I’ve been sick the past couple of days and, apart from a day trip over to Dayton to watch a women’s regional semi-final game between UT and OSU, I’ve pretty much just wanted to stay in bed. Fortunately, while PJ and I were in Columbus earlier this week I picked up a copy of Star Wars: Death Star, which I’ve been wanting to read since it first came out in 2007.

So far, I’ve refrained from writing much about my eternal love of all things Star Wars. I’ve mentioned it every now and then, but I really come out fully, so to speak, until now.

Besides reading Jane Austen rewrites, Star Wars novels are my favorite kind of books to curl up with. I’ll admit that there are some that I don’t enjoy–I’m not indiscriminate in my love of Star Wars. I haven’t been able to get into the bounty hunter ones or the “next generation” ones. I liked the Thrawn series and some of the ones that take place between the newer movies. But my favorites are the ones featuring Darth Vader or Darth Bane. Ever since I was a kid, I loved Darth Vader, and I enjoy the Star Wars novels the most when they let him be evil, which is also why I love the Darth Bane novels. Evil is interesting; Luke Skywalker is bland (except for when he dallies with the dark side, of course).

Star Wars: Death Star takes place just before and during the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. In essence, it tells the other side of the story: what Tarkin and Vader are doing in between their scenes in the movie. But it also introduces several new characters as well as gives us more insight into some of the movie’s supporting Imperial roles.

The novel begins as the Death Star is being built. The Empire is putting all of its might and resources into constructing the ultimate battle station. While under construction, the Death Star orbits a prison planet, which provides a steady source of enforced labor. When some of these prisoners try to escape, we meet our first primary character Villian Dance, a crack TIE fighter pilot. His squad easily dispenses with the prisoners when they refuse to return to the prison planet, but it leaves Dance uneasy with the possibility that he must kill non-military targets again in the future. This establishes the novel’s primary theme: what to do when you can no longer in good conscience do what you’re supposed to do but when you also can’t do anything to stop the harm you’re witnessing.

Three of the new characters come from the prison planet. Teela Kaarz is an architect who was convicted of treason after being on the losing side of a political debate. She is brought to the Death Star to help design its interiors. Celot Ratua Dil is a smuggler who manages to smuggle his way on board the space station. And Nova Stihl is a prison guard who is transferred to one of the Death Star’s detention wards.

Memah Roothes, a Twi’lek female, and Rodo are hired to manage a cantina on the Death Star. Roothes loses her cantina on Coruscant under shady circumstances just before being propositioned to manage this new cantina on board the station. Rodo is her bouncer; she accepts the Empire’s lucrative offer on the condition that he comes along with her.

Rounding out the cast are “Uli” Divini, a drafted surgeon, Atour Riten, the military archivist now in charge of the Death Star’s library, and Tenn Graneet, a military gunner who thinks he wants the honor of firing the Death Star’s superlaser.

All of these characters, to varying extents, are the “good guys.” They struggle with the moral implications of the Death Star’s existence, implications that become all too real once the station becomes operational.

We also have a cast of Imperials who serve as our “villains.” Besides Darth Vader, there is Grand Moff Tarkin, who believes that the Death Star will give him unfettered power–perhaps even enough power to overthrow the Emperor himself. Conan Antonio Motti, the Admiral that Vader almost strangles during the conference meeting at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope, is a character. And Admiral Daala, Tarkin’s paramour, also makes an appearance.

After the initial set up, the novel traces Vader’s efforts to capture the rebels who have stolen the plans to the battle station, while Tarkin works to get everything up and running properly. Once Princess Leia is captured, Tarkin decides to try the Death Star out on Alderaan. He then follows the Millennium Falcon to the rebel base and attempts to take it out, but the Death Star is destroyed–in part because of his own blinding arrogance–before he can do so. In the mean time, Vader tortures Leia, kills Ben Kenobi, and narrowly escapes being killed when the Death Star explodes. (We also get an explanation for a question that has plagued me for years: why does Obi Wan call Darth Vader “Darth” when that’s a title rather than his name?)

Those events, however, are all secondary to the primary characters’ coming to terms with their roles on the Death Star. In good Star Wars fashion, the novel begins by introducing each of them as separate plot points and then slowly intertwines their stories until they are all part of one action-packed plot.

I loved this novel. It is indeed action-packed. I started reading it as soon as we got home on Wednesday, and I had to stop myself from taking a vacation day on Thursday so I could stay home and read it! It’s an incredibly well-written page turner that is sure to please any Star Wars fan.

The new characters are all great. It took me a little while to remember who was who just by name, but the writers, Michael Reeves and Steve Perry, do a great job of reminding you quickly (and subtly) who each character is until we have read enough to remember on our own. Each is distinct and given an interesting personality. We see romances bud and friendships develop. We also see some of them make sacrifices for others, sacrifices that earn their emotional poignancy through our having gotten to know them so individually. There’s psychological depth in each of these characters, which I’m sure would surprise some non-Star Wars fans (like PJ).

It’s also just plain fun to see the events of episode IV from the other side. To get Vader’s thoughts about Leia when she first appears in the novel. Or to get his response to Luke when he senses him flying the x-wing fighter. Vader’s interactions with Tarkin are also fun for fans of the film. We also see Tarkin from a different point of view, including his romantic, if that’s the right word for this otherwise cold fish, trysts with Admiral Daala.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Star Wars: Death Star and think it’s one of the best of the many Star Wars novels I’ve read. Now I want to watch Star Wars again, which is probably the best compliment I can give this novel!