That's how I feel about A New Dawn. Just kidding. But also not.
I love this book. I forgot how much I loved it until I reread it so I could write a review of it. But I love it. I really do. It's a great story that gives us some insight into the Empire at this time, has very well-written characters, and of course allows us to get to know everyone's favorite space mom and dad even better. It's just an amazing story, and one that I appreciate even more now reading it after Rebels has finished. It's just... so good.
Spoilers ahead for A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller!
A New Dawn is a really fun story that sucks you in immediately. It captures the Star Wars feel very well, and it was very easy for me to get invested in the problems that plague the world of Gorse and its moon Cynda. This book really sets the stage for this period of the Empire's control and expanse into the Outer Rim. They surveil the people and subject them to punishment if they aren't perfectly obedient, they take and take resources with no regard for the imapct it could have, and care only for their own gains in power- while the lower parts of the Imperial machine justify themselves by saying its all in the pursuit of peace. It really paints a sad picture for the state of the galaxy, but there's some inspiration to be found in the characters we see standing up at this time, all on their own before there's a wider rebel network to join for support. I also found myself getting really invested into the characters- not just my already beloved Kanan and Hera, but the other characters as well, like Skelly, Zaluna, and even the evil Count Vidian.
It's so interesting to see this early version of Kanan, probably because he changes SO MUCH! By the end of Rebels, of course, but even when we first see him in the beginning of the series too has grown up a lot from the younger one we meet in A New Dawn. This version of Kanan is trying to avoid sticking his neck out for anyone, is selfish and completely uninterested in fighting the Empire- he'd rather just fly under the radar. Well... he says he's all that anyway. And tries to be. But whether it's the Jedi in him or just his own heart, he is not good at being bad. He cares for people who he grows close to, like Okadiah, and he's always ready to jump into action and risk his life to help other people, even ones he doesn't know. He says he just tries to ignore the Empire and doesn't care for politics, but he's never hesitating to give Imperials attitude, and doesn't argue that much when Hera asks him to help take the fight to them to save Gorse. Kanan is deeply in denial about being kind, compassionate, selfless and almost everything a Jedi should be, though he keeps his Jedi past under wraps for very, very good reason. Again, he's trying to just be a roughneck, and he does fool some people. But not everybody, and definitely not Hera in the end.
Also, it's really really funny how often he comments on Gord Grallik being "too smitten" with his wife, and how he couldn't imagine being with someone for so long. If only you knew, buddy.
Hera is the Hera we know. She's driven and determined to fight the Empire. Though at this point, she's just on her own. Without her crew assembled yet, it's just her gathering what scraps of intel she can get from people she connects with over the Holonet, and trying not to get caught doing so. Hera is playing a dangerous game, doing it alone, but she's still very early in her fight against the Empire. She's not pulling anything close to the stunts we see in Star Wars Rebels, but she's still doing what she can to help people. We also see her getting more and more frustrated with the actions of other insurrectionists. She gets upset when people just blindly strike against the Empire out of vengeance, often ending in their deaths, as this isn't the way that a larger, effective rebellion will form. It's really interesting to see this, especially knowing how instrumental she is in eventually founding that larger rebellion that topples the Empire. We see in Rebels how passionately she argues several times about this being a more effective way of changing the galaxy- she truly believes in this cause, and it seems like she always has.
And of course, I can't talk about the Kanera book without talking about the Kanera in it. Kanan is pretty drawn to Hera immediately. Partially because she's beautiful and interesting of course, but he also describes a feeling that his destiny is to follow her. Part of me likes to think that that's the Force tell him that she's what he needs to become the hero that we see him to be in Rebels. Hera doesn't feel the same way about Kanan right away, and even though she doesn't have the same feelings for him that he does for her (yet, as we know very well by now), that doesn't mean she doesn't like him. She takes a little interest in him right away, as she sees him standing up for Okadiah against the fearsome Vidian and then later he rushes in to help her in a fight, but she has a little difficulty figuring him out as he tries very hard to put up his uncaring facade. She eventually sees him for the good person he is, and invites him to travel for her and well, we know the rest. They have a lot of really sweet and really funny interactions, and it's also great to see how instantly they work well together as a team, especially in a crisis- of which they experience very many in this book.
There was one part of the book that I didn't remember from my first read, and one that I see (haha ;-;) in a WHOLE different light after Rebels has concluded. Zaluna, the Sullustan slicer and tech expert that gets accidentally swept up in their anti-Imperial endeavor is blinded towards the end of the book. Kanan and Hera take her to safety, and she has a conversation with Kanan about her blindness. He asks why she isn't getting cybernetics to restore her sight, and she says she doesn't want to incorporate machines with herself, like Vidian did. It's a very brief interaction, but... well, I haven't completely collected all of my thoughts on it in an organized way. It's something to think about for sure, for obvious reasons.
Finally, I need to talk about another thing from the book that seems innocuous but has been put in a different context thanks to new content. I have to say, that I'm really glad that my reread of this book happened to fall after Star Wars Visions. One phrase from Visions that caught the attention of myself and many other viewers was the "masterless Jedi." The idea of Jedi without the guidance of a master isn't completely new of course, but that phrase and the emphasis on it is. I compared one such "masterless Jedi" from Visions, F, to Kanan in one of our podcast episodes about the series, and I think it's an apt comparison. Anyway, all of this to say that at the very end of the book, what is Kanan referred to as? A masterless Jedi! I just thought it was really cool, because it's a phrase that I really like and has some potential to be explored across eras of the galaxy far, far away.
A New Dawn is a book that I highly, highly recommend. It's a must-read for Rebels fans, in my opinion, but still a great Star Wars story for anybody who'd like to pick it up.