Mini book review: Star Wars: Darth Plagueis

Author James Luceno must be strong in The Force, as he accomplished something incredible with Star Wars: Darth Plagueis. He made sense of The Phantom Menace.

Luceno has written several novels set in the Star Wars universe, and his latest tracks the rise of Darth Sidious, known to most as Senator Palpatine of Naboo and ultimately The Emperor. Young Palpatine is discovered as it were by Sith Lord Darth Plagueis, known publicly as Hego Damask of the galactic banking clan. Born to well-off parents with powerful political ties, young Palpatine (who denounces his given name and goes by his surname only) rebels by opposing his father’s politics. Damask recognizes him as an especially “Force-full” being and fosters the resentment he feels towards his parents. As their relationship grows, Damask uses Palpatine to fulfill his own personal and political agendas, eventually introducing him to the dark side of The Force.

At first, Luceno seems hung up on the politics of pre-empire Naboo, having his characters discuss elections, taxation, trade routes and all manner of back-handed political maneuvering at length. Initially I found it off-putting and feared that Star Wars: Darth Plagueis would succumb to the same mind-numbing political drivel that made The Phantom Menace such a bore. However, as the story progressed, I saw the ingenious trick Luceno had pulled.

The events in his story are set within a few decades of those depicted in The Phantom Menace. In fact, the final act of the book overlaps much of the first prequel. Luceno provides believable backstory and fills the huge gaps in the The Phantom Menace’s screenplay so well that I wish Lucas’ movie contained several scenes from Luceno’s book. For example, Amidala‘s unlikely ascension to the throne as a teenager, Darth Maul‘s motivation and reason for existing, Count Dooku‘s questionable allegiance and Nute Gunray‘s insignificance all make sense after reading Luceno’s book. Heck, he even explains away Amidala’s deadpan speech and vacant eyes.

Of course, Star Wars: Darth Plagueis does more than repair The Phantom Menace. It offers an entertaining, lively and likely backstory for one of science fiction’s greatest villains, The Emperor. It’s ultimately a short, fun title that Star Wars fans will enjoy, with enough “Oh, cool!” moments to make up for Jar Jar.

Well, almost.