Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and Tarkin, Lords of the Sith (written by Paul S. Kemp) focuses on Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine as they come under attack by rebels on the Twi’lek home world of Ryloth.
The book focuses on both the titular Sith Lords and the leaders of the Ryloth rebels, which includes Cham Syndulla, the father of Star Wars Rebels’ Hera. Splitting the action between these opposing sides, we get to see not just the inner workings of a rebel faction that we see in The Clone Wars and Rebels, but also the relationship between Vader and Palpatine, something that hasn’t been explored in film.
It’s these interpersonal relationships that make up the focus of the book, despite it also providing several spectacular action sequences. With the rebels Cham takes a secondary seat, despite being the leader, to share centre stage with Isval, one of his most trusted lieutenants.
Isval is possibly the most interesting character in the book, a woman who suffered at the hands of Imperial agents in the past, now taking out her pain on those who have enslaved her planet. It’s not just her position in the resistance that allows her to alleviate the ghosts of her past, taking time to sneak into Imperial controlled cities, she finds young Twi’lek women selling their bodies to Imperials to survive, and murders those men who would take advantage of them. Saving these young women from a fate like hers, stopping Imperials from using and abusing their bodies, providing these women with the means and money to get away and start a new life gives her some solace, but ultimately cannot save her.
In a lot of ways this is what Lords of the Sith is about, damaged people. Cham Syndulla, a man that’s been fighting to free his people for decades, has to keep repeating to himself ‘a freedom fighter, not a terrorist’ to try to convince himself that he’s not become a monster like those he fights against.
We also get to see a very young Vader, one that was recently Anakin Skywalker and is still dealing with the traumatic events of Revenge of the Sith. We see the old Anakin shine through as Vader pilots his fighter through swarms of Buzz Droids, he thinks about being a Jedi, and even finds himself having emotional flashbacks to his crippling on Mustafar.
He’s not the man we see in the original trilogy, he’s still finding his footing as a Sith Lord, and as such relies on his master in ways that we’ve not seen before. He looks to Palpatine for guidance, he gives him is loyalty and gives him any information without hesitation; all this despite wanting to turn on his master at times, the way all Sith must eventually do.
Despite the book humanising Vader in a lot of ways, when seen from the point of view of the resistance he’s a thing from nightmares. There’s one particular moment when Vader floats his way through open space to board a resistance ship, brutally killing everyone onboard whilst Cham and the others are forced to listen to their screams via an open com channel. The deaths of these resistance fighters aren’t see, we simply stay with Cham as he experiences these event from afar, yet it’s one of the most horrifying scenes in the book.
Palpatine is also well served through the events of Lords of the Sith, getting to once again show that he’s a powerful warrior as well as a master tactician. Forced to cross the savage surface of Ryloth, Palpatine is forced to engage with enemies, tearing through his foes with force powers and lightsaber alike. Whilst the films paint Vader as a villain, he always feels as if he’s following an agenda of some kind, even if that doesn’t align with those that are morally right. Palpatine, is not like this, he performs actions that border on pure evil, killing indiscriminately and for little reason. Even Vader finds his actions shocking at times.
Lords of the Sith is a grim book, and has a tragic end. It’s impossible to show how powerful and cruel the Empire is without innocents and those fighting for freedom suffering at their hands. Despite this, the book contains hope, it shows that heroes will have the will to fight on even in the face of unstoppable evil. Much like Rogue One, Lords of the Sith focuses on the darker side of the Star Wars universe to deliver a story of tragedy and bravery.