The Phantom Menace‘s beginning was, suffice it to say, less than ideal. The whole concept of the movie was that a disastrous trade dispute had turned into open hostility between a planet and the Trade Federation. Hardly any background information on the trade dispute was given, leaving most confused about the core of the conflict and what it meant for any of the characters. This is where Legends stepped in: not only did it fill it in the gaps, but Legends authors came together to weave a grand narrative out of this, spinning, eventually, into Palpatine’s overt bid for control of the galaxy. Click through to see how Cloak of Deception played a major role in the story!
“This is madness,” [Rune Haako] said, lowering his voice and limping closer to the mechano-chair. “Are we merchants, or are we would-be conquerors?”
Cloak of Deception is both a great novel on its own and a great foundation for the rest of the Prequel Trilogy stories. The novel not only has its own stand-alone story (a Moby Dick-esque chase between Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and “terrorist” leader Arwen Cohl), but it also sows seeds for the eventual Crisis on Naboo from The Phantom Menace.
Having read Darth Plagueis, we have already been introduced to the plot by co-conspirators Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious to seat Sheev Palpatine at the top position in the Galactic Republic as Supreme Chancellor. Darth Plagueis gave us the quick overview of the plan, but now, thanks to Cloak of Deception, we are able to get into the nitty gritty. In order to unsettle the leadership of the Trade Federation, Palpatine manipulates a terrorist group, the Nebula Front. Led by Arwen Cohl, the Nebula Front leads attacks on the Trade Federation in order to steal its resources and cripple the Federation before it can do any more damage to their homes. The Trade Federation pleads for additional allowances from the Senate in order to grow their droid army for “defensive” measures. The Senate takes this opportunity to level a tax on the Federation’s trade routes in exchange for a bigger army. After the Senate and Trade Federation come to blows, a Summit is called on Eriadu. In this Summit, an assassin’s plan to massacre the heads of the Trade Federation comes to fruition, leaving Nute Gunray in charge of the Trade Federation as Sidious’s puppet.
This novel does quite a bit of work bolstering both the story of The Phantom Menace and my enjoyment of the movie. The blockade of Naboo makes more sense in light of the Federation’s growing forces, helping us understand why they felt so emboldened to do something which was, at the time, illegal. In terms of chronology, we see that the first enemy of the Trade Federation was not the Senate or the Republic at all. Rather, local militias arose in order to combat the Federation with an attempt to curtail their power. Having no legal recourse for their plight, these groups took up arms and attacked, even pillaged the Federation, hoping to scare them away from their planets and leave them alone. As these dangers grow, the Trade Federation is forced to turn to the Senate for permission to bolster their defenses in order to protect themselves and their profit.
Cloak of Deception shows us how intricate Palpatine’s plan was, and how cunning he was in pulling it off. While the Trade Federation is still represented in the Senate in The Phantom Menace, the taxes levied against the Federation opens a rift between them. Having seen the films, we know that this rift will push the Trade Federation toward the Confederacy of Independent Systems, but we see here that the Trade Federation was willing to work with the Republic at this point. In fact, if it weren’t for Palpatine, the two would be able to find some sort of amenable compromise. Maybe the Republic would have not levied the taxes on the Federation? Without the taxes, the Trade Federation might not have been willing to work against the Republic. The taxes were a good reason to start to enrage the Federation, creating a small bit of discontent that would brew until Sidious was able to unleash his Separatist army upon the galaxy. Or perhaps the growing Trade Federation army would have posed enough of a threat to the Republic that they would have amassed an army sooner? In this case, the Senate may never have voted “No Confidence” in Chancellor Valorum, which paved the way for Palpatine to become Supreme Chancellor. Palpatine is a master manipulator, pulling on many strings at once; however, if one were to break early, his whole plan could fall apart in an instant.
The novel presents a fascinating look into the pre-Clone War Jedi Order. In a microcosm, we can look at Qui-Gon Jinn in this novel as an exemplar, of sorts, of the fallen Order. I’ve felt lately that Qui-Gon’s character has been deified in the fandom. “If only he survived on Naboo, he might have prevented Anakin’s fall!” We really have no way of knowing that, but I think we’ve built up Qui-Gon in our minds anyway. This novel was a breath of fresh air as it showed Qui-Gon as a flawed Jedi, sometimes too obsessive, sometimes too narrow minded. He is quick to make decisions and wont to listen to directions from those that may know better. He shows the same type of character flaws that Anakin does. This made me really appreciate his character and the way that he was handled. He is a real person; he makes mistakes and fails, and is flawed. He is incredibly stubborn and refuses to bend his will to the Council’s. This makes me curious if he ever had listened to them, and in what scenarios.
As the debate with the Trade Federation starts to heat up, we see the Jedi dragged deeper and deeper into the dispute. It is interesting to me that one of the earliest novels shows the Jedi dragged into politics not by war, nor by humanitarian efforts, but in a mission to protect a finance conglomerate. They were tasked more with being bodyguards for the Federation and for Chancellor Valorum than they were as keepers of the peace. Mace Windu’s fear before the Battle of Geonosis, that the Senate would forget that they were keepers of the peace rather than soldiers, is not a prescient thought: it is a reflection of the growing responsibilities the Jedi have been shouldering that they should not have been taking on. I talk about Qui-Gon as a microcosm for the Jedi Order because, even though they both had different views on the issue at hand, they were both endemic of obsession and being distracted from their true purpose. Whereas Qui-Gon became distracted by Arwen Cohl, the Jedi Counsel was distracted by acting as bodyguards and bowing to the Republic’s wishes rather than acting on their own impulses. This easily sets the stage for them to become Generals without much of a second thought.
It is almost startling to see how early the stage is set for the Naboo Crisis or the Jedi involvement in the Clone Wars. The Jedi are distracted from their duties as peacekeepers and are set down the trajectory toward becoming generals. Palpatine creates a rift between the government and the biggest financial operations in the galaxy. Local militias are forced to fend for themselves as the Republic starts to ignore their growing woes. And, most importantly, Palpatine is on his way to becoming the Supreme Chancellor under the tutelage of Darth Plagueis.
All in all, I highly recommend this novel. If you are following me in my Legendary Adventure, you might scoff that I am highly suggesting another Luceno book. His writing can seem more like a guide book rather than a novel, and it is often an information dump. He can be incredibly dense. These problems may be manifest here, but it is not quite as bad as it was in Tarkin.
Legendary Travel Tips:
-In true Luceno fashion, this novel takes a deep dive into the Expanded Universe to grow its cast. Keep an eye on characters Darsha Assant and Anoon Bondara, stars of the next book, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. Future Expanded Universe stars, like Jorus C’boath, also make their chronological debut in this novel.
–Cameos abound, like Senator Grebleips, who is the same species as E.T.!
-Many Jedi make cameos here, preparing us for their roles in future movies or in future novels. Many Episode I Jedi Masters, such as Yaddle, have minor speaking roles (which, for some of us, may be all that we have ever heard from them). According to Pablo Hildago, Luceno made an extra effort to introduce a lot of elements from the Prequel Trilogy in this novel to set up a foundation for the future stories.
-This book is preceded by The Starfighter Trap, a short story in the Wizards of the Coast magazine. The story is a tie-in to the video game Starfighter.
The Old Republic Era: Dawn of the Jedi: Into The Void | Lost Tribe of the Sith | The Old Republic: Revan | The Old Republic: Deceived | Red Harvest | The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance | The Old Republic: Annihilation | Knight Errant | Darth Bane: Path of Destruction | Darth Bane: Rule of Two | Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil
The New Jedi Order Era: Scourge
Canon Novel Reviews:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
So You Want to be a Jedi?
Beware the Power of the Dark Side!
Poe Dameron: Flight Log
Princess Leia: Royal Rebel (Backstories)
Darth Vader: Sith Lord (Backstories)
The Force Awakens: Finn’s Story
Forces of Destiny:
Daring Adventures (vol 1) | Tales of Hope and Courage
LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
“A Hero Discovered” 1×01 | “The Mines of Gabralla” 1×02 | “Zander’s Joyride” 1×03 | “The Lost Treasure of Cloud City” 1×04 | “Peril on Kashyyyk” 1×05 | “Crossing Paths” 1×06