Star Wars: Darth Plagueis (a review)

Oh my goodness, what a book!

I recently finished reading one of the last, and arguably one of the most important novels from the Legends canon. It was an absolute joy to read, and I really cannot believe that it has taken me so long to get round to reading it! Long-time Star Wars fans might be aware that the book was originally slated to be released in 2008, but it wasn’t published until 2012, putting it among the final few novels to be published prior to the Disney take-over.

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The novel follows the life of Darth Plagueis as he kills his own master, Darth Tenebrous, and begins his quest for immortality through the manipulation of the midi-chlorians. As Hego Damask, the CEO of Damask Holdings, he goes about life as a wealthy financier, bankrolling the Trade Federation’s exploitation of Naboo’s natural plasma reserves. In so doing, he befriends Palpatine, and discovers a latent power for the Dark Side within the youngster. He encourages Palpatine to kill his entire family, and thereafter apprentices him as Darth Sidious.

Eliminating political rivals, Palpatine climbs the political ladder to become the Senator for Naboo. Political shenanigans abound, as Palpatine and Damask both set about initiating the Grand Plan for the Sith to take their vengeance on the galaxy (specifically, the Jedi). Along the way, Palpatine is given a Zabrak infant on Dathomir, whom he trains on Mustafar to be a living weapon for their vengeance. Damask makes contact with the cloners of Kamino, and begins to investigate the possibility of creating a cloned army.

As the novel moves on, it becomes as much a biography of Palpatine as it does of Damask, as the latter becomes consumed by his research into midi-chlorians and immortality. We see Palpatine court a friendship with the Jedi Master Dooku, engineer the fall of Naboo’s King Veruna, to be replaced by Padmé Amidala, as well as the assassination of Pax Teem, the Senator for Malastare. When Damask returns to public life, he renews an acquaintance with the Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas, and plant the suggestion that the Republic may need an army to ward against the increasing privations in the Outer Rim.

Towards the end, the book runs concurrently with several other books and comics, such as Cloak of Deception, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, and latterly, The Phantom Menace. At the novel’s climax, Palpatine kills Damask, revealing that he had been manipulating his former master for years. With Dooku as a potential ally in the upcoming war, and his eye firmly on Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine begins his own plans for taking over the galaxy.


This book is amazing. James Luceno is one of my all-time favourite Star Wars authors, as has been well-chronicled here on this blog, and I do particularly enjoy his prequel-era novels from the Legends canon. I don’t really know why I had put off reading this for so long, but I suppose other books have come under my glance, and whatnot. Luceno is definitely steeped in Star Wars lore, and is able to weave a story around the existing body of literature with ease. References bogged down his first novel for the franchise, Agents of Chaos: Hero’s Trial, but over the years since then he has shown himself to be adept at wielding the mythos like no other.

That said, the book is definitely much more interesting when it can be its own animal. The first two-thirds are an absolute joy, as we see Plagueis established as both a Sith Lord and his alter-ego, Hego Damask. The politics of the Republic are one of the more interesting aspects of the lore, to me, so it was fascinating to see how things worked at this point. As the story wore on, and we got to the point where it needed to weave in and out of pre-existing material, however, things did tend to get a little more muddy, almost forced, due to the fact that Luceno was trying to use characters who had already been written about – ironically, I think this was at its worst when he was trying to weave Palpatine and Valorum into his own Cloak of Deception.

Cloak of Deception, incidentally, is one of my all-time favourite Star Wars novels, and I will doubtless be writing up some thoughts on that book sometime soon!

Attempts to tie up loose ends, and weld the narrative firmly into the established events around The Phantom Menace aside, things certainly gather momentum as the book moves on. The middle portion, where Palpatine is moving up the political ranks and trying to learn more about the Dark Side, did often feel a little bit like it was dragging, but nevertheless I think it was good to let the plot breathe in this way. The story of the apprenticeship of such a seminal character as Emperor Palpatine should not be treated lightly, after all! I do wish that this was maybe a duology, and we could actually have expanded upon certain parts. For sure, the book jumps ahead a few years twice, to eliminate some of the more mundane stuff, but I thought there were a couple of missed opportunities for further exploring the characters in the wider universe. I mean, we’re likely to never see Darth Plagueis in another book, as this one pretty much tells his entire life story, and the same is true for Palpatine, so it would have been interesting, to me, for the story to have been properly expanded upon.

Something that almost seems to have been glossed over, or just mentioned in passing at first, is the creation of Anakin Skywalker within the Force. I suppose it’s possible that George Lucas wanted this to have been kept deliberately vague (Lucas, for those who don’t know, had a significant amount of input into this novel, making it as close to G-canon as any other book had come up to this point). Somewhere between the end of Part Two and the start of Part Three, Sidious and Plagueis both undertake a Sith ritual that shifts the balance of the Dark Side, almost like they’re firing the starter pistol to let the Jedi know that they’re coming for them. It’s intended to be a grand scheme to show that the Dark Side really is ascendant in the galaxy. When Palpatine then learns of the existence of Anakin, he mentally back-tracks and learns that the boy was born around this time, and it is theorized that Anakin could have been a product of the Force “fighting back”. It’s interesting, because since Revenge of the Sith, I think most fans had been of the mindset that Plagueis’ experiments with midi-chlorians had actually caused the birth of Anakin, but it turns out that he genuinely is a product of the Force itself.

Interesting…

There are a lot of call-backs to the Darth Bane trilogy, and often Luceno will reference all manner of Darths as part of the history of the Sith. It’s interesting to note that Plagueis sees himself as the last of the line of the Bane tradition, but even when the Rule of Two was still in force with his master, Darth Tenebrous, there were still Dark Acolytes being trained to use the Force, as Tenebrous seemed to need a failsafe against the loss of Plagueis as an apprentice. I suppose this meant the revelation of Palpatine training Darth Maul in secret on Mustafar was slightly less jarring. I suppose this problem of three Sith lords being around at the same time could have been solved by having Sidious kill Plagueis before the timeline of The Phantom Menace, but for whatever reason, it was decided to place the death of Plagueis at the eve of the Battle of Naboo.

Supreme Leader Snoke

I mean, that assumes that Plagueis died, of course. Since The Force Awakens debuted in 2015, fans have been theorizing that Snoke is in fact Plagueis, pointing to the wounds on his face (particularly his mouth) as being in a good fit. I’m not personally a fan of this idea, not least because Plagueis is said to have been using the Force to heal himself, and intended to return to the galaxy as co-Chancellor with Sidious, and be revealed to have fully healed. If he had survived Sidious’ attack, then surely the interval of 50+ years would have seen him not only return from the dead, but continue that process? The mangled mess that is Supreme Leader Snoke is, I feel, a new character – at least, I bloody hope so!

Anyway!

Darth Plagueis is a cracking book. Even if it is, after all, no longer canon, it is still well worth reading, even today!

Star Wars Prequels!

Hey everybody!
So I’ve been looking through my harddrive for that missing Word document I mentioned a couple of posts ago, and came across some stuff I completely forgot I’d written! Basically, I get a lot of people asking if I can explain Star Wars to them, mostly the prequels, because people know I’m a massive Star Wars fan, and I also kinda like the prequel films, but everybody is all confused or whatever. So I wrote a couple of things back in 2005 to explain just what the hell is going on throughout episodes one, two and three, in perhaps a more consistent manner, linking it to all the novels as well so that you get the full picture. While, of course, a lot of this stuff is now most likely going to be negated, I thought I’d share it anyway so that you can have a read, and see if it makes you change your mind about the prequels at all! Leave a comment, because I love comments!


 

Palpatine’s Plan

“I will be Supreme Chancellor”

Palpatine is nothing but ambitious. The only man to dream of conquering the entire galaxy in modern times, Palpatine has brought down the destruction of much, not least of which being the planet Alderaan and the Jedi Order.

But how did he do it?

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Having been nominated Senator for Naboo and 63 other worlds, Palpatine accrued many contacts in the Senate, and built for himself a reputation as impartial and good-natured. When Finis Valorum was elected Supreme Chancellor for a second term, Palpatine was regarded by him as a faithful adviser. As Darth Sidious, a master of the dark side of the Force, he trained the Iridonian Zabrak Darth Maul to be the instrument of his will. Maul became so consumed by his hatred of the Jedi that, at times, even Sidious thought he had overdone it a bit.

Labyrinth of Evil

Sidious set up a lair in the Works area of Coruscant, in the old LiMergePower building. LiMerge power was involved in the manufacture of illegal armaments that were finding their way to pirates on the Outer Rim – pirates who were attacking the Trade Federation. In response to this, the Senate agreed to allow the Federation to amass a modest droid army.

Cloak of Deception

The Trade Federation was growing greedy. As they took more and more from the Outlier Worlds for their services, more and more terrorist groups were formed against them. One such organisation struck at Dorvalla. The Nebula Front hired Mirilian mercenary Captain Cohl to infiltrate the Federation freighter Revenue and steal a cache of aurodium ingots. Cohl was successful, and delivered them to Havac, the leader of the militant faction of the Front. As a result of the attack, the Federation petitioned the Senate to increase their droid defenses.

Havac was being guided by Palpatine. He handed the senator the ingots to use as bribes in the senate to garner support for the Front. Palpatine set up a blind bank account, into which he deposited the ingots, then drew the bribes against the ingots.

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Palpatine persuaded Supreme Chancellor Valorum to hold a trade summit on Eriadu to try and solve the issues surrounding the Federation’s request.

Darth Sidious contacted the Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray and, using blackmail, forced the Neimoidians into an alliance with him. As his first act, Sidious gave the Federation a droid army and the weapons of war.

The Trade Federation wasn’t just Neimoidians, however – delegates from Sullust, Kuat and Balmorra, among other worlds, sat on the directorate. At the Eriadu summit, however, tha changed.

Palpatine had Havac deliver a modified battle droid to the Federation, which sat in the Federation’s shield-generator-protected box at the summit hall. When the shield was activated, and the droid started to fire, all the blast bolts ricoched around the enclosed box, killing all the non-Neimoidian members of the directorate.

The summit was a disaster, but the Senate still passed the bill in favour of taxing the Free Trade Routes. However, Palpatine’s use of the aurodium then came out. Valorum Shipping of Eriadu, run by cousins of the Supreme Chancellor, had received a large influx of capital following the first announcement of the taxation bill. All evidence pointed to the Supreme Chancellor having proposed the bill simply in order to profit. With Valorum thus weakened, a cabal of senators began to turn their thoughts to who could replace him, and Orn Free Taa proposed they back Palpatine.

Darth Sidious proposed to Nute Gunray that the Federation blockade Naboo, the homeworld of Senator Palpatine, who had whipped up so much support for the taxation bill.

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Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

Nute Gunray was de facto head of the Federation. However, his Deputy, Hath Monchar, thought he could make some fast credits by selling the information of the impending blockade and the re-emergence of the Sith. Sidious sent his apprentice Darth Maul to Coruscant to dispose of the traitorous Neimoidian.

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The Phantom Menace

The blockade then went ahead, and the Supreme Chancellor dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi to mediate. This caused the need to accelerate Sidious’ plan, and the Federation, at his behest, invaded the planet with their droid armies. Queen Amidala of Naboo managed to escape to Coruscant, where she met with the Senate to try and force the Federation to end their occupation. When she saw how ineffectual the Senate had become, she called for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum. Palpatine, along with Ainlee Teem and Bail Antilles, was nominated to succeed Valorum.

The Queen and her Jedi guardians returned to Naboo to wrest control of the planet from the Federation, and Sidious sent Darth Maul to deal with the Jedi. Then the plan went awry – although Maul killed Qui-Gon, he was himself killed by Obi-Wan, and the Queen, with the help of the native Gungans, managed to overcome the droid armies and liberate the planet.

Palpatine was then elected Supreme Chancellor of the Republic.

Twilight

With the loss of his apprentice, Sidious needed another to keep his plans in motion. Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, investigating an illegal spice racket in the outer rim, proved to be a possiblity. Being overdosed with the synthesised glitteryll, Quinlan lost his memory and came extremely close to turning to the Dark Side.

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(no source as yet)

However, it was the aristocratic Count Dooku who became Sidious’ second apprentice. Dooku was Qui-Gon’s former Master and close friend, and had been steadily becoming disillusioned with the corrupt Republic. The loss of his former padawan was too much, and he left the Jedi Order. Almost immediately he was approached by Nute Gunray, who told him of the alliance he had entered into with Sidious. Dooku, intrigued, sought out the Sith Master and gave himself to the Dark Side. Sidious gave him the Sith name Darth Tyranus.

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Jango Fett: Open Seasons

Darth Tyranus was given the task of assembling an army with which to challenge the Republic. Remembering a formidable enemy he had encountered years previously, Tyranus sought out the Mandalorian warrior Jango Fett and offered him a deal, in which Fett would become the template of a clone army. Fett, in exchange for an unaltered clone of his own, agreed.

The Approaching Storm

Dooku then began to court the commercial interests throughout the galaxy – the Commerce Guild and the Techno Union, among others. Dooku, with the support of these big businesses, implemented a most dangerous plan: secession from the Republic. The Confederacy of Independent Systems, as they became known, turned their attention to Ansion. This world seemed blissfully unimportant, but was at the heart of dozens of treaties with both neighbouring and far-flung worlds so that, if that planet were to leave the Republic, all the others would and, in the end, over half the planets of the Republic would be independent.

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The Jedi were dispatched to keep Ansion from seceeding. Obi-Wan and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, along with Luminara Unduli and her padawan Barriss Offee, managed to keep the planet in the Rpublic, but other worlds were swayed by Dooku’s seductive promises of free trade and began to seceede. Soon, thousands and thousands of systems were part of the Confederacy.

Attack of the Clones

The Separatist crisis had now escalated so much so that the Senate was debating whether or not to form a Grand Army of the Republic. Padme Amidala, now Senator for Naboo, was the leader of the opposition to this Military Creation Act. However, an attempt on her life proved the danger of the crisis they were entering, and several senators were completely behind creating an army.

The Jedi were called in to investigate the attempts on Padme’s life, and on the suggestion of Palpatine, Obi-Wan and Anakin were given the assignment. Obi-Wan, following a lead to the water planet Kamino, left Anakin in charge of protecting Padme. Anakin had, however, an emotional attachment to Padme, and the two fell in love.

Obi-Wan discovered the Jango Fett-based clone army on Kamino, and was startled to learn that the Kaminoans believed they were working for the Republic. Obi-Wan tracked the bounty hunter Jango Fett to Geonosis, where he was imprisoned by Dooku. Anakin and Padme went to Obi-Wan’s aid, having first sent a message to the Jedi on Coruscant. Mace Windu led a 200-strong Jedi task force to Geonosis while Yoda went to Kamino to claim the clone army for the Republic.

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On Geonosis, the Clone Wars erupted. Dooku succeeded in escaping from Yoda, and rejoined Darth Sidious on Coruscant with the plans for a huge armoured battle station that the Geonosians had been working on.

Anakin and Padme then married.

Jedi: Mace Windu

Several illustrious Jedi died at Geonosis, but far worse, many left the Jedi Order. Sora Bulq was one such Jedi, who abandoned himself to the Dark Side, and Count Dooku. Dooku, however, had taken the acolyte Asajj Ventress and trained her in the use of paired lightsabers as he had his apprentice Komari Vosa. Ventress became a nemesis of many of the Jedi, least of all Obi-Wan Kenobi.

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Clone Wars: Light and Dark

In a desperate bid to stop the Clone Wars, Jedi Master Tholme brought a potentially disastrous plan before the Jedi Council. His former padawan, Quinlan Vos, had already skirted the Dark Side. Tholme proposed that Quinlan “defect” to Dooku and bring about the destruction of the Confederacy from the inside. Masters Windu and Yoda approved the plan, and Quinlan surrendered himself to Dooku. However, he was soon in way over his head, and the Jedi weren’t sure whether or not Quinlan was just acting when he was carrying out Dooku’s directives.

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The Dreadnaughts of Rendili

The Jedi managed to capture Quinlan and learn of a terrible new threat in the Outer Rim. Dooku was having vampiric Anzati train Nikto Morgukai warriors to fight on the side of the Confederacy.

(no source as yet)

The Clone Wars brought about a terrible destruction across the galaxy. The Jedi Order slowly dwindled as their numbers were thinned, not least by the inexorable General Grievous. Trained in lightsaber combat by Dooku himself, the half droid, half unknown General became the most prolific Jedi killer the galaxy had seen.

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Revenge of the Sith

The Clone Wars, however, were engineered by Palpatine in order for him to be given emergency powers. With the authority to act independent of the Senate, Palpatine slowly became a dictator and, despite promises to lay aside these powers when the war was over, after the death of Dooku by Anakin’s hand, Palpatine retained his authority. A small group of senators, including Padme, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, began to form a rebellion when it became apparent that Palpatine wasn’t going to lay them down at all, even when Obi-Wan had eliminated the threat of General Grievous.

Palpatine declared the Jedi traitors to the Republic and they should be hunted down. Taking overall control of the clone army, he had them turn on their Jedi generals.

Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One, who had such potential in the Force it was unbelievable. Palpatine, determined to have him as his apprentice (more so when Dooku was killed), had become more of a mentor-figure to the young Jedi than Obi-Wan was. Palpatine was always ready to listen to him, and, when the Jedi Council refused to acknowledge his part in the demise of Dooku, Palpatine had him made his personal bodyguard.

When the Jedi finally realised Palpatine was Darth Sidious, Mace Windu went to confront the Supreme Chancellor. However, Palpatine used the confrontation to turn Anakin to the Dark Side. Anakin killed Mace and was given the Sith name Darth Vader. Palpatine sent him to Mustafar to eliminate the remaining Separatist leaders, where he was followed by his old master Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan had learnt of Padme’s marriage and pregnancy, and was determined to bring Anakin back. However, Anakin and Obi-Wan did battle, with the Jedi overcoming the Sith. Anakin was, to all intents and purposes, dead.

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Palpatine had his own troubles with Yoda, the most revered and experienced Jedi Master. Yoda, although he gave Palpatine a hard time, was forced to flee the Sith Master. He set up on Dagobah to await the day when Anakin’s child could redeem his father.

Palpatine recovered Anakin’s body and encased him in a cybernetic suit. Anakin Skywalker ceased to exist. The Jedi Order was eliminated, Palpatine had the most powerful Jedi now as his apprentice, and a galaxy in his thrall.

Mission Accomplished.