I was able to finish reading Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. It was entertaining, and like most Star Wars novels, I was able to finish it quickly, but I also thought it was missing the heart that appears so clearly in Star Wars The Clone Wars (television series) and Star Wars Rebels.
“A New Dawn” introduces Kanan and Hera who are two of the mains in Star Wars Rebels. We meet them both in a different part of their life, when Kanan has less purpose and Hera is not quite as tempered as she appears in Rebels.
It’s always hard to do that, to go back, when the audience is probably more familiar with these established characters that they already know and love.
I think it would be easier to do that if Miller hadn’t decided to ostracize certain members of the audience immediately off the bat.
Star Wars has always had an issue with ableism, and A New Dawn does nothing to contradict that, or to undo it. Obi-Wan speaks of Darth Vader that he is more machine now than man in a manner that suggests that this has something to do with his evil doings. The same sort of context is used repeatedly in describing Count Vidian, the primary villain in the novel. He is a man who murders indiscriminately, who would destroy entire moons to establish himself and his authority, and who would not hesitate to commit genocide. He is described as a “human droid” and the author took great care to detail how unnatural he appeared with his synthetic skin and his cyborg parts.
Another character named Skelly was a war veteran who had lost an arm. His prosthetic was made for a species not his own, and it doesn’t function correctly because the hospital was not well equipped. I feel like this would have been a very good way to discuss when people do not have the resources to access proper medical care–whereas Vidian had vast resources at his disposal–but that never happened. The focus was always on the presence of the prosthetics and did not open a discussion about access to health care.
Even Skelly is contextualized as crazy. Throughout the novel, he attempts to make his point by bombing the mining facility and the town, and even though he shows regret, and even though no one dies from it, it left a sour taste in my mouth, especially since he dies at the end.
There really is no reason for this, and it lacks a nuance that emphasizes able bodied people as the good guys and the ones who survive.
The other ostracizing moment for me was the depiction of Kanan as aggressively straight. The captain of the star destroyer who brings Count Vidian to Gorse is a woman of color, whom he immediately flirts with over the radio. Kanan immediately flirts with Hera. Hera’s physical appearance is perpetually emphasized through the eyes of multiple male characters–which I thought was especially unfortunate considering how frequently the Twi’lek women have been sexualized throughout all of the Star Wars franchises. It felt to me that the author was assuming a heterosexual man would be reading this, not a woman, certainly not a nb lesbian such as myself.
It also affected the way that Hera herself was written. She had several view points throughout the novel, but I felt that she lacked depth and complexity compared to Kanan’s.
In the forward, Dave Filoni wrote the following:
So how do we move forward? And how do we make sure we get it right? Very simply, we trust in the Force, and we trust one another. We came together as a group and found the best talent: people who, like you and me, love Star Wars and want to make it great. Who want to capture the feeling that it gave all of us, that inspired all of us. More than at any other time in its existence, new Star Wars stories are being told every day. More important, the old concept of what is canon and what isn’t is gone, and from this point forward our stories and characters all exist in the same universe.