The Star Wars prequels undoubtedly left fans with more questions than answers. What happened to all those Clone Troopers? Was it really that smart for Luke to stay hidden all those years with the last name Skywalker when his dad had been so famous? And with the acknowledgment that Emperor Palpatine had once been a person, not just the embodiment of all evil, how did he become such a nasty human being?
One thing was for sure: that excellent legend he spun on Darth Plagueis the Wise during Revenge of the Sith sure could have used some expanding. While fans were keen to speculate on Plagueis’ place in the narrative (Was he Palpatine’s master? Did he manipulate the midi-chlorians to create Anakin?), we still had no concrete data on the Sith Lord and his potential role in creating one (or maybe even two) of the most fearsome figures in the history of the Star Wars universe.
Because for all that Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is about the eponymous dark side master, the story is really about what made Palpatine the man he became. In this novel (out on January 10th), James Luceno has crafted a narrative that not only gives answers to some essential questions, but fills the gaps in prequel logic that fans have so desperately craved for years.
This story details the rise and fall of Darth Plagueis from his master’s death to his own certain demise. The spaces between are, of course, what make the tale worth telling, but that is the simplest way to sum it up. In fact, it is hard to say very much about this book without spoiling it. Safe to say, it contains a great deal that every Star Wars fan will want to know, and Luceno’s prose manages to convey what it feels like to wield the dark side of the Force better than just about any Star Wars author out there.
There is a careful focus on the relationships between the Sith Lords and their apprentices. Darth Bane’s Rule of Two is what placed the restriction on Sith numbers centuries before the events of this book, but its effects are what keep the reader captivated — the fact of the matter is, being the only two of your kind and relying on each other for everything is bound to make for a very intense (and likely destructive) relationship. The apprentice must be totally vulnerable, torn down piece by piece and rebuilt, and the master is bound to come to trust that apprentice too much as a result.
The process is cruel and merciless, the way one might expect, but the extent to which Plagueis is willing to go casts their order in a new light. The I-made-you-and-I-can-break-you-too standard of Sith training means that Palpatine becomes far more three-dimensional than is perhaps comfortable. When you see what he was forced to endure, it is much easier to understand how he became the greatest tyrant the galaxy had known for a millennia.
But make no mistake; he is still calculating, cold, and every bit as horrifying as we’ve known him to be. Seeing where he has come from doesn’t make him any less mean, less shrewd or brutal. Palpatine exits this tale with all his razor sharp teeth intact.
Surprises are in store; this book leads right up through the end of the events in The Phantom Menace, and the reader comes to realize that the machinations occurring in the background of the movie were much more complex than they seemed. I mean this in the most flattering sense — it does the Phantom Menace plot a lot of good to have so many seeming holes finally plastered over and given a shiny new coat of paint. Several familiar characters are given their share of deserved “screen time” and the result leaves you with a much better understanding of what was happening behind the scenes while all the good guys planet-hopped and dueled.
Prepare to be shocked and to have your eyes opened. If you read the Star Wars Extended Universe for the meticulous backstory it often provides, this book will thrill you. And if you’ve ever been curious about just how some creep in a cloak became master of an era, you’ll be equally entranced.
Emily Asher-Perrin is the Tor.com Editorial Assistant. She knows she’s not Type A enough to use the dark side of the Force.