I could not tell you if I read this novelization before of after the film came out. For the next two movies, I waited until after the premiere, keen on having the theater experience first, but I think I might have cheated on this one and read it beforehand. It seems likely because I remember going into the movie theater with a lot of extra knowledge.
Knowledge that really should have been available within the context of the film.
Terry Brooks has said that he thoroughly enjoyed writing this book, and had some one-on-one chats with Lucas about the background he would employ. There is a lot in this book that the movie doesn’t even touch on, and it feels like a far more complete story as a result. For starters, the book begins with the podrace Anakin only mentions in the film (the one where Watto’s pod got smashed because Sebulba sabotaged him). It reframes the narrative entirely, just this one decision; this is Anakin’s story, no matter what else happens. And since the prequels do revolve around his descent to the Dark Side, it seems like an appropriate place to begin.
There are other fleshed out sections with Anakin that are worth noting. We see more of his life on Tatooine, more of his relationship with his mother, more of how his innate understanding of the Force has shaped his world. One of these scenes was filmed for the movie, but ended up on the cutting room floor—in it, Anakin is beating up a young Rodian (named Greedo… yeah, it would have been just as well to leave that off) and Qui-Gon puts an end to the squabble. The book goes into greater detail than the deleted scene, explaining that Anakin’s temper flares in upset over Padmé’s impending departure, before Qui-Gon tells him he’s been freed and will be joining them. It’s a bit of foreshadowing that works well, along with another scene where Anakin meets a wounded Tusken Raider and rescues him with the help of droids, tending to his wounds.
If that scene had been in the movie… I mean, can you imagine how differently Anakin’s slaughter of the Sand People camp in Episode II would’ve played? It would have given these films a sense of flow, of conversation. The character development would be much easier to follow, the progressions wouldn’t always come off so forced.
The dialogue and narrative is far more cohesive in the novel as well. For all that Episode I is a bloated film with endless amounts of scrappable material, there are several glaring places where an exchange or narrative causality altogether seem to disappear. For example: we know that Darth Maul finds Qui-Gon and Co. on Tatooine through the cunning use of stealth droids, but we never see the point where he actually finds them. We just cut to a new scene, and Anakin and Qui-Gon are running. We don’t know what they’re running from until Anakin starts complaining about the running, and we discover that Maul is directly behind him. Like… you have time for Jar Jar to snatch food out of a bowl with his tongue, but you don’t have two seconds to set up the moment where Qui-Gon realized they were being followed by a speeder bike?
Here’s another example: Darth Sidious’ dialogue. At the beginning of the film, one of Nute Gunray’s advisors tells Sidious that the blockade has to end now that two Jedi have arrived on the scene, and Sidious just snarls that he never wants to see that guy’s face again. The guy leaves. It’s abrupt and undramatic. Instead, the book does this:
“This scheme of yours has failed, Lord Sidious! The blockade is finished! We dare not go up against Jedi Knights!”
The dark figure in the hologram turned slightly. “Are you saying you would rather go up against me, Dofine? I am amused.” The hood shifted toward Gunray. “Viceroy!”
Nute stepped forward quickly. “Yes, my lord?”
Darth Sidious’s voice turned slow and sibilant. “I don’t want this stunted piece of slime to pass within my sight again. Do you understand?”
Oh, look. That tiny extra bit of dialogue made Sidious seem more threatening. Which he mostly fails to be in the film. Moreover, Sidious’ plan seems better conceived in the book because we are given a deeper understanding of how galactic politics work. The reason why no one expected the Jedi? Chancellor Vallorum is skirting the very edges of his power by choosing to bring them in, hoping to prevent war. Normally, he wouldn’t do such a thing without having the Senate hear of it first. Knowing all these little details makes it clear that Sidious operates shrewdly; he counters every hitch in the plan without losing any momentum. He’s a character who demands all or nothing—if we’re not going to understand his thinking step by step, then his part in the film should have been considerably reduced to maintain an aura of mystery.
There is talk of Jedi and Sith history in this book, and it was the first Star Wars novel to namecheck Darth Bane, if I’m not mistaken. These bits were lifted from the conversations that Brooks had with George Lucas, so it seems to be the background he intended. The Sith begin as a splinter group off of the Jedi, but only Bane, who preserves certain tenets of his Jedi training, survives the eventual in-fighting and establishes the Sith Rule of Two that the Jedi talk of throughout the prequels.
The relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan gets the time it needs to establish itself to the reader and grow logically over the course of the story. So much of their relationship must be inferred in the film, but here we see the give and take, the sense of humor that Obi-Wan brings as a student, the ways in which he is still very young as a Knight. It is easier to see that his lack of awareness where the Living Force is concerned is a deep flaw because we understand better what the Living Force is and why Qui-Gon places such importance on it. We see what makes Qui-Gon an excellent Jedi and tutor, how much he has stepped into a paternal role for his Padawan. All the emotional impact gets loaded in at the end of The Phantom Menace, but the novel gives you the chance to love this partnership enough to be gutted when Qui-Gon seems to casually shuck Obi-Wan aside when the Council won’t train Anakin, and he offers to step in. It makes his murder a focal point of the narrative the way it should be. His death is a cosmic shift—it effectively changes the course of the universe.
On the other hand, Jar Jar is about eleven times worse in print. Writing the Gungan accent is a task that no author should have ever been asked to perform. There’s also a whoopsie reference to Qui-Gon’s old Master who had been a member of the Order for 400 years… which is handily jossed by Episode II with the revelation that Dooku was Qui-Gon’s master. And the romance between Anakin and Padmé, oh no, no, it’s so horrific, he actually tells her he’s going to marry her when they meet, and I’m pretty sure that’s dialogue from a deleted scene as well. Which just makes you think, damn… George Lucas has very strange ideas about what constitutes romance. (We’ll get heavily into this in the next episode, but whoa.)
The ending is perhaps rougher to get through than the film, with those same four story threads to weave in and out of. So there’s good and bad here, but I prefer the consistency of the novelization, and the legwork it puts in. It’s too bad that some kind of combination couldn’t have ended up on screen.
Emily Asher-Perrin really cannot believe that anyone thought it was a good idea to make Anakin such a little creeper. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.