In the spring of 1999, my perspectives on Star Wars shifted. Why? Because I went to see The Phantom Menace in theatres and my princess loving self was taken aback by a startling discovery: this movie had an actual queen in it. Yes, Princess Leia was, as her name indicated, a princess. But my fashion-curious self was far more taken with Padme Amidala, who had an outfit or two for every occasion. What’s not to love?
Jump ahead decades to my adulthood, and Padmé is at long last getting a book series in her own right. True, the target demographic is much younger than I am, but since when has that stopped me? After the compelling Queen’s Shadow and the odd Queen’s Peril, the series has at long last wrapped up. Let’s get right to it. This is Queen’s Hope by E.K. Johnston.
*Spoilers below. For a spoiler-free look, go here.*
Shortly after the Clone Wars break out, Senator Padmé Amidala returns home to Naboo to recover from injuries sustained in the Geonosis arena. Escorting her is Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. But he doesn’t remain her mere escort for long. Following a quick personal mission on behalf of the Queen of Naboo, the two of them marry in a sunset lakeside ceremony.
But things can’t stay idyllic for long. Soon enough the two of them are separately recalled to the Republic capital. Anakin is sent off to the front to fight, while Padmé is pulled into a delicate, covert senatorial mission. She is tasked by Bail Organa with meeting a potential wartime informant who will only speak to a senator.
Because she cannot be absent from the Senate, however, Padmé enlists the help of her onetime handmaiden Sabé to come to Coruscant and stand in her place. Though the two of them fall back into old habits easily, the shared Amidala persona doesn’t fit quite as well as it used to, and Sabé chafes under the weight of their strained relationship.
What Worked For Me
Though ostensibly about Padmé, the novel felt more like a few loosely connected stories woven into one book. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it was honestly the non-Padmé portions I found to be the most interesting.
There is, of course, the political maneuvering that happens on Coruscant, showing the governing side of the war where The Clone Wars focused largely (albeit not exclusively) on the fighting front. I always like seeing more of that and I enjoyed it here too.
Of most interest to me was Sabé and Tonra’s ongoing mission to free the slaves on Tatooine. Where the mission went uncompleted in Queen’s Shadow, it was rewarding to see them have some measure of success this time, though granted on a smaller scale than I think they had hoped for.
Another, completely separate thing I really appreciated was the introduction of Tepoh, a potential handmaiden-turned-assistant to Saché. Tepoh’s pronouns are zhe/zher, which is not a first in Star Wars, but it isa. first in a book aimed at a younger audience. Though zher conversations with Saché about zher identity might seem a little on the nose to me, an adult who is very aware of neopronouns, I appreciated their inclusion simply because it might give a young reader the language to describe their own identity to someone, especially if they live somewhere where this information is not otherwise readily available to them.
I am also pleased to report that my half-joking guess in my Queen’s Shadow review that Beru (as in Aunt Beru) was somehow involved in the slave freeing movement proved to be correct. My theories are usually way off, so this one was spot on.
What Didn’t Work For Me
It is a small point relatively speaking, but as much as I liked the inclusion of the trans clone named Sister, I am deeply frustrated by her utter lack of presence in the story overall. Her appearance is limited to a single conversation with Anakin where they only discuss her transness, and then she never once comes back. Johnston said she created Sister so that any author might use her in their future stories, but it does make me wonder why she didn’t feel the need to use her beyond a conversation that amounted to “I’m trans”/”Yep, you sure are”.
I could have been more forgiving of that conversation if Sister was actually in the rest of the book the way Tepoh was. Tepoh’s presence was not limited to a discussion of zher identity. Zhe served a function to the plot. By contrast it’s hard for Sister to not feel like lip service at best.
Alright, now we need to talk about how this book does interpersonal relationships.
Three books in, I still don’t get the sense that I know Padmé any better than I did after the Prequel Trilogy. Part of this, I am certain, has to do with how she relates – or rather, doesn’t – to the people around her.
In Queen’s Shadow I noted that it was an interesting stylistic choice to keep the reader at arms length, and let her friendship with her handmaidens be for them and them alone. It’s the one moment of her life that wasn’t on display and that extends to the reader. However, after 3 books of a very similar approach, I’m not sure that served the character all that well, if it was indeed a stylistic choice.
Every handmaiden she engages with, they have more silent conversations than spoken ones. I know perfectly well that close friends do not need to verbalize every conversation. Not even close friends, really. Earlier today a coworker and I had a totally silent conversation with our eyes while wearing face masks. But the thing is, in every real life scenario, both participants have the full context of what is going on in the room as well as the full history of their relationship. There is no third observer, such as a reader, who would necessitate that sometimes the obvious be said out loud.
I could let her conversation with Yané regarding her wedding dress slide. It was a brief moment. But when the time came for Padmé and Sabé to resolve the lie that has been hanging over them both – namely that Padmé married Anakin and didn’t tell her oldest friend about it – they don’t actually say anything…at any point…
Remind me how close these two are actually supposed to be? If my closest, oldest friends got married in secret, especially to someone I don’t really care for, I would have some choice words for them.
While I’m on the subject of Padmé and Anakin’s marriage. If I hadn’t been told, going in, that the book was about their marriage, I would not have walked away labouring under that delusion at all. This did not read like the account the the early married days of a young, very in love couple.
The story barely gives them any time to be truly alone. The hours before their wedding are spent on a mission for the Queen. The week or so after is spent in various outdoor, public pursuits and absolutely no time having a conventional “honeymoon” so to speak. This is a couple that got married after hanging out as adults for a week, tops. You mean to tell me the first thing on their mind was a nature excursion? I don’t buy it. I understand the target demographic for this book skews younger, but it isn’t as though the first book of the series didn’t have YA-typical suggestions that two of the characters are physically intimate. It just strikes me as odd that the only Star Wars couple that we ever see sharing a bed onscreen do not seem interested in doing so in the days following their wedding. Padmé spends more time in bed with Sabé than she does with Anakin.
If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, I know I am. I didn’t need that to happen in the book. But that speaks to the overall disconnect in how we, the audience, knows Padmé feels about Anakin, and how her feelings were interpreted by those telling her story.
She actually doesn’t spend much time with Anakin at all in this book, and the time she does spend is mostly dialogue free. This was a chance to fill in the blanks of the early days of their relationship, and the potential wasn’t met for me. It wasn’t met with any of the book, really.
Overall it felt like a series of loosely-connected vignettes that had very little to do with the woman who was supposed to be at the heart of it all. Going into the Padmé trilogy, I had hope that an underserved character would finally get her due, and now on the other side of it all, I don’t honestly feel like we got that deep dive into the character that a trilogy like this ought to have provided.
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