Biweekly Book Review: Revenge of the Sith

A pair of starfighters. Jedi starfighters. Only two. Two is enough. Two is enough because the adults are wrong and their younglings are right.

Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.

This is it. The big one. The one they all talk about. The Star Wars novelization to end all Star Wars novelizations.

The first time I read this book was back in December 2019. The hype for the end of the Skywalker Saga was the highest it would ever be. I had heard a lot about this book, and its unique style, and I was curious enough to give it a try. And…damn.

It’s so good.

Is it perfect? No. But what it does well, it does very well. There’s a reason that people who haven’t really read the novelizations have read this one. Let’s get right down to it: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover.

Parts I Enjoyed

As I mentioned above, this book is highly stylized. Large sections of it are a straight retelling, the way we might expect of other novelizations. But there are sections, mostly towards the beginning, that go into who the character actually is, in that moment, who they were in the past, and what their hopes for the future are. All the action goes on pause for reflective character moments, which is so strange in a novelization, but it works very well here, for what is ultimately the culmination of the first third of an epic saga.

This book also took several liberties with the text, not only including scenes that ultimately wound up deleted, but also including things that weren’t actually filmed, and deepening relationships the movie didn’t have time for, primarily where the main three characters are concerned.

There are flashbacks to Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship during his Padawan years, an era that as of this writing has still gone woefully unexplored. That’s ten years of dramatic, yet hilarious potential right there. Why on earth would you not explore it?

Not only that, but the book spends a lot of time on what a perfect, elegantly matched pair Anakin and Obi-Wan are. There’s a clip of the Revenge of the Sith movie everyone likes to make fun of because they’re swinging lightsabers at each other without making contact. People laugh, like this is a choreography error and not the whole fucking point. They are so evenly matched, they’re two halves of a whole. One might even be tempted to call them a Dyad (I do). If the Star Wars fandom/universe had the language for that back in 2005, I’m almost certain Stover would have used it. Because that’s how he describes the two of them.

But then there is the dynamic between Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padmé, specifically regarding Padmé and Anakin’s marriage. In the years since the release of this book, we’ve had 7 seasons of The Clone Wars, and some of the ideas first presented here are given a bit more backing. I imagine in 2005 reading that Obi-Wan actually knew about the two of them was a bit more shocking than it is now. Nowadays, at least among those I know, it’s accepted that Obi-Wan knew about them, and maybe even understood to some extent, while also not really knowing what to say to Anakin beyond “don’t do it, you will get chlamydia and die”.

It also adds that level of depth to his friendship with both of them, but Anakin in particular, because while he may not get it, nor explicitly condone it, ultimately he loves Anakin and wants him to be happy, whatever that looks like. Attachment clouding his judgement? Maybe, but I’d argue that’s because he was never taught how to balance attachment and duty the way, say, a High Republic Jedi would have.

The other part of this dynamic of theirs I love comes down to my personal, tropey preference, and that is the part where Palpatine insinuates to Anakin that Padmé and Obi-Wan are having an affair.

First of all I love this because I maintain that the reason we don’t see much of Padmé and Obi-Wan together is because the chemistry is simply too good. It would throw the whole thing off-balance. No wonder Anakin believes this immediately. I might be inclined to believe it if I didn’t know better. It also gives additional weight to his claims of Obi-Wan having “turned” Padmé against him. What exactly are you implying there, Anakin? That exchange on Mustafar always felt loaded, and knowing that this plot point was considered for the final product makes the whole thing make so much sense.

It also shows just how well Palpatine knows Anakin, and knows how to push his buttons. He is jealous and possessive, and here is a way, in a handy Padmé-shaped package, to push all those buttons at once.

While I’m on that note, it’s not that I “enjoy” Palpatine and Anakin’s relationship – it’s extremely creepy and unsettling – but this book really lets you sit with how unsettling it actually is. Nothing is left up to conjecture: this boy is being groomed much in the same way his grandson will be in 50-something years. Not that Stover knew that, but it’s like poetry etc.

Parts I Disliked

For the record, I really do enjoy this novel very much. But there is one part of it that I dislike strongly, and that is the way Padmé is written.

I get the sense that Matthew Stover didn’t really know what to do with Padmé. In another context, I may not fault an author for instance. Take the Ian Doescher Shakespeare adaptations. He takes a few liberties here and there but otherwise sticks pretty close to the plot of the movies.

But novelizations are different. The rescue of the Chancellor is a full quarter of this book. The deleted scenes (some of which are available on DVD or Disney+) have been put back in. There are scenes I’m convinced he just made up out of whole cloth. The whole thing is peppered with interludes from inside the characters heads, and this was my first indication that he didn’t know what to do with Padmé.

I’m not opposed to Anakin and Padmé’s relationship. I actually like the romance, until it starts to dissolve very quickly. But when Padmé is first introduced, all the accomplishments she is known for – as a former monarch, as a current senator, as a person – is brushed aside. Oh it’s definitely mentioned, with the caveat that her current role as Anakin Skywalker’s wife is in her view the most important role she fills. That the rest doesn’t matter.

Sure, maybe Padmé thinks that (doubtful, but whatever), but why would you project those sentiments onto the reader? The reader who, in these very pages, is about to see Padmé play a key role in the founding of the Rebellion?

It unfortunately doesn’t stop there. Any subsequent scene which should be a good opportunity for the reader to get inside Padmé’s head at truly pivotal moments in her life are done very strangely. There are several key scenes of Padmé interacting with Anakin and Obi-Wan that are told…from C-3PO’s point of view.

Because that’s what we needed right now. Some perspective from Threepio. It gets worse and worse the closer we get to the end of the book as well. Right when it’s a series of critical moments for Padmé, we are deprived of her insight.

We haven’t really had great insight into Padmé’s mind before, it certainly isn’t exclusive to Stover, it’s just a shame that in a book that is so rich with so much interiority for others it’s lacking for the lone primary woman in the story.

Final Thoughts

Dooku is racist…or at least, very pro-human and thinks non-humans are lesser. Somehow this does and doesn’t shock me.

Come for the poetic retelling of Revenge of the Sith, stay for the moment Obi-Wan and Yoda sneak into the Temple by disguising themselves as a sketchy man looking to make a quick buck by selling a “very ugly Jedi baby”

There are a few moments carried over directly from Tartovsky’s 2D Clone Wars, my favourite of which was Anakin giving Padmé his Padawan braid when he was made a knight.

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