Star Wars content below. You’ve been warned.
I’ll never forget the first time I discovered the fact people were writing books about Star Wars. I was sitting at a rusted bench in the break area behind the Jungle Cruise when one of my fellow skippers pulled out Timothy Zahn’sThrawn trilogy. I quickly found and read them, and loved every minute of it. This was years after the original trilogy and years before the prequels. While this was a great first step, over time I soured on the expanded universe Star Wars books. They seemed to really stretch things and a lot of them felt like they were written on a bet.
Recently, when I appeared on the Technical Difficulties podcast, Gabe Weatherhead, knowing my affection toward the original Star Wars trilogy and animosity toward the prequels, recommended I read Darth Plagueis, an expanded universe novel about Emperor Palpatine’s Sith master and the origin story of Emperor Palpatine. Gabe said, “It almost saves the prequels.” He said that. I wrote it down. Well if it is good enough for Gabe, I was going to read it.
So I went and purchased the Darth Plagueis audio book and just finished a few days ago. This book follows the journey of Darth Plagueis (a Muun Sith master from the banking clan...banking clan ...eye roll) as he gains power and attempts to bend the universe to the Sith way. About halfway through, the story increasingly moves to his apprentice, Palpatine.
Like a lot of Star Wars stories, these two spend some time together, get connected, and then separate for a good portion of the book to tackle their own challenges. In Darth Plagueis’s case, he becomes obsessed with conquering death and Palpatine, as you can probably guess, goes to Coruscant to focus on amassing political power.
Palpatine’s story is really the best part of this book. While even as a youngster, he is not very likable, I can see how he gets from point A to point B. Moreover, the way in which he becomes increasingly adept at subtle manipulations and wielding political power are interesting and show a progression that leads nicely to the prequels.
Does this book save the prequels? No.
There is still a lot of talk of treaties, negotiations, and political machinations. I don’t think the author, James Luceno, had any choice as the book is intended to lead directly into the prequels. While I think having read this book could give me more insight to the prequels (if I ever watch them again), it also further damns the prequels. If Palpatine was so adept at pushing the universe around, maybe they should have included some of that. Rather than give us this dorky story of how Anakin was never very heroic and one day decided to go to the dark side and kill everyone he knew, maybe we could have seen how Palpatine was secretly pushing all of Anakin’s buttons.
For example, I never understood why the Sand People took Anakin’s mother or what the heck they were doing with her in Episode II. Regardless, it was a key moment in the story and the event that turned Anakin into a ruthless killer. What if we had the Palpatine from this book making his mother’s abduction happen. That would at least give me some greater understanding.
If I hadn’t seen the prequels, I think I may have enjoyed the book more because I’ve got such a chip on my shoulder that I kept wondering how this story could have been used to make that story better. All of this said, it was fun going back into the Star Wars universe again and I will recommend this book. Just don’t hold your breath on it (or any other object in the known universe) fixing the prequels.
If you do decide to read it, I’d recommend the Audible book. It’s a good production and goes beyond most audio books. When they are on a ship, you hear the ship in the background. When they fight, you hear two lightsabers clashing. When a droid speaks, it gets a little extra tin-foil processing. This definitely improved the experience.