Force Friday: Imperials, Ryloth, and Vader REVIEWING Lords of the Sith

It's Friday and I've decided I want to do Force Fridays instead of Star Wars Saturdays....because why not? 

Lords of the Sith

Author: Paul S. Kemp
Genre: Science Fiction
Year: 2015


"It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted." 

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor's chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters -- and the truest measure of Vader's allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as "spice," an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources -- by political power or firepower -- and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure that his will is done. 

For Syndulla and Isval, it's the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. For the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet's surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries. 


This is a canon novel in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (Star Wars EU). This means that this story is officially a part of the overall story of Star Wars along with the movies, unlike older novels that have since been labeled "Legends". This novel takes place sometime after Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith and before Solo: A Star Wars Story. Therefore, it is after the Clone Wars animated series and before the Rebels animated series. 

Let's take some time to cover the main characters real quick:

Cham Syndulla - Male Twi'lek leader of the Free Ryloth movement which was started a few years before this novel, father of Hera Syndulla, and a somewhat ally to the Jedi during the Clone Wars. He was introduced in the Clone Wars animated series, so it is cool to see him back again.

Isval - Female Twi'lek within the Free Ryloth movement and Cham Syndulla's lieutenant in the fight against the Galactic Empire. 
The Emperor - Emperor Palpatine, leader of the Galactic Empire and Sith Lord

Darth Vader - New Sith Lord, apprentice to the Emperor, formerly known as Anakin Skywalker

Now how about we talk about one of my biggest issues, personally....the title. The title of the novel is in some ways very deceptive to me. It is called Lords of the Sith, but really the book is predominantly about Cham Syndulla and the Free Ryloth movement. Most of the action within the novel is a result of things that Cham and his followers do or plan. The story is written in 3rd person and predominantly follows Cham and Isval. There ARE scenes with Darth Vader and the Emperor, but they really aren't what the story is about and what we are shown. While it is generally applicable, I do think it is deceptive because when we Star Wars fans hear a title invoking Vader and Palpatine, we expect to get a LOT of Vader and Palpatine. This title is basically clickbait in novel form. Come to get Vader and instead you get Ryloth. Also, the cover makes it look like there will be a HUGE Imperial battle, and while there kind of is, there really isn't. I know that statement contradicts itself. The ratio of walkers and troopers just doesn't correlate to the on-planet action of the book. Walkers are not really used ON the ships by Imperials, only when they're taken over by rebel or resistance fighters from what I've seen, so while cool looking, the cover is somewhat deceptive too. 

Don't get me wrong, I really like Ryloth. I liked that we got to come back to it after having seen it in both animated shows (I'm a fan of both and rewatch various episodes regularly), but I wanted a lot more Darth Vader overall. I also think it is funny that the synopsis says that they only have their lightsabers, the force, and each other...because every single one of those things is very deadly by itself. In reality, "just having" those things still makes them very terrifying overall.  

Now, let's talk about the things I like in the story and some that may need some tweaking: 

  • the settings
  • the characters in general
    • inner workings of Vader mentally, so soon after his turn to the Dark Side
    • narration perspectives
    • Cham as a leader
  • Clone Wars Easter Eggs
  • perspectives and pacing
This book predominantly takes place in two places: aboard a Star Destroyer known as the Perilous, and the planet of Ryloth. Ryloth is a very cool planet with its own flora and fauna. Some of the conflicts faced by the characters involve wild animals on the planet, some of which we haven't really seen (lyleks and gutkurrs). I liked that Kemp paid attention enough to the world to bring about some natural challenges, and not just say "here's some alien to human conflict, enjoy it." There are layers and difficulties on both sides, for the Twi'leks AND the Sith lords, which makes the book more fun and realistic in some ways. Star Destroyers are incredibly massive ships and an icon of the Star Wars universe. A lot of the first half of the book focuses between the two, and the crash landing doesn't happen for a decent little while. The book kind of slow burns the action in some ways, throws in some espionage sabotage, but also really underuses the time it has with the Sith. However, when the Sith ARE focused on, they do some pretty interesting things, from fighting local creatures to interacting with sentient planet locals. There are different layers to the action. 

As far as characters go, we have the main four and a few others in the supporting cast. I mainly want to talk about how cool it is to have Vader at this point in his life. He has fully converted from being Anakin to Vader, and there are some moments that are slow, where we see old Anakin still kind of hiding away. For example, at one point Vader is working on a radio that needs repair and while this seems out of place for Vader, it is very characteristic of Anakin. He was always a mechanic/fixer type of person, and that's not something we see much after his turn. He is always too busy being terrifying or destroying enemies to be fixing anything mechanical. This is probably my favorite thing about this book. Transitional Anakin. I always wondered exactly why Anakin just seemed to shift IMMEDIATELY from one episode to another...from being reluctant and remorseful about hurting people at some level, to cutting down children and anybody in front of him without blinking. This book shows that there WAS internal conflict and reflection, that he overcomes to BE Darth Vader as we know him. He doesn't just move from one extreme to another with the flip of a coin. With just the movies, I wasn't satisfied about that change, but after this book, I'm much more understanding of it. 

One problem I have, and I mentioned this before, is the use of the characters in the narration. Each chapter switches between the Ryloth side and the Imperial side. There's a character named Belkor Dray, who is an Imperial, so he ends up taking up more of the Imperial chapters than I personally would have liked. He isn't a bad character, but at the same time, he isn't Vader, and I wanted more Vader and Emperor centric chapters. There is also a character named Moff Mors, who is Dray's superior, in charge of Ryloth. She also takes up some of the Imperial chapters. Honestly, I came for the LORDS of the SITH, not their Imperial peons. Another issue I had with the chapter structure was that occasionally, some chapters would shift perspectives midway through, which I found clunky and jarring. The main change I would make to the book, if I could make one, would be to center more action on Vader and the Emperor, and try to minimize those shifts in the middle of the chapter. The Clone Wars had a winning formula for handling characters and every portion of the book that seemed more like The Clone Wars or based on events and character development from there, was great. A lot of the other components just didn't feel as good by comparison. Cham Syndulla is a familiar Clone Wars character, and here we see him in action as a leader who has to hide his feelings sometimes and has to make tough decisions for the good of the whole planet, not just the individuals around him. We see the challenges he faces internally that a screen can't convey as easily as a book can. 

While I didn't care much for the Imperial cast, I did really like one of the main Free Ryloth members....Isval. I definitely cared about her independently. She is an original to this book and her backstory was very interesting and she was just a great character to have around. It is clear to see WHY she is fighting and what she is hoping to accomplish. She is a kind of counter to Cham in that she is more willing to get dirty and violent if necessary. Her moral compass is slightly more off than Cham's, but they balance each other out and together they carve a nice middle route towards their goal. If there was anyone I would've liked to see more in general and appreciated that was introduced exclusively in this book, it would definitely be her. She is very fleshed out and intriguing as a character. 

I already mentioned the little Clone Wars details I like, because most involve the characters and how they're presented. They include the planet as well, because this is a very familiar locale in both major animated series. However, there are some other details that are very neat, that connect back to the series. One of the captains on the Imperial side was actually a former clone trooper, so it is possible that some clones actively served in other roles of the Empire, which wasn't shown or discussed much. It seems like the clones are a prevalent force, they turn with Order 66, and suddenly they seem to just vanish and are replaced as a military force by Storm Troopers. Storm Troopers aren't as efficient or disciplined as clones, so it didn't seem like the clones fully became Storm Troopers (clones can actually shoot accurately). There is also a mention of some clones that were popular in the Clone Wars series, because somebody goes down memory lane for a bit. I thought this was a great detail to include, as it builds upon the lore and the history of the characters. The book does not exist in a vacuum. 

As I mentioned previously, the crash is a bit later on, but on a different note...I also felt like the ending was pretty rushed. I don't like when novels decide that they're going to slow burn soem aspects, but then rush the end. It makes me feel like I was watching a movie and enjoying it, then at the end staff started to rush me out as I caught the last few minutes, maybe over my shoulder, or when I can't sit and enjoy the end credits. I'm a bit strange I guess, because I like to sit through the end credits. Not just because of potential cut scenes, but so that I can hear the instrumental score. Being rushed out when I'm at my most relaxed and music enjoying irks me and this is always how a rushed ending feels to me: like I'm being forced to jolt out of relax mode and don't fully get a feeling of closure. I like to enjoy the full event, not just most of it. Sometimes, you don't feel the need to enjoy the credits, or the music isn't gripping, but other times, you do want to just ride it out fully. The choice of which you do shouldn't just be taken away from you, leaving you like you missed something or weren't satisfied. 

To leave this on more of a positive, the book DOES show more of the strengths and weaknesses of the Empire. We know the Empire is scary, but that it eventually falls. In this book though, we can see how the system that they have in place is also very flawed just within itself. It doesn't come down just because of the perseverance of the Rebels, or the rising of more people to join the Rebel cause. It is also partially due to just how the thing is run, because there are weak links. 

Overall, this is an enjoyable book, but it definitely has some issues. It isn't the best canon Star Wars novel at this point. It has some really good points, but some major issues that take away from it. Also, the presentation of it in title and synopsis just feels pretty misleading. All of that considered, I give Lords of the Sith a Lone Star Rating of ✯✯✯ and a half. Its fun, but it isn't one to rave about. 

Star Wars Canon Novel 
      Reading Order

Dark Disciple 
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel


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