The Legendary Adventures has hit a huge milestone: the first film to be read in the context of the Legends chronology! Join me and discover how the Legendary Adventures has changed my opinions of the novelization of one of the least popular Star Wars films.
“I don’t care what universe you’re from, that’s got to hurt.”
From now until Return of the Jedi, the film novelizations seem like the best place for the Legendary Adventures to set down our bags and take a rest. Star Wars is, primarily, about the films. Everything, in Legends canon or the current canon, worked to expand the story of the film, give it extra context, or fill out some of the lore. If there was a discrepancy between a novel and a movie, the movie’s version of events would rule the day. In light of the recent explorations we’ve been through, I think it would be helpful to stop here and talk about how our chronological reading of Legends works to bolster The Phantom Menace.
One of the most confusing aspects for audiences in 1999 was probably the unexplained conflict that drove the plot of The Phantom Menace. For the general audience, the movie starts almost in the middle of an ongoing storyline – one that we are not really privy to. The Republic Chancellor, Finnis Valorum, has sent out two Jedi Knights, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, to address the Trade Federation’s grievances with the people of Naboo. In the context of the film, we know that eventually the Trade Federation invades Naboo, leading to a conflict between the Gungans and droids, while Naboo pilots take on the Federation in space. What’s behind this conflict? Who is the Trade Federation? For those answers, we’re mostly left to our own devices. Thankfully, for those of us on the Legendary Adventure, we have a bit more foresight into the events of the films.
Before the Crisis on Naboo, Darth Sidious, alternate identity of Senator Palpatine, trained under the tutelage of Darth Plagueis, or Hugo Damask. Hego Damask used his incredible resources behind Damask Holdings to support Bon Tapalo to become king of Naboo. If elected, Bon Tapalo would be willing to work with Damask Holdings to open Naboo to trade their plasma resources with the rest of the galaxy. Damask runs across Palpatine on Naboo and instantly takes a shining to the bright and ambitious heir to the Palpatine legacy. Plagueis tries to manipulates Palpatine into being his apprentice, but Palpatine pushes back a bit on his overt manipulations at first. Palpatine, in anger, kills his entire family before pledging himself to Darth Plagueis, and is quickly renamed Darth Sidious and brought into Plagueis’s plan for galactic domination. The first step? After becoming the Naboo’s ambassador to the galaxy, Palpatine would work his way through the Senate to the highest echelons of power, where he and Hego could rule the galaxy together. Step one? Getting into the Senate. Palpatine arranges for the execution of the current Senator and promptly takes his place.
While Palpatine arranges the political world to boost himself into power, we come across the events of Cloak of Deception. As the Nebula Front grows more bold in striking out against the Trade Federation, the Federation appeals to the Senate for greater military allowances in order to defend themselves. Senator Palpatine uses this opportunity to stroke discord between the Federation and the Republic. He urges Valorum to allow the Federation to increase their standing army size in exchange for the taxation of their heavily trafficked trade routes. To solve the growing conflict, Valorum holds a summit on Eriadu. At the summit, a mercenary working for the Nebula Front, Cohl, discovers a plot to murder the heads of the Trade Federation. In killing the current heads of the Federation, Nute Gunray, a puppet of Sidious, would be the head of the Federation, completely willing to bend to Sidious’s wishes. Palpatine uses this conflict to be seen as a voice of reason in the Senate, and even as a friend to the Trade Federation.
The plan almost goes awry when Darth Maul is sent to reclaim a Sith Holocron stolen by Trade Federation employee Hath Monchar. The Holocron explicitly spells out the Sith Lords’ plans for galactic domination. Darth Maul chases the info down, eventually losing it to Lorn Pavan, who turns it over to Senator Palpatine. This unwittingly keeps the plan safe from the Republic, leaving them none the wiser about the plan which is about to unfold. Hego and Palpatine work on Naboo still, directly involved in the election of young Padmé Amidala to the Naboo monarchy. Palpatine hopes that she will be an easy target in the future when he allows his plan to unfold.
In response to the taxation that is implemented on the trade routes, the Trade Federation blockades Naboo, hoping that cutting off trade with the Naboo would force the Republic’s hand. Rather than work with the Trade Federation’s demands, presumably for the end of taxation while retaining the size of their droid army, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are tasked with finally bringing an end to the debate. This might be the Republic’s most forceful action against the Federation, hoping to curb any further violence that may occur in the deliberations. Unfortunately, the Trade Federation already has plans for the planet, with an invasion force ready to go.
For what it’s worth, yeah, this is quite an intricate plot and there is no way that the movie could have handled what it took three books to explain in full. But it did give a whole new weight to The Phantom Menace. It felt like more of the climax of a growing conspiracy than it did the first movie in a trilogy. The stakes were so much higher that you forget that this is the first movie, rather than the third, even. Everything that we have been reading through finally comes to an explosive head, something far more dangerous and galaxy consuming than we could have imagined.
As Dooku starts to publicly disavow his role as a Jedi due to their increasing involvement in Republic matters, Palpatine takes notice. He starts to tempt Dooku, hoping to bring him over to the dark once. Once successful, Dooku and Sidious take advantage of another faltering Jedi, Sifo-Dyas, using his growing paranoia about a coming crisis as a cover to order a clone army for the Republic. Not only did all of these extra plot points make Darth Plagueis one of the most densely packed novels in recent memory, but it also made it so that other novels didn’t have a chance to cover the same ground on its own.
Maybe the weirdest thing that the Legends canon did for this novel was to give almost everybody a backstory. The rise of Padmé Amidala to the monarchy? Yeah, that was thanks to Darth Sidious and Hugo Damask. It felt like, in Legends, she was robbed of her agency in becoming Queen. Rather than being elected on her own merit, she was given the role by two Sith Lords who wanted to use her. I know that the movies pretty clearly showed Padmé as an unwitting accomplice to Sidious’s plans, but I was uncomfortable with how little she did of her own merit in Legends. She does regain some agency in ousting Valorum as Supreme Chancellor, for good reason. Of course Queen Amidala wouldn’t trust Valorum by the time of the Naboo Crisis: he has already shown himself ineffective in dealing with the Nebula Front and he can indirectly be blamed for the massacre on Eriadu. At this rate, three strikes and you are out! I felt like his ousting in the film came from left field, but in this context, you’d almost think he should have been taken out sooner!
We also met Darth Maul, given to Palpatine by Mother Talzin, years before the Crisis on Naboo. Rather than give him up, Sidious openly trained Maul as an assassin under Plagueis’s nose, hoping that someday his assassin would become his apprentice, strong enough to help him kill Plagueis. Whereas Maul only spoke about 30 words in the novel, he is given a huge role in the preceeding books. He almost takes down the Bando Cora single-handedly in prison. He tastes Jedi, or at least Force sensitive blood, three times, fighting Komari Vosa, Darsha and the other Jedi. He chases Lorn Pavan across the galaxy, using his tactical mind to take down impossible creatures.
It is also strange to think, thanks to the other novels, there is more going on during the Gungan/Droid battle than the three(!) fights we already see on screen. As the Gungans face off against the Droids in the plains of Naboo, Darth Sidious is taking out his ultimate plan of revenge against Darth Plagueis. So, during the final battle(s), Palpatine enters Damask’s lair, killing him in his sleep in a large show of Force. Turns out one Sith did die during the course of the film, but it wasn’t Darth Maul.
Before I go, I will just say: I love the Gungans. Sure, I don’t necessarily love Jar Jar. But the novel explored, briefly, though a bit more fully, Gungan culture, and it was a fun ride while it lasted. The Battle on Naboo had some of my favorite elements of Star Wars culture. It has bizarre weapons, strange creatures, new battle tactics, and just a fun new take on classic science fiction battles. And to see Sidious’s grand scheme come undone because of the Gungans? Priceless.
Legendary Travel Tips:
-The novelization of The Phantom Menace is preceded by Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter and is technically followed up by the ending of Darth Plagueis. The next original work in the timeline is the short story Deep Spoilers, collected in Star Wars Gamer #4.
-Author Terry Brooks worked closely with George Lucas to develop some of the backstory to the film. Commentary on Darth Bane provided in the novelization came straight from George Lucas himself to develop Yoda’s comment about the Rule of Two toward the end of the film.
-The 2012 reprint of the novelization for the 3-D theatrical release of the film features the short story End Game. In the story, Darth Maul goes planetside on Naboo to oversee the invasion. He finds the Gungan sacred land, and the former head of Veruna’s security reveals the identity of Sidious’s master, Hego Damask, to Darth Maul. The story is written by James Luceno.
-The novelization talks about Qui-Gon Jinn’s master, referring to Qui-Gon as this master’s best apprentice in over 400 years. This does not fit the description of Dooku, but it may refer to Yoda. Apparently, Yoda had a better apprentice before Qui-Gon, but that was about 400 years before the film.
The Legendary Adventures casts The Phantom Menace in a stunning new light, one in which we see it as the climax of a grand plot to undo the Republic. Whatever weaknesses the film has on its own seem diminished in light of the Legends canon.
The Last Jedi
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 | Daring Adventures vol 2 | Tales of Hope & 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