The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader
Born a slave. Raised a Jedi. Feared by a galaxy.
This is the tale of Darth Vader, and his journey from light to dark...and back again
Adrick: There are a number of minor gems in the ever-deepening mine of the Expanded Universe, and The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader is one of them. The goal of this book, retelling the entire life story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in a mere 211 pages, may seem so impossible that followers of the EU may be inclined to dismiss it out of hand. That would be a mistake. There are a number of shockingly cool moments in Rise and Fall, and if "shockingly cool" seems too juvenile a description, well, this is a book for juvenile Star Wars fans.
Like the original Star Wars trilogy, Rise and Fall does not begin at the beginning of Anakin's story. The book actually begins with Vader's dream of galactic conquest fulfilled. Luke is at his side, the Emperor is dead, and the father-and-son-rulership of the galaxy has begun.
And then the Emperor comes back and kills them both. Game over. Darth Vader wakes up.
Vader isn't clear on whether his vision was a premonition of possible events or a nightmare, though the events of Dark Empire certainly allow for the former, but it's certainly an unexpected twist. Rise and Fall has several equally cool brand-new scenes, including three-year-old Anakin's arrival on Tatooine and the moments just after Vader's death. Yep, that's right, this book actually follows Anakin into the netherworld of the Force. I think that is shockingly cool, and certainly a bold move for a young adult novel.
Windham also brings in all sorts of scenes from other works, including the radio dramas, the old newspaper strips, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, the prequel movie novelizations, the Clone Wars cartoons, and his own junior novelizations of the original trilogy and his famous Thank the Maker comic from Star Wars Tales. Windham even bridges these scenes together in new and interesting ways. There's a great transition from Vader's defeat in Splinter to one of his appearances in the newspaper strip, for example.
Unfortunately, much of this book is fluff. While the material adapted from pre-existing sources are done well, Windham fills the gaps between major scenes with boring lists of Anakin/Vader's activities in other works. While he certainly deserves kudos for some obscure factoids (bonus points if you can identify the references to the gamebook Jedi Dawn and the Racer's Revenge video game) these sections read like sourcebook extracts and tend to distract from the narrative. It doesn't help that Windham places some events, like the recruitment of the Noghri and Shira Brie, completely out of sequence. I love a Planet of Kadril mention as much as the next fanboy, but I would have rather seen more in-depth exploration of Vader's thoughts during and in-between the films.
On the other hand, for young readers anxious to read more about the hero/villain of their favorite movie saga, this hardcover combination of story and sourcebook is a pretty good idea. It's unlikely that your average nine-year-old Star Wars fan has even heard of the radio dramas or Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Rise and Fall makes twenty-nine years of Expanded Universe events more accessible to a new generation of readers, and that's a worthwhile cause. I should also mention that the cover art, a painting of Anakin Skywalker that has a slipcover of Darth Vader to put over it, is pretty nice. If you have a young son/daughter/niece/nephew/other relation who dressed up as Vader for Halloween, makes funny breathing noises behind the couch, and watches Star Wars DVDs incessantly, this would make an excellent gift. Of course, you might want to read it first.