Monday, January 2, 2012

Review: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno

"Everything I tell you is a lie.  Every question I ask is a trick.  You will find no truth in me. " ~ Vergere, to Jacen Solo (New Jedi Order: Traitor)
Expectations are a funny thing, they affect how we perceived things for good or ill. The danger that any book runs is that it's reviews will hype it up too much, that expectations will be set so high that they cannot possibly be met. In the Star Wars fan community, expectations usually outstrip that which is possible. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a great film, but the expectations of fans after waiting 16 years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace were simply too high. No matter what George Lucas delivered it would not have matched what fans wanted or expected. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that The Phantom Menace is placed in its proper context and can be judged fairly.

Before you ever begin or contemplate beginning to read Star Wars: Darth Plagueis, be aware that whatever I or other reviewers say, this book will receive tons of hype. I only have one thing to say to you, believe it. Darth Plagueis is simply pardon the pun, a tour de Force.

At 368 pages Darth Plagueis isn't the biggest novel in the Expanded Universe but of any EU work it may have the biggest impact on the story that George Lucas told in the film saga. Author James Luceno delivers his magnum opus with such skill and care that you can tell this was a novel years in the making. Originally slated for release in 2008, this book idea was shelved and then reclaimed. What Luceno delivers is a galaxy spanning masterpiece that takes place in three distinct periods of time and follows the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis as he navigates the Sith Rule of Two, searches and grooms an apprentice, and his subsequent fate. Along the way we are introduced to a young Palpatine who would go on to become Senator, Supreme Chancellor, and Emperor, all the while living a secret life as a Dark Lord of the Sith. The story revolves around the relationship between this Muun and this Man as they seek to enact the revenge of the Sith, bring about the destruction of the Jedi and the conquest of the galaxy.

Through the course of the novel Luceno manages to bring various threads of continuity together from novels, comics, video games, The Clone Wars animated series and the Star Wars films in such a way that is both seamless and stunning. Multiple times throughout this novel, I was stunned with how boldly Luceno went in his storytelling, treading on ground that I was surprised that George Lucas would allow anyone but himself to interpret. This book gets to the very foundation of Palpatine, the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith, Sith philosophy, and the immediate background facts surrounding Episode I.

Truth, lies, droids, clones, slaves, citizens, all of these are but tools to the Sith. With the Sith the ends always justify the means. The above quote by Vergere seems apropos given the scene in Revenge of the Sith between Chancellor Palpatine and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. Palpatine plays Anakin Skywalker expertly and manipulates the young man to get what Palpatine wants. How did Palpatine learn these skills, how exactly can someone be some fundamentally evil? This book goes a long way to pulling back the curtain on the mystery that is this man who has one foot in the world of the profane and one in the mystical world of the Force. The danger with telling Palpatine's back-story is that in giving them character more dimension, you diminish him, the more we learn the less imposing is the towering menace that we were introduced to in the films. 

One of my favorite things about this books is the unique spin that Luceno puts on some of the Sith, each has their own way of viewing things, much like we have seen in the Expanded Universe with the portrayal of Jedi and how they view and access the Force. There is a ton of Sith philosophy in this book and while relatively light on action, this book is instantly one of my favorites in all of the Expanded Universe.

While there are still some questions this book leaves up in the air, one thing is for sure. You will never watch the Prequel trilogy in the same light again and I am fascinated about how the elements from TCW may come into play with the return of Darth Maul at the end of Season Four.

Well done Mr. Luceno, well done.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review. I'm going to check this book out. Traitor is my favorite SW book yet, and this sounds like it takes a similar approach. I hope it achieves the same excellent balance of action and character development as Traitor did.

    That said, there's something to be said for leaving some characters with an air of mystery. Vergere is my favorite character in the franchise, and I feel the whole EU would have been served better by leaving her a mystery, rather than diminishing her to a standard villain.