Coming in as one of the new titles to relaunch the canonical expanded universe, Paul S. Kemp’s Star Wars: Lords of the Sith is an interesting examination not only of where the galaxy is a short time after Emperor Palatine has established the rule of his iron-fisted Galactic Empire, but also of the deeper, more meaningful self-reflection of who certain characters are and what their identities mean to them. Cham Syndulla, one such character, spends a great deal of this novel toying with the concept of his actions as a warrior of freedom for the Twi’lek home world of Ryloth. To him, he’s trying to do good by his people, but contemplates more than once if his motivations are pure, or if he’s using the guise of hero to conceal his terrorist actions. Another, lesser known character that goes by the name of Darth Vader utilizes a lot of his time in this book reflecting on the person he was and the choices he made to be, essentially, the right hand of God. Moreover, since he is a Sith, and “Sith” is in the title, it only made too much sense that he would consider on a few occasions what would happen if the Emperor somehow “accidentally” fell onto the end of his lightsaber. In all actuality, it was the moments of Vader dwelling on his past and thinking about what it means to be part of the Dark Side of the Force that really brought strength to this story. Unfortunately, just like a womp rat in the sights of Luke Skywalker’s T-16, everything else in Lords of the Sith gets shot down.
From how the novel is initially advertised, Kemp’s selling point for this tale is supposed to be Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader hunted by what could be described as the precursor to the Rebel Alliance; Cham Syndulla’s “freedom fighters.” Sadly, this is not exactly the case. The movement for freedom on Ryloth spends a great deal of time going over ways to ensnare the dastardly duo, sure. They plot, devise, and develop incredible machinations, but ultimately that’s all they’re doing, is planning. It almost feels as if Kemp knew he had a certain page count he needed to fulfill, but ran out of material halfway through, so decided he had to drag out some of the boring parts by adding things that would make them “exciting”. On top of that, the actual hunting aspect of this piece was disappointingly underwhelming. It’s a bit unfair to say the two Sith Lords never seemed to be in any real danger since they obviously go on to appear in films and literature set after this foray, but that’s really what the issue boils down to. Both the Emperor and Vader were placed into a couple of hazardous situations, yet there was never a feeling of dread or concern about their fates. If anything, the story tells us more than once that this whole situation is actually controlled and everything happening is due largely in part to a certain figure allowing it. Jeez, talk about taking the power cell out of your E-11 blaster rifle.
Another area that showed a great disturbance in the Force for this novel was the cast of supporting characters, namely Isval, a female Twi’lek aligned with Cham and his band of freedom fighters. In a story dominated by exploding Star Destroyers, giant, killer insects, and a full-on rebellion, Isval gets put front and center less than she deserves. In fact, she has such an intriguing and dark backstory involving a wretched hive of scum and villainy, it’s almost a shame the entire novel isn’t about her. Keeping up with the disappointing tone though, the second half of Lords of the Sith sees her slide into more of a glorified extra role instead of someone who can stand out on their own, and it’s really a letdown given the strength she demonstrates throughout key points of the story. Other characters that fall victim to being glorified extras include Belkor Dray and Moff Delian Mors, the latter being a high ranking Imperial officer that’s almost completely forgotten about in the climax of the story.
By the end of Lords of the Sith, all interest in what’s actually happening is lost, and not just because it seems like things are being rushed together for a spectacular closing point. Darth Vader, a person known for his powerful presence and commanding demeanor, slips out of character more than once due to what feels like irregularities in his speech pattern. Combine that with the author’s need to constantly inform the reader of the Sith Lord’s asthmatic breathing and suddenly any resemblance to the terrifying figure everyone remembers seeing for the first time on the Tantive IV is replaced with a skinny guy sucking on an inhaler. The Emperor’s attitude, if this is even possible, comes off almost too pleased with himself, like he stole the last cookie from the cookie jar and knows you can’t do anything about it. The resolution for Cham Syndulla seems patchworked at best, and very similar to a person who gets through their problems hemming and hawing until someone tells them what to do. All in all, Paul S. Kemp’s Star Wars: Lords of the Sith delivers on exploring the inner workings of both Darth Vader and his relationship with Emperor Palpatine, but falls short of giving readers an experience worthy of something set in a galaxy far, far away. If you pick up this title and hear a voice telling you, you’ve got a bad feeling about this, listen to it, you may be more attuned with the Force than this story is. ~~ Michael Flanders
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