Biweekly Book Review: The Phantom Menace

New territory, new format, you know how it goes! We’ve finally made it to the novelizations! Rather than reviewing the story and what it entails (because I presume you’ve seen the movies), I am instead going to focus on what each novelization contributed to – or detracted from, as the case may be – each movie.

As a disclaimer, I am aware that the versions of the novelizations that I have for episodes 1-6 are not technically canon anymore, but since the movies have “priority” here, and that version is the “right” one, I figure it can’t hurt to just use what I’ve got.

OK now that’s out of the way…

Of the three novelizations of the Prequel Trilogy films, the Phantom Menace sticks closest to the content of the film, not adding too much beyond the odd moment here and there. Though I knew what I was getting into, it’s actually my least favourite of the Prequel Trilogy novelizations, but this might have something to do with nostalgia bias. I was young when The Phantom Menace came out, and I have vivid memories of reading (and re-reading) Patricia C. Wrede’s junior novelization. The characterizations in that stuck with me so thoroughly that these ones felt…different. Not wrong, mind. Just different.

Incidentally, today is the 22nd anniversary of The Phantom Menace, so happy birthday to the Star Wars film that set me down the path you see me on now!

Anyway, let’s dive in: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks

Parts I Enjoyed:

While this novel plays it fairly close to the movie, there were two things added in that I absolutely adored. Both are things I’ve gone on at length about, but I love it when my favourite things pop up time and time again.

The first is the way this book builds out the relationship between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. We got some of this later on with Claudia Gray’s Master and Apprentice, but I’m a sucker for the dynamic between these two no matter where I see it. Though we would later explore the relationship between the two, this was, when the book was being written as far as anyone knew, this was the only chance we would get. And Brooks does his best to deliver on that front. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in new canon, but I’ll take it where I can get it. We see how they get frustrated with each other’s methods and attitudes, but then by the end, we see the depth of feeling they have for one another. It’s a student-teacher relationship on paper, but to both of them it’s something more akin to father and son and if you’ll excuse me I have something in my eye.

The other thing that was added in is, unlike Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s dynamic, something that is wholly absent from the movie – both in text and subtext.

The first time the reader meets Anakin Skywalker is not in Watto’s shop, as it is in the film, but before the arrival of the Jedi on Tatooine. We get a few scenes of him and his day to day life. One of these scenes shows him out in the desert with 3P0 on an errand, when they encounter a wounded Tusken raider. Rather than leaving, or killing him, Anakin stays and tries to help. Though his aid is refused, the attempt does not go unrecognized. When the Tusken tribe arrives to rescue their injured member, they spare Anakin and leave him unharmed, recognizing the act of compassion he attempted to perform.

And to think, this was written prior to the release of Episode II, and is not actually meant to be foreshadowing, though it certainly looks that way now.

I’m also a fan on any narrative that paints the Tuskens as the original settlers of Tatooine. The Mandalorian set me upon this hill, and I am prepared to die on it. Not much is made of that fact in the book, but it is mentioned and that did not go unnoticed by me.

Parts I Disliked:

There is one major thing this book does, that I don’t care for, and that is building out Anakin and Padmé’s friendship.

Let me explain.

Part of the intensity of their romance in Attack of the Clones is Anakin finally being in the same room with the woman he’s spent a decade building up in his head and has convinced himself he’s already in love with, while Padmé has an “oh no, he’s hot” moment. Their romance isn’t one-sided by the end of Attack of the Clones but it sure is at the start of it.

Why this works so well based just off of the movies is that while Anakin is making heart-eyes at Padmé from the word “go” (or technically, from the words “are you an angel?”), she really isn’t thinking about him all that much. Sure, she’s kind to him, thinks he’s a nice, sweet kid, but you never get the sense that she’s thinking about him all that much. And why would she? Her entire planet is suffering under occupation. So when we leave off at the end of Episode I, we have an Anakin who is very much in love with Padmé, without any reason for believing that she feels the same.

It sounds horrible, but I almost feel like the Padmé here is too nice to him. She is too friendly, and teasingly reminds him of his promise to marry her someday. While it never reads as anything other than a cute thing a young teen would say to a tween that she knows has a crush on her, it almost gives too much basis for Anakin’s crush, and takes some of the punch out of how unexpected it is later.

Unexpected for the characters, that is. We knew it was bound to happen since this is a Darth Vader origin story after all. I suspect that’s why it was done, to give their relationship more context and background, and I suspect that this ultimately boils down to preference.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s ABSOLUTELY wild that novelizations used to come out before the movie. And this happened in my lifetime.

Imagine the chaos today, if the Sequel Trilogy novels had come out before the movies? Going into The Force Awakens knowing about the Han/Kylo scene? Ok, that did actually happen to me, but we can blame internet assholes for that.

Ultimately, what I think this novel does best is provide the film with added – but not strictly necessary – context. While I don’t recommend reading it before ever seeing the movie, I do think reading it, then rewatching it could be a fun exercise in detecting character motivation.

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