Star Wars : Lords of the Sith - Like Kylo Ren, it's a fluffier piece of the Dark Side.
After watching The Force Awakens, I've found myself stuck in a Star Wars head space. Trying to get into other worlds and places has been tough, as the old noggin keeps going back to the adventures of Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. Looking for a bit of a palate cleanser, I decided to give the Lords of the Sith novel a try.
This isn't really a review of the book, and it's pretty much spoiler free, it's more of a summation of thoughts I had whilst reading. Also, while I'm touching on The Force Awakens (and the character of Kylo Ren in particular), I won't be spoiling the events of the movie.
Lords of the Sith is all about our favorite pair of baddies, Darth Vader and his master Emperor Palpatine. The book tries to shine a light on the complexities of their relationship, show what their dynamic looks like to the rest of the galaxy at large, and dwell on the concept of what the villains do when they aren't being accosted by heroes. The story itself takes place before the events of A New Hope, and gives us a Darth Vader that is still in the process of creating his legend as a figure of terror and destruction.
That's what stuck out at me the most. This is Darth Vader before the entirety of the galaxy was terrified of him. His name is whispered, but nobody truly *knows* who he is and what he's capable of. Rumors swirl, of course, but the book actually lets us see the imposing Dark Lord from the eyes of people just learning how scary he is. It's almost refreshing to see him from this viewpoint. A terrifying figure of power, but one that still needs to show it. Instead of the relative passivity we see from him in the original trilogy, we see Darth Vader working to create his own legend.
And that's where I feel like it parallels well with Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. Full disclosure: I love Kylo Ren as a character. He's not Darth Vader. He may want to be, but he's still at that point where he's struggling to become that level of legend. He's bad, he does bad things, he can be scary and intimidating, but he doesn't have that sheer aura of menace that radiates off of him. At least not yet. He's a human being trying to fill an inhuman role, and to me that's just innately interesting. For a series that deals in absolutes (light versus dark, good versus evil, right versus wrong), we have a character that really struggles to be an absolute, and ends up feeling watered down. That's actually a good thing.
Darth Vader in Lords of the Sith is similarly struggling. Oh, he's Evil, with that capital E. This is a Vader nowhere near redemption, where the ghosts of his past don't so much haunt him as mildly annoy him. But he's also a Vader that doesn't have a set place. He exists outside of the rank and file, but doesn't really fit into any spot. The story has him tied pretty closely to his Master, and is constantly being tested in small ways and seemingly comes up short a lot of the time. He is anger and hatred without focus. Like Kylo Ren, everyone knows to be wary around him, but nobody seems to really know where he fits into anything in the world around them.
The book is told from the perspective of multiple characters, some way better realized than others. Vader's perspective is displayed about a third of the time, and those are really the highlight chapters of the book, and the ones that you can tell the audience will be craving. It's interesting to see the Emperor from Vader's point of view, just as it's interesting to have Darth Vader performing actions that we never actually see in the movies. He is portrayed as something of an apex predator, albeit one that is constantly tested by those around him. When we see Vader from the eyes of a different character, he is an unstoppable killing machine. When we see his actions from his own point of view, you can almost hear him sigh before he's taking us to another burst of Force related mayhem.
The reality is, we've seen how Darth Vader gets to this point. We've seen his transition from Jedi Knight to Sith Lord. What this book does is give us the introduction to his legend. For me, that's the interesting part. That weird time period where Anakin Skywalker is forgotten, and the name Darth Vader changes from quiet whispers in the shadows to a known figure of terror. That's one of the things that The Force Awakens did well. It left us with questions. We want to know more. Instead of spoon feeding us answers to questions we never had (*cough*Prequels*cough*), we're given just enough to string us along. Kylo Ren remains a mystery, though a puzzle whose pieces we can play with. Lords of the Sith follows a similar pattern. It doesn't flat out give us answers, rather it gives us a few perspectives that bridge the gap towards an answer.
Like I said, this isn't really a review of the book, but if I were to sum it up I would probably say that it's "solid, if underwhelming". It suffers a bit from having some poorly developed perspective characters that never really find their voice, but comes through in the places where the story is driven by Vader. In effect, it almost feels like a tease for another book told entirely from his perspective, which just seems so much more interesting of a concept.