From New Jersey to a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Story of Star Wars: Tarkin

This is a story I’ve told before, but I think it bears repeating just now. The story features me and my then closest friend, the late-Brian Daley, and it’s set in May of 1977, in a mall cineplex in northern New Jersey.

A premiere of a movie called Star Wars is playing to an audience of about 30 people. This will never happen again. If some time traveler with a smart phone had been in the house, there might be video of Brian and me, eyes wide and mouths agape, astonished by what we were seeing on screen. Audio might have captured sounds of surprise, delight, and rousing cheers. Such was the depth of our immersion I don’t think we said more than two words to each other. When the movie ended, however, we spoke of little else for the next month; for the next two decades, in fact, though that’s a separate story. Neither one of us had flown from one side of the galaxy to the other like that Han Solo, but we’d both had our share of adventures, and still we’d never experienced anything quite like Star Wars. It was as if George Lucas had assembled all the best from the fairy tales, comic books, and pulp movie matinees we’d grown up on, and created a fantasy that was, well…almost real.  A damsel in distress, aliens with glowing eyes, gutsy droids, sword-wielding knights, and Darth Vader — we’d scarcely gotten over marveling at the sight of an Imperial Star Destroyer when his dark form emerged from a hazy hatchway.

And then there was Tarkin – Governor Tarkin back then — commander of the Death Star. Cold as ice, ominously calculating, as quick with a dry comeback as the plucky princess was with an insult. Brian and I wondered: Who was this guy who could casually order the destruction of a planet one moment, and in the next address Vader, in all sincerity, as his friend? Surely Tarkin hadn’t been one of those Jedi Knights crazy old Ben had mentioned, but he might well have fought in the so-called Clones Wars. Maybe he was even on a first name basis with the Emperor himself!

How strange, then, to find myself still grappling those same questions more than 35 years later, and never more deeply than last summer when Lucasfilm approached me about writing a novel that focused on Tarkin. I had made reference to him in earlier novels, even set a couple of scenes on his agreed-upon homeworld of Eriadu. The Clones Wars television series verified that he had been a commander during that galactic crisis, and other novels had depicted Tarkin in the years leading up to A New Hope. But my task was to show how Tarkin became the man we meet aboard the Death Star, and to reveal just how he came to know so much about his sinister friend, Darth Vader. And that’s essentially what the new novel is about. Well, that and the interesting tidbit that Tarkin and the Emperor were in fact on a first-name basis. I hope you’ll sign aboard for the journey.

James Luceno is the author of Star Wars: Tarkin, available now.

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