself.
By far the most interesting aspect of the book is its depiction of the Sith, not as overlords, but as sole, selfish rulers operating for their own gain, not against the Jedi but each other. Marking an intriguing diversion from the inherent evil of later Sith, here each is simply finding the best way to thrive.
Some, like Daiman, utilise the ‘I am your GOD’ method to retain control over their minions, while others we encounter opt for less direct, but no less effective, methods. Each Sith lord Kerra encounters is interesting in their own right, and Miller clearly has fun creating a distinct cast-list of dark-siders, not all of whom are inherently evil.
Miller also crafts a narrative that sees the layers of their scheming gradually unfold to admirably complex effect, and with much more intelligence than one might expect.
Somewhat less successful is the characterisation of Kerra herself, however. She is quite unlike the stoic (dare we say, boring?) Jedi with whom we are familiar: she is headstrong, driven, angry, and potentially a captivating protagonist, yet throughout the book we never really see her character develop. Her personality traits lend themselves to temptation from the Dark Side, but this possibility is never explored.
Rusher’s character is also just the stock rogue-with-a-heart, and while none of the characters are ever dull they are just a little too easy to predict – the sense they are never in any real danger persists to rob the story of tension in an otherwise consistently involving tale.
However, to say this is Miller’s first novel, the prose and pacing are generally excellent, despite the odd description of ship or geographical layout leaving you a little vague as to their actual appearance. The format of a novel allows him to divulge the feelings and surprisingly deep histories of the characters with all the welcome detail denied to him when scripting restrictively brief storyboards, some of which can be seen in the centre pages.
There are, however, a few times when his comic roots bleed to the surface. The unwelcome use of exclamation marks at the end of descriptive (not spoken) sentences is annoyingly prevalent! And onomatapoeiac nonsense like ‘KRAKKA-BOOOM!!’ has absolutely no place in prose, children’s or otherwise.
And while it is in no way necessary to have a prior knowledge of the comics to read the book the novel’s place in a clearly larger story does deny it a sense of closure come the conclusion. There is no doubt that this is just the first novel of a series so this relative open-endedness is somewhat forgivable, if a little frustrating after committing to 327 pages.
The rich world-within-a-world Miller has created certainly leaves plenty of scope for further adventures, and after setting the scene so well we can only hope he gets proverbial pen to paper sooner rather than later. This is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Expanded Universe literature, and despite its flaws there is more than enough going for it to earn a recommendation.