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.

Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: Race to Crashpoint Tower

Just a note to say that this is a SPOILER-FILLED review. If you want Spoiler-Free, check out my review over at The Geeky Waffle here.

The middle-grade offerings for The High Republic have a unique quality about them. Though the High Republic as a whole has been excellent for rich characters and their overall development, there’s just something about the Middle Grade books. With smaller casts and smaller-scale stories that nevertheless keep the high stakes, we get to watch the future of the High Republic blossom before our eyes.

Race to Crashpoint Tower is no exception. Like it’s MG predecessor, it takes place in the background of the major event that categorizes this wave of books, but does so even more overtly than its predecessor. It also introduces brand new characters, as well as those who are making the jump from comics to prose.

I will say, before we really get into it, if you were a fan of this book and haven’t checked out the IDW comics yet, do it. Do it now. Do it before there is simply too much to keep up with and it becomes intimidating. You won’t regret it.

With that, Race to Crashpoint Tower by Daniel José Older.

The Story

Set against the backdrop of the Nihil attack on the Republic Fair, Race to Crashpoint Tower tells the story of the teens and tweens caught in the middle. There is local Valo Jedi Padawan Ram Jomaram, who experiences the Force in his own way and is a little off-beat with the others at his Temple.

Arriving on Valo for the occasion, are Jedi Padawan Lula Talisola and her Force-sensitive friend Zeen. They’re looking into the mystery of what happened during a Nihil raid on Zeen’s homeworld, and their investigation leads them and their Jedi Master to Valo where all hell naturally breaks loose when the Nihil attack.

But the Nihil haven’t just attacked. Oh no. They also brought Drengir with them. Jumping off of things seen in the comics and in Into the Dark, the Nihil seem to now be using Drengir to take care of large crowds while they cause chaos. They plant some near the main relay station on Valo, Crashpoint Tower, interfering with the signal and preventing them from calling out for help. Naturally it’s up to the kids to do something to take care of that while the grown-ups are busy with the bigger threat at the Fair.

4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)

1. The kids act like kids

This one might seem obvious because it’s a kids book, but this doesn’t happen as much as you think it does. I’ve even seen it happen in Star Wars books, where the kids act unrealistically mature. Like please, no one is that well-adjusted as a tween. Fortunately it seems to be the case not only with this book, but with A Test of Courage, that the kids actually act like real teens and tweens.

These are, of course, very skilled youth with a particular skillset, and any one of them could kick my ass before breakfast. But they still act their age. They are insecure in their own interests and personalities, they doubt themselves, they make mistakes (and I cannot stress enough how important that is). These are kids that young readers of The High Republic can, and should look up to!

Just, maybe, if you’re running off to take care of a killer plant infestation, maybe tell an adult where you’re going, ok?

2. Different interests and personalities

Hand in hand with the fact that the kids actually act like kids, is the fact that their interests and personalities are so wildly different.

There is Zeen, who is prominent though not a point-of-view character. She is currently dealing with the struggle of casting off the shame and struggle of her homeworld, where Force powers are stigmatized, and she was meant to feel ashamed for exhibiting them. Any reader who is living or has lived in an environment that didn’t appreciate them can find something in Zeen to identify with.

There is Ram, who is one of the more unusual Jedi Padawan’s we’ve seen, though he’s by no means an unusual depiction of a teenager. He likes to keep himself to himself, he likes machinery. The way it all fits together for him you get the sense that this is how he perceives the Force. If Avar Kriss sees it as a song, and Elzar Mann sees it as the sea, then to Ram, the Force is a machine, each part working together to make it all work.

Then we have Lula Talisola, who is honestly the one I identified with the most out of all of them. She’s also not really something we’ve seen in a Star Wars teenager before, except…well…Anakin Skywalker, but that’s a bit extreme. Lula is good at what she does. Really good even. But she always feels like there is someone around her who does it a little better. She wants to be one of the youngest Jedi Knights, and lo and behold, there’s Vernestra Rwoh, younger than her and knighted already. No matter what Lula does, she constantly compares herself to others and finds herself coming up short. It’s something I do all the time. It’s something I was doing this very day. The lesson is, naturally, each at their own pace. But sometimes it’s hard to hear, and harder to take in.

3. The Drengir

You’ve heard me say it before. When the Drengir were first introduced I thought it was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard in my life.

Then came the books and comics of Wave One to make me realize that no, the sentient plants are actually extremely terrifying. Which definitely made me wonder how, if at all, would these creatures carry over to entertainment made for kids? They’re actually scarier than the Nihil (at least in my opinion)

The secret, it turns out, was to turn it over to Master of Unexpected Comedy, Daniel José Older. His Drengir are not the mindless monsters of the comics, or the dark and sinister Drengir of Into the Dark. His are…actually funny?

I said back in my Into the Dark review that the Drengir scared me because I didn’t know how a person was supposed to reason with sentient plants. It turns out, you can reason with them very easily – even if they won’t stop referring to you and all your loved ones as “meats”.

4. More overlap!

While the adult and MG book overlap somewhat in Wave One, here they overlap a lot.

Like a whole lot.

Like a few of the scenes are the same scene from two different points of view.

Nothing really changes about either plot, either way, and you can definitely read one and not the other (but really, you should read it all). What I appreciate about it as someone reading all of it is how connected it makes the whole thing feel.

Not to mention we have characters and concepts making the jump over from Wave One, from the comics, from other books. This isn’t the introductory wave anymore. This shows that The High Republic has well and truly landed.

5. Where are the Nihil?

Yes, I’m obsessed. Hush.

Obviously, the Nihil have a huge part to play in the events on Valo. So in that way, they’re there. But how fun would it have been to have one of the POV characters be a Nihil teenager? Why not have it be Krix, Zeen’s friend from the comics? Or another teenager, even. They can’t all be bitter, jaded adults.

Also, yes, technically Lourna Dee is there for a bit, but that’s not what I meant. Ah well, we’re getting a full Nihil audio drama so I really shouldn’t complain.

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

Through it all, there is also the wonderful lesson that Ram receives from a Jedi master at the Temple to “see the whole for the whole”. To see the whole thing for what it is and essentially not miss the forest for the trees. A reminder I think we all need once in a while.

I know it doesn’t ever get better long term, but I do wonder if Zeen is going to become some kind of older Padawan, or a renegade independent Force user as she gets older. I hope she sticks around either way, I like her.

Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: The Rising Storm

Just a note to say that this is a SPOILER-FILLED review. If you want Spoiler-Free, check out my review over at The Geeky Waffle here.

It’s time. It’s finally time. Wave Two of Star Wars: The High Republic is finally here! When I think back to silly, skeptical Arezou back when the publishing initiative was announced, I can’t help but laugh. I thought it sounded cool, but weird. Too detached from the main timeline to hold my interest and definitely way too much going on for me to follow it easily.

The joke was very much on me. Since January, the High Republic era and stories have become some of my favourite storytelling coming out of Star Wars. Ever. They even got me reading single issue comics. Who am I??

The Rising Storm, the adult-focused novel (novel for adults? I never know what to call it so it doesn’t sound like an 18+ thing) that kicks off Wave Two. I was already super excited for Cavan Scott’s prose take on the High Republic era. Dooku: Jedi Lost was an unexpected favourite of mine when it came out and the High Republic has very similar vibes to D:JL. After having read it, I said this is a Top 3 Star Wars novel for me. I would like to now amend that statement. It’s my favourite Star Wars novel full-stop..

With that in mind, let’s get into The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott.

The Story

One year after the Great Disaster changed lives all over the galaxy, its citizens are reeling. But as any group does in the wake of a crisis, they soldier on and try to get back to normal. Specifically, getting on with the long planned “Republic Fair”, to be held on the Mid-Rim world of Valo. Jedi Master Elzar Mann, the administrator on Valo, is given run of the event, but is plagued by horrifying visions of everyone he’s ever known and loved dying in a horrifying way.

Speaking of which.

The Nihil are looking for a way to strike out at a government they already perceive as weak and struggling after the Legacy Run disaster. With Marchion Ro somewhat out of commission on a hunt of his own, the remaining Nihil Leaders launch an attack on the Republic Fair not to do anything in particular, but simply to show that they can.

If this summary seems vague, it’s because I truly cannot summarize this book without delving into just how rich all the characters are. Because it’s told from multiple points of view, so much of the plot is intermingled with the characters, which are a big part of what I loved about this book, so we’ll get into it below.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)

1. Elzar Mann, the incurable romantic

Oh, Elzar Mann. My sweet boy. We can talk about how keenly or intensely the other Jedi from the PT/OT/ST love, but truly, there was never a Jedi who loved as deeply as Elzar Mann does. The man just loves love.

We first met Elzar in Light of the Jedi, and one thing that everyone seemed to be talking about – at least in my circles – is the seemingly doomed romance between Elzar and his childhood best friend Avar Kriss. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still very invested in seeing what happens to these two crazy kids (it’s not gonna go well, is it? Star Wars likes to break my heart)

But rather than spending the bulk of the book pining over Avar, and their last encounter a year ago on the Starlight Beacon, Elzar actually surprised me! OK, yes, there was some pining, I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t any pining. But Elzar isn’t sitting in his room moping. Oh, no. Instead, he’s sparked up a flirtation with a Valo administrator named Samera. A flirtation that the two of them take to the next level, if you catch my drift.

That’s right. Not to sound like a super immature teenager, but this book actually has sex in it. I mean, not explicitly, this is still traditionally published Star Wars, and not the AO3 kind. But like…a Jedi that fucks. Multiple times. A game changer.

This might seem silly to get this excited over. But I honestly can’t believe it took this long to be this explicit about it (and, again, it’s not actually explicit). There are a lot of stories that talk about the conflict Jedi have over feeling attachment for another, and what that might look like, but it’s always presented as this amorphous, larger-than-life kind of love/attachment. What we have here is an attachment that could blossom into love someday, but for now is manifesting in a very real way. The way some adults actually like to express feelings for each other in the real world. And the way Elzar and Samera’s relationship is written is the actual, heart-pounding kind of slow burn I love to read.

And like every sweet, romantic man, this goes beyond sex for Elzar. He can see this thing with Samera escalating into something long term down the line. Unfortunately for him, she doesn’t feel the same and says they should just leave it at what it was. Now I might dismiss this as just them being on different pages about the whole thing, but the fact that she left him naked and asleep in her apartment (this book made my brain short-circuit, I swear, it’s so horny) while she went back to the Fair? Kinda sus, I’m just saying…

But before you think that Elzar spends the entire book only thinking about one thing, his tendency to for deep attachments comes up in other ways too.

His sudden friendship with Ty Yorrick is fascinating. It’s unexpected, and intense. I hope this gets revisited down the line, because the nature of their Face Bond really made me sit up in my seat. Is this some kind of proto-dyad? Something like it? Something totally different? I don’t know but I’m ready to find out. But all this is to say that while Jedi might preach no attachment, I almost feel like Elzar is incapable of NOT forming attachments.

One thing I picked up on throughout, and that made me really happy to see, is the friendship between Elzar and Stellan Gios. These are two men who grew up together, who respect each other even when the other one is being an idiot. They are best friends, and they truly do love each other. I said in my non-spoiler review that media needs more healthy male friendships like this, and I was delighted to learn that Cavan Scott feels the same!

Speaking of Stellan…

2. Stellan Gios, my sweet nerdy boy

I already had a feeling I would fall in love with Stellan Gios. On paper, he’s everything I love in a Jedi. He’s got the Obi-Wan aesthetic. His Padawan Vernestra is already a Jedi knight so we know he’s a dedicated teacher. He’s got a crossguard lightsaber. He’s basically a perfect combination of my favourite Skywalker-era boys: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ben Solo.

Beyond that though…Stellan is just SUCH a dork. The biggest nerd. He relishes having the opportunity to talk and teach, and tries to use his role on the council to do more of that. So it comes as a huge shock and adjustment to his character when the Nihil’s actions in nearly killing Chancellor Soh thrust him into a heroic spotlight position he hadn’t really anticipated taking on. Images of him cradling Soh’s body circulate all over the holonet, and we don’t need to live in the GFFA to know the power of a single, widely disseminated image.

He also makes for such an interesting contrast to Elzar. Light of the Jedi describes Elzar as being the type to never do things the same way twice, and never explain his reasoning. Stellan is the exact opposite. Everything is just so with him, he absolutely loves explaining himself, and it’ll be interesting to see how that comes into play with his dual role as hero/saviour and Jedi Council member.

We got little snippets of him and Vernestra in this book, and I hope we get to see more of their dynamic in later books. I wonder how much of the pressures and responsibilities she puts on herself stem from the kind of training she got.

Like Elzar, he appears to be a kind, even loving man. But we only ever see this through the lens of him as a teacher, and as a friend. What would happen, I wonder, if Stellan Gios were to fall in love? Poor, dorky man wouldn’t know what to do with himself. I need it. I realize this is less review and more speculation, but it’s the mark of a well-written character when I can start speculating about their interior life. Means the author gave me a lot to work with!

Also, and this is a propos of nothing but I love the way his name sounds. It’s just fun to say.

3. Force Users of all kinds

One cool feature of this High Republic era is the pervasiveness of Force users. By the time we catch up with them in the Prequel-era, the use of the Force has become so diminished, even the Jedi are having trouble sensing it. We see some characters pop up down the line in animation, like the Bogan or the Lasat in Rebels. In Legends of Luke Skywalker, we meet cultures that live beyond the reach of the Republic/Empire that have their own relationship to the Force.

But the times we see the Force used or spoken of in this way are more scarce. Not only to they not have a large impact on the story as a whole, they’re also such unknown entities within the story that their introduction also serves as their explanation.

While that also happens here – concepts are not just dropped into our laps and left alone – we get to see these different relationships to the Force built out over the course of the novel.

There is, first and foremost, “saber-for-hire” Ty Yorrick. Hers is still the typical “Jedi” style of Force-usage, but what makes her so interesting is that she’s not a Jedi. She left her Jedi training behind at the Padawan stage for some thus-far-unknown reason. As such, she has continued to develop her usage of the Force in a way that suits her, without adherence to Jedi dogma. Perhaps we’ll learn more about her when Monster at Temple Peak comes out later this year!

There are other moments, such as the way the Togruta perceive the Force, but that falls more in line with what I mentioned above. The one thing that really caught my eye was the scene with Kufa on Rystan. Kufa is a cousin of everyone’s favourite -ok, my favourite – space pirate Marchion Ro (and don’t you worry, we’ll circle back to him). He seeks her out on Rystan to guide him to “the Shrine”, a location sacred to her, and to him once upon a time. Though his primary motivation in going is to acquire a weapon known as “The Leveler”, we actually learn much more about his mysterious people than I think we bargained for. Most interestingly is that whoever his people are, they have some kind of relationship to the Force. One that might even predate the Jedi.

Kufa asks Marchion about what’s been going on with the conflict in the galaxy, and the two draw comparisons between the Jedi, and the “Faithful”.

As in the Jedi are not considered those who are most faithful to the Force.

As in, we’ve got a real mystery on our hands, and I love a good mystery. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops, while also keeping in mind that anything Kufa and Marchion say ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

It’s also not quite a “usage” of the Force, but the moment when Bell thought he was going to die and was resisting the call to pass gently into the Force…let’s just say I had some horrifying December 2019 flashbacks.

4. The World’s Fair vibe

When they announced that the second wave would take place in and around an event called The Republic Fair, it immediately conjured up all kinds of images. World’s Fair, Stark Expo, EPCOT Centre. In a franchise dominated by wilderness, rebel bases, Jedi Temples and government HQ’s of the Republic and Imperial varieties, this was a whole new ballgame. This was something that felt so real.

I can’t believe it took us so long to get a carnival type atmosphere in a Star Wars book, but here we are. It managed to walk that line between feeling so, so real and yet remaining quintessentially Star Wars. The details were all there, from the food stalls, to the displays from around the galaxy, to the Unity Song playing on a loop. Also, the Unity Song is absolutely supposed to be “It’s A Small World” and I will hear no different.

But beneath the amusing carnival atmosphere lingers the point I’ve been making about the High Republic all along. I have maintained since the beginning that the Republic area colonizing presence on the Outer Rim, and nothing told me that more than a carnival meant to show the benefits of joining the Republic. Propaganda much?

The traditions of signatory worlds have been packaged and put on display and commodified for Republic citizens to consume in a safe way – kinda like any World’s Fair that happened at the turn of the century when international travel was less common/more difficult.

I have to imagine that Cavan Scott is at least somewhat sympathetic to this reading. Not only is it present in his Marvel comics run, but also…

5. The Nihil

…it’s present in the Nihil.

Oh, the Nihil.

I have made it no secret on Twitter that I absolutely adore them. I was already excited at the prospect of a non-Sith villain, though I was initially worried that this band of marauders would be just faceless, cackling murder-pirates.

But picking up where we left off in Light of the Jedi, and a little more indirectly through the Wave One books and comics, Rising Storm drops us headfirst into the turmoil of the Nihil. In the year since the Battle of Kur, their internal structure has fractured, and everything is in chaos.

The book gives us ample time with Marchion Ro, Pan Eyta, and Lourna Dee, as the latter two try and seize power while the former tries to hold on to it. I was especially interested in the chapters focusing on Lourna Dee, because she’s getting an audio drama all her own at the end of the summer! By the time we leave off with them, they’re in a position of trying to fight both all the outside forces as well as each other, and it almost makes me wonder if this is why we don’t see the Nihil around anymore. At least in their current iteration. Cloud-Riders anyone?

6. More Marchion please, I’m insatiable

There is plenty of Marchion Ro in this book. Do not get me wrong. But I can’t help it if I wanted more. I understand that this is a long-haul initiative. The character is going to be built out over the course of subsequent waves and phases. And we do get plenty more about him in this book, such that he’s not as much of a mystery as he was in Wave One.

Not to say that what we don’t get isn’t great. The man is terrifyingly manipulative. He has some kind of pre-Nihil history with a Force-like faith. He has to contend with the weight of who his father was before he died (oh and how I love a tall, dark-haired boy with daddy issues)

We also go into these books knowing that if his ultimate goal is to stop the spread of the Republic, and to take them and the Jedi down, that he will fail. After all, both those things are still around two centuries later and the Nihil are not. But it’s not learning that he’ll fail that interests me. It’s learning how.

Also I just love that the more we see of him, the more I realize that – at least to me – he’s not as calculating as I think the Nihil believe. This is a big, scary shark-man holding the whole thing together with duct tape and a prayer. And he’s still terrifying. Fascinating stuff. More of this please. Maybe even a whole book about him one day?

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

Jedi that f*ck. Like…canoncially. This book, man. It’s a gift. Yes, I know Anakin technically, but that doesn’t count somehow. It never made my heart race the way the buildup between Elzar and Samera did.

Ty Yorrick thinking the concept of the Drengir sounded stupid was my exact reaction when they were announced at the High Republic panel. Like almost down to the word.

There’s a lot of speculation about the “Lost 20” and do they originate with this generation. This book disproves that almost right away, with a mention of the statues of “The Lost” in the prologue. That said, there’s no mention of how many are lost, which leaves an opening for one of these Jedi to join them. We already know from Dooku: Jedi Lost that Keeve Trennis from the Marvel Comics will join their ranks, but my money right now is also on Bell Zettifar because that poor boy has been through so much.

Know how I know the Republic are colonizers? Because Chancellor Soh has a wroshyr-wood desk. She had someone go to Kashyyyk, chop down a tree and make her a desk. If that doesn’t reek of Imperialism to you, then I don’t know what to say.

On that note, I loved the moment when the Togruta queen points out that the “Outer Rim” isn’t actually outer to everyone. I’ve been saying it for a while, and I love when the books validate my opinion.

The way this book ends positions Chancellor Soh to take even more power, and let me state again, for the record, that I do not trust this woman. I do want to say, though, that I believe her to be more along the lines of a Tarkin/Krennic than a Palpatine.

What happens to Loden is one of the single most horrifying visuals in a Star Wars novel and if this had happened on-screen I would probably never watch the movie again. That was terrifying. The ramifications of it will be devastating down the line, but until we get to that, I just get to live with that image looping in my head forever.

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh

Commentary by Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

Midway through our Shakespeare project. Midway through the Prequel Trilogy. We’ve come so far.

If you can believe it, we’re actually nice this time. Well…nicer. Are we just settling into the style? Is it a question of Ian Doescher feeling less attached to the Prequels and so taking more liberties we like? Read on to find out.

Overall Impressions

Nora: There’s some genuinely positive stuff here! Like of course a lot of it is still bad (and we’ll get to that), but there are truly some high points in this one. 

Arezou: What a treat it was to find a passage and to mark the page while nodding approvingly – and even in excitement in one case.

Nora: The main thing, I think, is that we’re getting some of the interiority that we wanted for Leia in Doescher’s approach to Padmé, which is really nice to see. She gets a fair few soliloquies, including one after her first kiss with Anakin that gives a nicely nuanced meditation on her duties as a senator and the problems that a relationship with the young Jedi could cause (2.4.24-56). In its attention to the way “this Anakin doth fully dote on me,” it also hints at the darkness that runs through their relationship and comes to a head in the next installment in the series (2.4.26). It’s truly some of Doescher’s best work across all of the plays we’ve read so far. So credit where credit’s due—I actually like his take on Padmé, overall.  

Arezou: It didn’t occur to me until after we talked, but this one is the “romance” chapter of its trilogy, much in the same way The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi are for their respective trilogies. Darker middle chapter perhaps, but also more romantic middle chapters all around. But I digress. I remember how swoony and sheltered-teenager-Juliet Leia became in The Empire Striketh Back, and I was worried about him doubling down on that here. After all, of all the “romantic middle chapters” this one is most explicitly painted like a romance. But no, Padmé is given space to reflect on her own aspirations and desires both romantic and professional. Balance.

Nora: Similarly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, his treatment of the Shmi storyline works well. The application and adaptation of one of Ophelia’s songs as a funeral dirge is poignant, and Cliegg’s mourning speech is surprisingly touching: “Farewell my love, my hope, my joy, my all—  / My gratitude complete take thou with thee” (4.2.47-48). Less convincing is the use of Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech as Anakin’s reaction to his mother’s death (4.1.34-40). While I can perhaps stretch to see this as a hint towards Anakin’s turn to the dark side, this speech in Macbeth is famous for being callous, and surprisingly so given Macbeth’s affection towards his wife in the first part of the play. Coming late in the play, it demonstrates just how far Macbeth has fallen to his “vaulting ambition.” Given that Anakin has abandoned a mission given to him by the Jedi Council, and put himself and Padmé at substantial risk in order to find and attempt to rescue his mother, for whom he cares very deeply, it’s a weird choice. 

Arezou: Given the strange choice to insert an Oedipal aside about the Tuskens in The Jedi Doth Return, I kind of expected the same here. The same weird sort of othering. But we didn’t get any of that! Nor do we get any sense that Anakin is justified in doing what he does to the Tusken settlement. I’m not suggesting them kidnapping a woman is a good thing, but I think we all know this could have been much, much worse in any other retelling or medium. But that instinct was avoided here. Could Ian be learning from his mistakes? It’s possible, hope springs eternal.

Dramaturgical Comments – Nora

In Doescher’s favour, I will say that—as in the previous installment—the political machinations suit this medium. The back-and-forth of senatorial strategy and Palpatine’s plotting work well in blank verse, and remind me (again) of early modern history plays. In some ways, the space that this type of play creates for longer speeches helps explicate the ins-and-outs of Galactic politics in a way that the movies, with their shorter scenes and quippier dialogue, don’t always manage. On the flip side, the battle scenes still do not really work. He hasn’t got the balance of description and action down, and I’m still left wondering who these plays are for, as I can’t see the big droid-vs-clones battle in Act 5 working on a stage at all. To be fair to Doescher, that’s an extraordinarily difficult scene in general, and one that I think doesn’t even really work in the movie. But he had an opportunity here to clarify and strengthen it, and that’s…not what happens. 

I also thought that the Chorus describing Anakin and Padmé’s wedding at the very end didn’t really work. The strength of that moment in the movie is in its gorgeous contrast to the fomenting war. The harsh, cold steel and glass of Coruscant and the austerity of the Jedi temple melt into the lush colours of rural Naboo, and the soft shapes of Padmé’s wedding dress. John Williams’ score crescendos and the audience is invited to see the tension between these two endings—the beginnings of the Clone Wars on one side, and the realization of Padmé and Anakin’s love on the other—that sets up the major conflicts of the next installment in the trilogy. Doescher’s choice to squash this into a final speech for the Chorus rather dampens the effect. It’s a classic case of telling rather than showing the audience, as the Chorus spells out the implications of the ending: “Their love doth bloom while war comes creeping in” (5.4.62). To me, it felt lacklustre against the movie’s epic closing scene. 

I also want to echo my complaint about the previous play (well, all of them, really): Doescher wants to present himself as a “Shakespeare guy,” but his knowledge of Shakespeare is actually really limited. Here, he takes cursory readings of “the comedies”—a genre classification that meant something very different to Shakespeare than it means to us—and applies this broad-brush to create a hashtag-romantic scene. And beyond that, his use of the archaic second-person pronoun is sloppy: in the lines from 3.1 quoted above, Anakin should say “thy hidden secret,” not “thine hidden secret.” “Thine” would make sense here if the next word started with a vowel sound: thine eyes, thine ears, etc. But “thy” is used (in this context) before words beginning with consonants: thy secret, thy hand, etc. This isn’t the only example of Doescher writing a line that “sounds Shakespearean” but isn’t grammatically correct (see my complaints about the title of The Phantom of Menace, e.g.).

Canon Comments – Arezou

There are a couple of notes of canonical interest that I get into further down during our Anakin and Padmé deep dive, but there are two I want to mention here: one of great story importance, and one I just liked.

Last time, we really got into it over Jar Jar, and the questionable choice to make him seem foolish to others when he is secretly hyper-intelligent. Where it just read as baffling and kind of racist then, it’s here that that choice starts to have an impact on the overall story. Because Jar Jar is extremely important to the story, and not in the ridiculous conspiracy Darth Jar Jar way.

The purpose of Jar Jar in this film, to be, is to paint him as the well meaning Naboo representative who works with Senator Amidala, making up for what he lacks in intelligence with a whole lot of heart and kindness. Jar Jar isn’t politically savvy, and that’s the whole point. That’s why Palpatine attempts to assassinate Padmé. He knows that either the attempt with succeed and problem solved, or the attempt will fail and he can convince her to leave long enough for the Republic army she opposes to be authorized, and for the Chancellor to be given unchecked authority over the Senate. In making her leave, necessitating her sweet but unintelligent associate to quickly take her place, he ensures his rise to power faces no opposition.

So when the emergency powers are decided on, Bail Organa and Ask Aak agree to vote on them right away. They have people to protect and something to lose. Meanwhile Jar Jar gets an entire aside (4.3.82) where he says he knows he’s being played, and that he won’t play their game but then…talks himself into playing along anyway because he genuinely believes it’s the right thing to do. Which begs the question of why all this was necessary. Without the addition of “Smart Jar Jar”, he already thought he was doing the right thing. So this new awareness, and this refusal to play their game, does absolutely nothing for the character. There is no payoff. It’s actually worse this way, because if he’s smarter than everyone else, and he knows he’s being played, then why go along with it at all?

But just before you think I am fully bitter and have no heart, can we talk about Boba Fett for a second?

I am, as some of you know, a new Boba Fett stan. What can I say, I walked into The Mandalorian chapter 14 a cynic and walked out a changed woman. Boba doesn’t do much in Attack of the Clones, granted. He’s mostly there so we, the audience, get some background on the bounty hunter we know later, and to give some stakes to Jango Fett’s story arc. The part of Boba’s story that really sticks with us, is this one really great, absolutely heartbreaking shot towards the end of the film:

We’ve made fun of Doescher and his love of a good monologue before, but this was one time I flagged the addition as a net positive. In among all the creature chaos, he gives us a quiet moment as little Boba reflects what the loss of his father means for him and the man he’s going to become. 10/10 on this one, Ian. I might be salty, but I can give credit where it’s due.

I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In

Nora: While I do like the portrayal of Padmé overall, Act 3, Scene 1 is a hot mess. In his “Afterword,” Doescher tells readers that he “wanted the strength of Shakespeare’s romantic plotlines to surround and embrace Padmé and Anakin,” which is why this scene “includes lines spoken by characters from each of Shakespeare’s comedies—and, for good measure, Romeo and Juliet” (160). Wow. Okay. There’s a lot to unpack there. 

Let’s focus on the most obvious problem in Doescher’s framing: many—nay, even most—of Shakespeare’s “romantic plotlines” are deeply, deeply misogynist, if not outright abusive. Doescher’s 3.1 opens with one of the most famous, using lines from The Taming of the Shrew

ANAKIN Come, come, thou wasp: thine hidden secret shout.

PADMÉ If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

ANAKIN My remedy is then to pluck it out.  (3.1.1-3)

These lines make use of Act 2, Scene 1 of Taming, in which Petruchio first attempts to “woo” the titular “shrew”—aka, independent woman—Katherina. The scene is usually played for laughs, with plenty of physical comedy invited by the characters’ verbal sparring. However, the scene has a more sinister tone than most productions acknowledge. Petruchio ends the scene by forcing Kate into a marriage that she rejects, literally telling her that he will marry her whether she consents or not, and “tame” her in the process: 

[…] your father hath consented

That you shall be my wife, your dowry ’greed on; 

And will you, nill you, I will marry you. 

[…]

For I am he born to tame you, Kate, 

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates. 

Here comes your father. Never make denial;

I must and will have Katherine to my wife. (Taming 2.1.281-83, 288-92)

As the play continues, Petruchio demonstrates textbook abusive behaviours from gaslighting to restricting food and sleep, to controlling Kate’s ability to see her family. A delightful model for a loving relationship, no? 

Similarly, Doescher makes use of one of Angelo’s lines from Measure for Measure in the same scene, when Padmé asks: “The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?” (3.1.142). Measure for Measure is the story of Angelo attempting to coerce Isabella, a young woman about to take her vows as a nun, into having sex with him in exchange for her brother’s life. The line that Doescher chooses for this scene is from one of Angelo’s soliloquies, in which he confesses to the audience that he “desire[s] her foully for those things / That make her good” (Measure 2.2.176-77). Again, not exactly a strong relationship to “surround and embrace Padmé and Anakin” (160). 

I could have been on board with Doescher using dysfunctional and abusive relationships from Shakespeare’s plays as a hint towards the turn that Padmé and Anakin’s relationship takes in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin treats her really badly in that movie, even choking her and knocking her to the ground while she’s very pregnant—an act that arguably leads directly to her death. I went to read the “Afterword” genuinely hoping that he might express such an intention. Instead, his choice here comes across as a flex on how much Shakespeare’s he knows—ooh, he can quote from All’s Well That Ends Well! And Two Gentlemen of Verona! How clever he is! With no apologies to Doescher, I’m not interested in demonstrations of cleverness that read like simple misogyny. 

Arezou: The thing I worried about going into this is that their relationship would be painted as a terrible idea from the get-go with the type of smugness that reads of moral lessons for silly romantic girls who are too stupid to know better. Because as terribly as Anakin and Padmé’s relationship ends, it’s not a terrible idea from the beginning. These two do genuinely care about each other and love one another. In another world, if they were any two other people, they might have even been happy. But it was not to be, this was always going to be tragedy.

All this to say that Doescher doesn’t take the moralizing approach, but like Nora pointed out, he doesn’t exactly hint at darkness to come either, choosing instead a purely romantic read. I agree with every point she’s made about the language used, but I want to take a moment to explore the story implications of some of the non-Shakespeare language.

The first moment of note I want to point out is Anakin and Padmé’s conversation on Varykino before their first kiss. You know the one. It’s the “I don’t like sand” moment. This is a scene that has been meme’d half to death for the awkwardness of the phrasing and the segue, and for Hayden Christiansen’s performance (the critique of which I take a lot of issue with but I’ll come back to that in a second). In the time since, as those of us who engage in deep-dives of the text have noted, it’s not that Anakin is randomly changing the subject, or finding the thinnest excuse to be allowed to touch Padme’s arm (but maybe it is a little bit that), it’s that she just spend who knows how long telling him about school trips to the beach, swimming in the lake and lazing in the sand. Anakin cannot relate at all, because to him sand is a nuisance. It was a thing that got stuck under his clothes and probably gave him blisters. It was grit that had to be scrubbed out of machine parts, and was probably lodged in his teeth until the day he left Tatooine. There’s nothing nice about it. Is this an awkward time to bring it up? Sure. But this is also a kid who hasn’t really had much opportunity to flirt before. Who was going to show him how it was done? Obi-Wan “I’m still hung up on my teenage romance” Kenobi? Anyway, Doescher takes this reading of the scene and makes it explicit, with Anakin telling Padmé: “For me the sand hath never been a balm […] It is an ever present irritant” (2.4.13-16). We’ve criticized Doescher in the past for making the subtle too explicit, but in this case I think it was much needed to prevent the moment being played for laughs.

The second moment is something so small, but I think it undoes a lot of the intention of the scene and the way it’s meant to be played out. On Geonosis, when they’re about to be rolled out into the arena, Anakin and Padmé finally confess their feelings to one another. After a short soliloquy on the subject, Padmé concludes with “I love thee, Anakin.” Ever beholden to his iambic pentameter, Doescher cannot dive directly into Anakin’s protests that they had promised not to fall in love. Instead, he needs to finish off that one blank verse quickly, and so he has Anakin exclaim “Elation vast!” (5.1.134). But here’s my issue.

There’s no point in drawing comparisons to the film all the time. They’re two different mediums. However, this moment before they enter the arena is such a wonderful one for Anakin, and it’s because he is finally growing out of his Padawan tendencies and into the knight he is about to become. He’s spent the whole movie being brash, and direct, and acting without thinking (something he definitely learned from Obi-Wan “lemme just dive out this window real quick” Kenobi). But here, when Padmé has fully declared her love to him, rather than seizing this as the go-ahead it is, he actually takes a step back and thinks. He reminds her of their promise not to fall in love. It’s only after, when she says that she wants him and damn the consequences they can figure it out later, does he actually do anything about it. But in adding “elation vast!” at the start of Anakin’s dialogue, it takes him on a bit of a yo-yo ride. It’s too soon for him to express that unbridled joy just yet.

Now this is where I come back to Hayden Christiansen. I maintain, as I have for years, that he is actually a good actor. He was young at the time, had relatively little experience, and was working with unnatural dialogue and the direction “faster and more intense”. Not exactly helpful. But while he may not express anything akin to “elation vast!” verbally, he is most certainly saying it with his eyes. Damn, does this man have expressive eyes. No matter what the dialogue might have you saying, if your eyes can convince me, then I’m sold on the performance, and through Hayden’s performance, Anakin’s heart were vastly elated, even if his mind told him to slow his roll. So I may not like the addition of the line, but I get why Doescher did it. This is one medium where you need to express the intended emotion on the page, and you don’t have scene directions to do that for you, the way a screenplay would.

Final Thoughts

Nora: I’m interested to see how the interiority that Doescher’s begun developing for Padmé plays out in The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge. There’s potential to make her birth/pregnancy scene much stronger (i.e., focused on her) than it is in the movie. I’ll be annoyed if that scene is all about Obi-Wan, much as I love him. Your move, Ian! 

Arezou: I wholeheartedly second this. Padmé’s arc was cut tragically off at the knees (much like Anakin was…too soon?), and it’s only in novelizations and deleted scenes that we see her role in the birth of the Rebellion. If we don’t get those scenes outright put back in, I hope we at least get some reference to them!

And now, please enjoy this meme, which was still somewhat topical at the time of this writing:

***

Next month, the Prequel Trilogy comes to an end with The Tragedy of The Sith’s Revenge. It seems like we started this project just yesterday, and now we have more behind us than we do ahead.

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

Nora is a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama and Literature at the University of Essex. She is currently working on her first book, Canonical Misogyny: Staging Sexual Violence in Early Modern Performance. You can follow her on Twitter @noraj_williams

Biweekly Book Review: Attack of the Clones

As a whole, the Prequel Trilogy is my favourite one. I think it’s the most coherent as a trilogy because for better or worse, it’s one guy’s vision, one singular story, it was planned out start to finish and it shows. But with any story that comes out in multiple parts, we’re bound to have a least favourite and Attack of the Clones is my least favourite prequel.

That’s not to say that I don’t really like the movie. I do! I think the mystery stuff with Obi-Wan is great, I think it does a great job at showing the excitement – and yes, the tragedy – of Anakin and Padmé’s romance. But other things, I found less exciting, like the three separate chase/action scenes – one for each act! – that all drag on just a touch too long, and none of them are the kind of drawn out acrobatic lightsaber duel that came to define the prequel era.

But we’re not here to talk about the movie! No, we’re here to talk about the novelization. Which I enjoyed a lot more than I remembered and a lot more than I thought I would. Let’s dive into Attack of the Clones by R. A. Salvatore.

Parts I Enjoyed

One thing that this novel does well overall is adding more time with characters who didn’t get it in the movies. This is something a lot of people praise The Clone Wars for, and while I don’t think you need that show for the prequels to be good in retrospect, I do see the temptation to have more added context for your favourite characters. Two instances of this added context stuck out to me, and made me wish they’d made it into the movie.

The first is the extra scenes we get with Padmé and her family. These scenes were actually shot – most of them anyway – and can be seen in the special features for the movie. But there is one near the start of the book that wasn’t ever filmed, at least not to my memory. In these scenes, we see Padmé with her parents, and with her sister, while they express concern for her safety amid the assassination attempts. Her sister Sola also expresses a concern of another kind: that Padmé is so bogged down in the wants and needs of the galaxy that she isn’t considering her own wants and needs. I can’t explain why, exactly, but it makes perfect sense to me that someone who is so caught up in her responsibilities to others would fall hard and fast the second she lets herself consider the possibility. Maybe it reminds me of me? Oops.

The other “added context” scenes I really liked were the ones between Jango and Boba Fett. As a new Boba Fett fan, and as someone who really likes character focused scenes, I really latched on to any part of this book that showed the relationship between this father and son. For all that Jango’s training him to be a bounty hunter, I think this might actually be one of the healthier main character parent-child relationships we see? Like there is a genuine sense of attachment, and the sense that they actually love each other? Radical, I know. Also, as sad as the scene with little Boba finding his dad’s helmet is in the movie, I feel like it’s so much worse in the book purely because you’ve spent a bit more time with them, and you really feel what it is Boba has lost.

Part I Disliked

OK so, this is going to sound really bad but bear with me. I don’t like all the additional scenes of Shmi that we get.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely feel that we need more Shmi Skywalker in general. Kristen Baver’s wonderful Skywalker: A Family At War really gives Shmi her due, and I’ll take more if I can get it. So now let me explain.

Most of the scenes of Shmi we get are sweet. They’re all of her with the Lars family – her husband Cliegg, his son Owen and Owen’s girlfriend Beru. There’s a couple of her with the Tuskens that are horrifically violent and almost serve to justify (or at least rationalize) why Anakin does what he does? I don’t love it, but I get it.

But it’s actually the scenes with Cliegg and co. that I don’t really like. As I got older, I couldn’t help but feel a little weird about Shmi being purchased by a man then subsequently freed for matrimonial purposes. I don’t know, it’s a little bit of a weird vibe. And it’s weird in the book too. All the scenes are meant to be an idyllic family life, but they’re tinged with unease, at least for me. For all that Shmi says she loves them, I never really got that impression. And that’s fine I suppose, but it made things worse for me in retrospect. I wish it hadn’t been in there. Give me the freedom to imagine what her home life was like, in stead of confirming it was every bit as awkward and strained as that situation would indicate.

Final Thoughts

The action scenes were kept relatively short, actually. Bless.

I did kinda get into it above, but R.A. Salvatore really went that extra mile to give us Hot Dad Jango Fett. Thank you for this gift.

Going back to what I mentioned in the Phantom Menace review about novelizations coming out before the movie. There are so many additional character moments in this that aren’t in the movie. Already starting to see that trend of some members in the audience having a lot more additional context for things than other members do. Granted, I know between a movie and a novelization, the movie takes canonical precedence, but it’s interesting to note that this is an old “problem”.

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace

Commentary by Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

We’re back and we’re ready to get into these Prequels! I am a big prequel fan, Nora isn’t. Buckle up kids.

It’s time to get weird and political, and make some QUESTIONABLE choices. Let’s dive into The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher.

Overall Impressions

Arezou: I was both excited and nervous to hit this point in our read-through because I cannot state often enough how much I love the prequels. I suppose having no expectations anymore helped. But I’ll admit part of my nerves stem from me getting the impression that Ian belongs to that certain generation of nerdy men who think that everyone agrees the prequels are a mess and in need of fixing when I’d argue they make the most coherent whole. If he felt at liberty to change things about his beloved Original Trilogy, what will he do when he doesn’t feel the same kind of reverence or pressure? Fortunately, he doesn’t actually change all that much, which is a huge relief.

Nora: I will confess that I had very low expectations coming into this one, after the disappointments of the first trilogy. But I have to say, there were some high points here. I appreciated that Amidala got some soliloquies—and the first one (2.1.1-43) was even pretty good, giving us some insight into the character that we wouldn’t get from dialogues with other characters. I also really liked that Shmi Skywalker got the opportunity for a soliloquy in which to grieve losing Anakin, and to sort through the complex feelings of love, hope, and loss she experiences in that moment (3.1.305-19). We’ll ignore that it’s a poorly-written speech, with unnecessary repetitions and a weirdly liturgical structure that doesn’t really make sense in the moment. Doescher’s not great at writing a mother’s interiority, but after the almost complete absence of interiority for Leia in the previous trilogy, I’m giving him points for the attempt here.

Arezou: I completely agree. I was worried that a story that arguably hinges on the decisions of two women – and really, the entire saga hinges on their decisions – would be given the Princess Leia treatment, and have them relegated to the sidelines. Fortunately that doesn’t happen, but I’d also argue they aren’t given anywhere near the nuance that characters both major and minor got in the earlier instalments. Yes, we have the soliloquy from Padmé fairly early on, but what about as her story arc progresses and things change around her? This is the movie where she is featured most prominently, but she falls back into reciting her plot without much interiority disappointingly quickly. But this seems to be a trend with Padmé across mediums so maybe this isn’t entirely on Ian. No one knows what to do with her.

Nora: I also think that some of the political machinations fit this genre better than they fit in the movie. The back-and-forth of the Trade Federation, the Galactic Senate, and the legality of the various blockades and invasions suits a verse play, and puts me in mind of Shakespeare’s histories (which, interestingly, were also written “out of order,” with all three parts of Henry VI and Richard III premiering several years before Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V). I’m not sure we can give Doescher credit for this, exactly, but it will be interesting to see if this holds true for the later installments of this trilogy, which have oft been criticized for being overly-technical in their approach to galactic politics. 

Canon Comments – Arezou

Let me start by saying that Jar Jar was….a CHOICE. And I’ll get into why it canonically makes no sense in more detail below.

I get it. I do. The Phantom Menace isn’t for everyone. It’s goofy and a lot of it is squarely aimed at the kids it was meant to draw into the Star Wars fold. Kids like me. But that’s not to say that the story it tells is unimportant! Ian makes some choices here, both in terms of the themes and alarmingly in terms of the actual plot that alter the motivation and intent behind key moments.

One such moment comes fairly early on, when Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Jar Jar are making their journey to the Naboo surface in the bongo. If you remember the movie, you know they bump into a few increasingly large underwater creatures, prompting Qui-Gon to quip “there’s always a bigger fish.” Ian had two choices here. Either play the moment for laughs, or dive into the overall meta-commentary of Qui-Gon’s statement arriving on the eve of the biggest fish of them all, Palpatine, making a power play for control of the galaxy by making a bunch of smaller fish fight and eat each other.

But we get neither of those, because we know how much Ian likes his creatures to have random soliloquies and more interiority than half the main cast. So instead we have the questionable choice of giving each fish several occasions to speak, wherein they reveal either their dark designs agains the occupants of the bongo, or EXTREMELY bafflingly in one case, reveal that no less a group than the JEDI ORDER sent them to this spot to protect Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. You heard right, Master Yoda has a giant fucking fish on speed dial apparently.

OK moving on from the silly and onto the serious. We need to talk about Padmé again. Or specifically, Padmé, Sabé and “Amidala”.

I had somewhat expected that prior to the reveal of the deception, that whoever was in the Queen regalia would be listed as “Amidala”, while Padmé would be called by her name when in handmaiden mode. I also understand this is complicated in a script as different actors need to know when it’s their turn to speak. Which once again begs the question of whether or not Ian intended this to be staged. If he did, then why have an Amidala at all, when no one will presumably see it? If he didn’t intend for it, then why list Sabé at all before the end. It’s also interesting to note that he only calls her Amidala when it’s Padmé in the makeup. So we know there is a decoy, but he’s trying to preserve the identity of the true queen? A strange choice.

He also seems to have a strange understanding of the subtle point that while Sabé does dress as the queen, she never actually makes decisions for her. He caught on to it a little too hard when the group is deciding whether or not to leave Naboo. Sabé defers to Padmé, and rather than leaving it at the simple and vague “we are brave, Your Highness”, he adds on her elaboration of “we shall go” (1.5.73). I want to be charitable and say this is a meter thing but part of me feels like he didn’t understand this exchange at first and assumes no one else did either.

He then later swings way to hard in the other direction in Act III scene 5 after the party arrives on Coruscant and is greeted by Palpatine. In the film, it is Sabé who steps off the transport and greets the Senator, but when they’re conversing back at his apartment, it’s Padmé who is speaking to him. There is a scene transition and an entire costume change. But because Ian keeps the order of scenes flowing exactly the way it does it the movie, he just has other characters step offstage, while those who need to remain do so. Which means he has Sabé conducting an entire political conversation with Palpatine, making decisions for the future of Naboo, and deciding how to act in the Senate. He’s clearly envisioning this as being performed since he doesn’t just change character names. But he also doesn’t give the actors time to change, meaning he has now altered the context of the scene and altered Padmé and Sabé’s working relationship. I don’t know why he couldn’t add a little nothing blurb in there that wasn’t in the movie. He had no issue adding a random scene with two Jedi that accomplished nothing. That probably would have been better served here.

Technical and Staging Comments – Nora

Technical

Let’s be honest, the title is a mess: The Phantom of Menace. What does it even mean? The ‘phantom menace’ of the movie’s title is the rising Sith threat lurking in the background, right? It’s ‘phantom’ in the sense of unseen. So what is the phantom of menace here? Doescher seems to want it to mean “menacing phantom,” echoing the movie title. But the grammar doesn’t quite work that way: instead it seems to put emphasis on the “phantom” part of the equation, rather than the “menace,” whereas my reading of the movie’s title is the opposite. The “menace” is the important part, the noun, and “phantom” modifies it; in Doescher’s construction, it’s the other way around, with “menace” modifying “phantom.” 

This is pedantic, I know, but it exemplifies something about Doescher’s work that irritates me across the board: he’s not as good at doing the Shakespeare thing as he thinks he is. Throughout all the plays we’ve read so far as these types of errors, which “sound” Shakespearean but aren’t grammatically correct, or don’t quite mean what he seems to think they mean (cf. “Jabba of the Hutt”). 

This is especially irritating given that, in an interview for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, Doescher constructs himself as a “Shakespeare guy,” who wants to “do more justice to Shakespeare” than the type of parodies that just “put ‘—eth’ on the end of a word” to make it “sound Shakespearean.” He may not just stick “—eth” on the end of a word, but Doescher often rearranges syntax with a similar emphasis on “sounding Shakespearean” at the expense of grammatical sense. 

Similarly, Doescher sometimes makes references to Shakespeare’s plays that don’t work in the context of the Star Wars stories he’s telling. I’ve commented on this before, with his deeply antisemitic “Hath not a Sith eyes” speech in The Empire Striketh Back. The standout example here isn’t as offensive, but it is just as wrong: when Darth Maul slays Qui-Gon Jinn, Qui-Gon says: “Et tu, Sith? Then fall, Qui-Gon Jinn!” This is a reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, where Caesar is famously betrayed and stabbed by his Senators in Act 3. The line Doescher is referencing—“Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar”—communicate Caesar’s surprise at being stabbed by someone he considered loyal to him. “Et tu, Brute?” means “And you, Brutus?” As in: Even you? You, too? You, of all people? The second half of the line then becomes a surrender: if even my loyal friend Brutus wants me dead, then I will fall. Hopefully it is obvious that this line does not in any way apply—or even make sense in—the battle between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon. They are already enemies! It is obvious that Darth Maul wants to kill Qui-Gon! “Et tu” expresses surprise, but Qui-Gon cannot possibly be surprised to find a Sith attacking him. It makes no sense, Ian. It makes no sense.

Staging

I’ve said before that Doescher doesn’t seem to have a clear sense of whether these plays are written for readers, as sort of “closet dramas” that might be read aloud but would be unlikely to be staged, or written for with a full performance in mind. He mentions in his “Afterword” that he envisions “the actors running from one side of the stage to the other” during the pod race (p. 171), which would seem to imply that he imagines this as a script that could be used for an actual performance. But other aspects of the text complicate this notion. 

For example, as in the earlier trilogy, the battle scenes often consist of characters describing what they’re doing (in excruciating detail). In the lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon, Darth Maul, and Obi-Wan (5.3), we get more description than action, with long speeches from each character telling the audience exactly what is happening: 

QUI GON: The power generator cavity/Unknowingly we three have stumbl’d ‘pon./He thumps on Obi-Wan, who falls below/Onto another platform. Feel my blow!

MAUL: I fall, yet do not fear the landing, nay-/For falling is but prelude to a climb./Ere. he hath from the dais jump’d to me/I’m on my feet, for battle well prepared.

(5.3.27-34)

These lines mostly describe action that, if this play was being staged in a theatre, the audience would be able to see for themselves and would not need narrated to them

Oh, Jar Jar…

Arezou: As somebody who actually likes Jar Jar while recognizing the problematic elements, I took a lot of issue with his portrayal here.

I question the choice to have him tell the audience he speaks “high” English, but is slipping into Gungan patois to put everyone else’s minds at ease. Why? What’s the purpose beyond making him schemy? Ian, my man, Darth Jar Jar was never going to be a thing, and you making him some kind of clever manipulator here isn’t going to change that.

Beyond the questionable choice to distinguish Jar Jar’s speech from that of his fellow Gungans in some kind of class separation, code-switching thing, there are the canonical implications for the saga as a whole which I don’t think Ian considered, further fuelling my “this man doesn’t like the prequels at all” fire. Jar Jar cannot be some kind of clever manipulator who is playing a game with the humans. If he is, then his subsequent choices in Attack of the Clones make absolutely no sense.

Palpatine sends Padmé away from the Senate before a crucial vote, ostensibly for her own safety. Knowing she won’t want to be unrepresented, Palpatine banks on her choosing the easily-manipulated Jar Jar to stand as her representative, then takes advantage of this to plant the idea of granting him emergency powers over the Senate to kick off the Clone Wars. Which Jar Jar does unquestioningly. Absolutely none of this is possible if Jar Jar is so educated in human ways, and is playing them and manipulating them into believing he’s an idiot. He’s supposed to be an idiot. He’s supposed to be sweet, and naive, and well-intentioned but ultimately not up to the task of galactic politics. That’s the point, and yet for some reason this was dismissed in favour of…what, exactly?

Nora: Look, nobody had high hopes for how Doescher would handle Jar-Jar Binks, given his track record with Yoda and the Ewoks. But Ian. My man. Why—why—? 

I think we’re all agreed at this point that Jar-Jar Binks is a racist stereotype of an Afro-Caribbean man. Doescher somehow takes this to the next level by ham-fistedly attempting to portray Jar-Jar’s plight as a member of an oppressed race (the Gungans). Now I want to say that I think Doescher was attempting something commendable here, in his desire to humanize Jar-Jar and give him some agency in the story. But intention is not the same as effect, and Doescher makes a number of, frankly, racist missteps. 

It seems like Doescher is modelling this version of Jar-Jar, at least partly, on Shakespeare’s Caliban (“Your kind did teach / Me human language, and my profit on’t / Is I know how to move your human heart” (1.3.40-2)). That’s fine, as far as it goes, but Doescher doesn’t appear to have thought this analogy through to its conclusion. For one thing, despite his emphasis on Jar-Jar’s code-switching from “high” Shakespearean English to the patois we hear in the movies (“It doth befit the human prejudice  / To think we Gungans simple, low, and rude” (1.3.30-1)), none of the other Gungans appear to code-switch. There are two problems here, to my mind: one is that this still constructs the poetic English that Jar-Jar speaks in asides and soliloquies as “high” culture, implying that any other dialect is “simple, low and rude.” Secondly, it creates problems for the portrayal of the Gungans generally, given that they speak the patois that has just been identified for us as “simple, low, and rude” even when they’re speaking to each other. There are so many ways around this, but honestly I get the impression that Doescher just didn’t see a problem. I don’t know, man. I’m trying to make it make sense, but it just doesn’t. 

Final Thoughts

Arezou: It could have been worse, and also now I’m afraid for The Clone Army Attacketh.

Nora: I will give credit where credit’s due, but there’s still a lot wrong here.

***

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

Nora is a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama and Literature at the University of Essex. She is currently working on her first book, Canonical Misogyny: Staging Sexual Violence in Early Modern Performance. You can follow her on Twitter @noraj_williams

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.

Biweekly Book Review: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good

Thrawn is back! Well…”back”. For all that is name is on the cover of this book, he isn’t actually in it all that much. And unlike last time, people don’t even talk about him that much. He just sort of…is there. While other people are there.

That’s not to say that I’m not still enjoying the world of this story. It’s still so removed from the rest of Star Wars that it feels like conventional science fiction. Or rather Star Trek-flavoured Star Wars. That said, I wish Timothy Zahn was better at describing alien beings because we’ve never seen any of these species before, and I have no idea what they look like…

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

OK, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to explain what happens in this book. There’s so much battle math and fighting and spaceships and *sigh*.

One plot picks up where the last book left off, with Thrawn, Ar’alani, Lakinda and co. (including the sky-walker Che’ri) fighting those who would seek to destabilize and scatter the Chiss. Through it all, they must convince an alien names The Magys not to kill herself and all her people out of a false belief that their homeworld is destroyed.

The second concerns a farmer named Lakphro, who plays unwitting host to Haplif, , an alien working for Jixtus, a Grysk looking to destabilize the Ascendancy. Haplif is playing a long game, trying to drag some of the 40 high ranking families of the Chiss into a conflict among themselves using a very elaborate plot using handmade jewellery.

It takes about 300 pages for these two plots to converge properly, and for the main mystery to unfold.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Potential Nihil Connection?

“Arezou, stop. You’re making everything about the Nihil.”

And what of it?

When the first Ascendancy book came out, I didn’t question the way the Chiss navigate. Their sky-walkers fall into trances and navigate in a way that circumvents hyperspace. There are few others who can manage it, but one such group living in the Chaos that can, are called the “Pathfinders”

The Paths? Alternatives to hyperspace? Navigational trances? This is sounding awfully Nihil to me!

I know the Chiss have been around a long time, and are an ancient society, so they didn’t exactly learn this from the Nihil. But did the Nihil learn it from them? Or did the Nihil perhaps help them refine the technology after being driven out of the Outer Rim by the Republic? They’re just too cool a concept to disappear from canon entirely, and I’m certain they do exist in “present day” canon in some form or another. It wouldn’t be unlike Lucasfilm Publishing to thread these connections in somehow.

2. Unresolved (and Unknown) Sexual Tension

My friend Hope once observed that Timothy Zahn accidentally writes very shippable characters, and then is absolutely surprise-pikachu baffled when people pick up on this energy.

Last time around it was him sending Thrawn and Ar’alani on a date without realizing it’s a date. This time, it’s the unresolved sexual tension between Caretaker Thalias and Mid-Captain Samakro.

These two do not like each other. At all. She really likes and admires Thrawn, and he hates him. They have a rivalry, he is plotting against her and suspects her of spying. They snip at each other constantly. In literally any other author’s hands, they would be hate-fucking I’m certain of it.

I would hold out hope that Zahn is going to bring this up in a future instalment, but I’d be very surprised if he even knew what he’d done, honestly.

3. Chiss Society

One of the things I liked from the last book was the structure of Chiss society. There is still some of that here, but unfortunately not nearly enough to satisfy.

I will say, it was really cool to get more into the family structure beyond the Nine Ruling Families and all the intrigue between them. I’m hoping as things come to a head next time that there will be more of this.

More political intrigue, less battle math!

4. Yomie

I’m not gonna lie…this fucked me up.

Like. If I didn’t have to podcast about this book with people I would have DNF’d.

This time around the “memories” in the book are given over to Haplif. In order to gain access to the inner workings of their society, he tricks two young Chiss into being his “guides”, on his dime, hoping to befriend them. While the man has no problems and tries to go along with it, his fiancee is less accommodating.

Once she catches on to Haplif and his bullshit, you know what he does? He kills Yomie and throws her lifeless body out into space.

I hate it so much. Just typing this out, I feel nauseous and have tears in my eyes. I get that death and violence happen but this was so cold and unnecessary.

Points Left Hanging

I mean…I suppose there isn’t much I can speculate about. I imagine the Chiss will dissolve into the civil war that sent Thrawn to the Empire.

I’m more interested to see if my Nihil speculation pays off or if it’s just me seeing my new faves where they don’t exist.

Random Thoughts

The random “space words” that Zahn uses for certain things crack me up. Especially because he doesn’t use them for everything, and sometimes certain things are painfully “of Earth”. For instance, zippers are “sealer teeth”, but then Thrawn encounters beings who say things like “Prince Militaire”, which is French, and generalissimo which is straight up Italian.

I will give kudos where it’s due, it would be very easy for Zahn to write this book and make all the characters men. So the fact that so many of the characters are women is remarkable in itself. NOW THAT SAID…

The Magys and her people are said to operate in a matriarchy. But I can’t help but feel like he just said that, and didn’t stop to consider how many facets of our society are informed by its patriarchal nature. When they first meet the Chiss, the Magys’ people are gathered around her in a way that is most efficient to protect her. So the outer ring is young men, then older men, then older women, younger women and then children. But I cannot help but question why a matriarchy still takes such a patriarchal stance on warfare.

Biweekly Book Review: Skywalker: A Family At War

My heart is so full, y’all. I don’t even know where to start with this one. Perhaps along the lines of “Kristin Baver knocked this out of the damn park” because that is absolutely what happened here. I’m a fast reader but I usually like to take a couple of days to go through a book. I read this in a day.

When this book was first announced, I assumed it would be a coffee table, behind-the-scenes type deal. This may be on me for not reading the description. OK, fine, it’s totally on me.

When reviews and more information about Skywalker: A Family At War started coming out, I was less surprised to find out what it wasn’t – a behind-the-scenes coffee table book – and more surprised to find out what it was: an account of the Skywalker family written like a biography. Like an honest-to-goodness real life biography. There is nothing in the book that presents the information as fictional. As far as you, the reader, are concerned, everything here actually happened. The book even had two little clusters of glossy picture pages, captioned the way you’d see in a non-fiction book.

What Kristin Baver does in this book is take the story of the Skywalkers, both on screen and in all the canon ancillary material, and compile it in one place. She draws parallels across generations and provides context and motivation for every decision they make. As someone who has read a lot of the ancillary material, I never felt like she was retreading something I already knew. None of it was new information per se, but it was all presented in such a lovely, coherent well-woven family tapestry.

My heart is so damn full right now. Let’s get into it. I’m going to break it down the way the book does, into three sections.

Before we get into it, a note: this book was brilliantly executed and beautifully written. Any criticism I have (especially in part three) is aimed at the story and certain storytellers, and not in any way at the author, as I am aware she is retelling and contextualizing a story that has already been told.

The Father

This section is the longest in the book, and it’s also by far my favourite. No surprise there, since the prequels are my favourite trilogy. Best to go through this point-by-point:

Shmi Gets Her Due: Do you know how rare it is for Shmi Skywalker to get a mention, never mind actually be the topic of conversation? But this book begins – as it should – with her, and how she came to be on Tatooine. Now it’s true, most of her narrative is centred around her son, but I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing. The book is all about drawing connections after all. She is also given space in the book expressly for her wants and feelings and that’s a hell of a lot more than she’s gotten anywhere else.

The Clone Wars: I don’t know why I thought the Clone Wars would be skipped over? Or at least rushed? They’re such a huge part of who Anakin is. But no, we get into this in detail. We’ve got Mortis, we’ve got Captain Rex (I squeed and then texted a friend about it. It’s fine), we’ve got the Rako Hardeen arc, we have AHSOKA FREAKING TANO. We’ve even got a mention of The Bad Batch. It was wonderful. Fabulous. 10/10. No notes.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: OK, so I have an Obi-Wan bias. You all know this. But I find that people who love Qui-Gon tend to have some kind of weird disdain for Obi-Wan? Not the case here, thank the Force. Obi-Wan is actually given the kind of grace we don’t usually see in origin stories like this. Yes, the book doesn’t gloss over the ways in which he and Anakin struggled but it does also show him as a young man who is struggling immensely in his own right. He had to watch his Master, his mentor, his father figure die in his arms, and obviously that would mess a person up. He also assumed responsibility for a very emotionally vulnerable child before he was ready for that kind of role. And he was very hard on himself over it. He is given the space to be messy, yet sympathetic is what I’m trying to say. I do also think it’s funny that Anakin clings to Qui-Gon as the ideal Master even though he knew him for…um…3 days? And then Luke would later do the same with Obi-Wan under similar circumstances? Like father, like son.

Padmé: Needless to say, Padmé is given a lot of time in this section. But it isn’t just how she relates to Anakin’s story. She is, after all, a Skywalker in her own right by marriage. What does this mean? It means we get a look at her role during the Clone Wars in the Senate, her attempts to keep things under control, and yes, we ever get into her attempts to help Bail Organa and Mon Mothma get the origins of the Rebellion off the ground. If parallels are being drawn between Luke and his biological father, then they are also being drawn very clearly between Padmé and Leia. Though this is mentioned in the next section, and not in this, I find it very sweet that Bail and Breha Organa put up a statue to Padmé and tell Leia all about her, figuring that even though she can’t know that was her birth mother, she should still look up to her as a role model. Excuse me, there’s something in my eye.

If I haven’t mentioned Anakin explicitly, it’s because he’s the focal point of the whole section. Everything ties back to him in one way or another. He is the titular “Father” after all. But what I will say is that a wonderful parallel is drawn here between the grooming he suffers at Palpatine’s hands, and the same grooming that his grandson Ben would later face.

In this section, more than the other two, the structure is interesting to note. While the book does move in a vaguely linear fashion, each chapter is centred on one theme, meaning we jump back and forth along the same 3-4 year period quite a few times, so that each thematically linked sequence of events can proceed in order. It took me a minute to catch on to this, to the point where I spent an entire chapter and a half thinking Baver just…omitted Anakin and Padmé’s wedding. She didn’t, don’t worry.

The Twins

Of the sections in the book this one was the slowest to get through (which still isn’t saying much, I read the whole book in a day). It’s no knock on this part of the book, or the characters, or anything like that.

But because the Original Trilogy is…well…the originals, I feel like this territory is the most familiar. We’ve been over all this already.

My favourite parts were actually where Baver draws from the Marvel Comics runs and puts in reference to some of the more interesting arcs. Of particular interest was the reference to Greg Pak’s 2020 Darth Vader comics run because that includes Padmé’s handmaidens.

One thing this book did make me thinks is that we’re long overdue for a Leia: Princess of Alderaan style book about Luke’s teenage years, but who knows? Maybe we’ll get some of that in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

The Dyad

This was the part I was most afraid of reading. If you’re a regular reader/know me from Twitter, you know how much I love Ben Solo, and what a hard time I’ve had with Rey since TROS made me feel like I don’t know her anymore. I still love her so much it hurts, but the nerve is very, very raw.

Knowing that this book was going to “canonize” storytelling choices that upset me so much I spent far too long crying myself to sleep (oh hush, as if you don’t have things that make you feel like that) was a hard pill to swallow. Even though others who felt much like I did told me that the book handled it well, it still took me some time to come around to the idea of reading it.

Holy shit, though. I’m so glad I did.

It’s so easy to dismiss Ben Solo out of hand as an irrational, angry, fascist boy, and in another author’s hands that might have happened. But Kristin Baver treats the character with such care, presenting a tragic backstory for exactly what it is: a tragedy. Also worth noting that while she does occasionally refer to him as Kylo Ren after his downfall, she does switch back to “Ben” in moments where his light shines through, clearly illustrating moments where he is fully in the throes of the Dark side’s influence and when his true character is breaking through.

With Rey, mention is made of her ancestry (which I still cannot stand), but it’s discrete enough that I can forget it’s there. It seriously lifts out so easily it’s almost comical. Baver does try to make more sense of who Rey’s father was (apparently he’s not a biological son, and not a clone, but somewhere in the middle?) but the term “grandfather” when referring to Papa Palpy still feels like too strong a word.

The unfortunate thing is that while Rey’s backstory starts off strong, it unfortunately falls into the same rut her onscreen presence does by the end, where her existence and motivation are informed entirely by everyone around her, with the exception of the Force Bond and her connection to her dyad. This part ties in very well with her growing strength within the Force and works very well. This isn’t an issue with how it’s written. There isn’t much there to work with. The stronger parts of her story, drawn from everything pre-Episode IX, are unfortunately tainted by association with where she ends up. But kudos to Kristin Baver for trying to salvage as much as humanly possible from that particular trash fire.

The more nonsensical parts of certain movies are glossed over or omitted entirely. For instance, no mention is made of Luke and Leia knowing she was a Palpatine all along. And this is a book that makes meticulous mention of small interactions and moments. But it’s left out here, because for it to come on the heels of Leia realizing that hiding dark ancestry from a vulnerable young person is a mistake would be ridiculous and hypocritical and hey, I’m glad at least someone is thinking of these things.

I still don’t like where Rey’s story ended up – neither the fact that she is a vessel for the expectations of others, nor her family history, nor her name – and the attempt to make it work here doesn’t really do it for me, even though it was done better than any other attempt I’ve seen. I’m also never going to be ok with a 30-year old with a tragic life dying right as things started to go right and he started on the path to healing. Until their story continues, the final film in the Skywalker Saga will remain unwatchable for me. Though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this book actually makes it swallowable. This is unlike December 20, 2019, where the memory of the movie I had seen the night before was so nasty, I was violently ill at work and sent home early. Was that TMI?

We’re getting off topic.

Because this part is called “The Dyad”, a lot of time is spent on exactly that, on the connection the two of them have. This is by far the most sympathetic approach to their connection and interactions in movies 7-9 that I have seen from an official source (read: outside of fan fiction/twitter threads). I didn’t know I needed to have it confirmed that neither of them take a black and white view to their relationship/connection until I saw it here. It felt nice to know I wasn’t just seeing things.

Final Thoughts

Buy it. Buy it now. Or borrow it from the library. Either way. Do yourself a favour and read this book. There are so many extraneous details in various books that I’ve been screaming about for years, and people tell me it’s too much to keep track of? Well, no excuses, it’s all in one place now and it’s less than 300 pages long.

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

Commentary by Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

We’re Not Mad, Just Disappointed: A Star Wars Story

It’s that time again.

Time for Nora and I to read a for-fun adaptation of a well-loved classic, and take it far too seriously. But you know what? Something being for fun is absolutely no excuse to not put any thought into it. Or to put really weird thought into it.

In any case. Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return.

Overall Impressions

Arezou: I should probably start by saying that my expectations were simultaneously too high and also at rock bottom because Return of the Jedi is my favourite of the Original Trilogy movies.

Nora: I want to be mad, Ian, but really I know this is my own fault for getting my hopes up. There’s just…there’s just so much wrong. 

It’s not like Star Wars movies are especially notable for their scintillating dialogue, but there are a few really great lines, and Doescher botches almost every single one (including the reprise of I love you / I know). I will give him credit for handling the first part of Yoda’s death scene well (2.2)—but it works mostly because Doescher doesn’t stray too far from the movie version of the scene—that is, until Yoda actually dies. At that point, the scene sort of falls apart, a victim to over-long speeches and poor pacing. Immediately after Yoda’s death, for example, Luke gives a despairing monologue: ‘O Fate, what hast thou brought into my life– / How shall I live, when all I love have died?’ (2.2.137-38). First of all, slow down drama queen. ‘All I love have died’? What about Leia (who, by the way, still hasn’t had any space to mourn the loss of her entire fucking planet)? What about Han and Chewie? Or R2-D2, who’s standing right there next to you?? Later in the same scene, he literally says to R2: ‘I cannot face the future by myself. / What shall I do, R2?’ (2.2.165-66). YOU ARE NOT ALONE BECAUSE R2 IS RIGHT THERE AND YOU ARE TALKING TO HIM RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE ASKING HIM THIS QUESTION ABOUT BEING ALONE THUS PROVING THAT YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY ALONE. 

Ahem. 

Arezou: OK. I cannot stress this enough: words mean things.

Part of the reason I love this movie so much, is that woven in the middle of all the sci-fi weirdness, there are some truly wonderful bits of dialogue that land like an emotional gut punch (in a nice way). We went on and on last time about how “I love you/I know” was over-embellished to the point where it lost all its punch. But fine, whatever, it’s in the past. So why on earth, when it came time to repeat the exchange, did you ALTER it? Why did it go from “O, I do love thee wholly, Han” to “O, I do love thee, Leia dear” (5.1.105)? Now granted, some cynical part of me knows that the second “I love you, I know” exchange was probably included in ROTJ to balance things out, to have Han tell Leia he loves her before the (at the time) whole series ended. But to have them repeat the exact lines to each other, roles reversed is a wonderful and deliberate choice. It’s a callback that advances both characters, where Han is now *in this* enough that he’s ready to actually tell Leia he loves her, and Leia is now secure enough in that affection to be just a liiiiittle cocky about it. Love to see it. But we don’t get it here. What, was Leia’s phrasing too flowery for a guy to say?

Then we have the whimper of a delivery of my favourite line in this entire trilogy: “I am a Jedi, like my father before me”. There is nothing wrong in theory with how the line is written, as the sentiment is still technically there. But there’s something off about “I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, just like my brave and noble father” (5.2.184-186). Putting aside the fact that there are simply too many words here, the line as written is doing way more than the line of dialogue in the movie is meant to do. First he declares “I am Luke Skywalker” (ok, that wasn’t really in question?) “Jedi Knight” (k, sure, use the title Ben Kenobi mentioned to you literally once) “just like my brave and noble father” (looks like we’re projecting some feelings onto daddy dearest, aren’t we?). The line in the movie is beautiful for both it’s simplicity and for the strangeness of its construction. Luke speaks in a fairly straightforward, every day sort of way, but the declaration he makes, the speech is almost elevated. I’d argue it sounds more like what a normal person like me thinks of as “Shakespearian” than the line meant to sound like a Shakespeare delivery. No, the meter wouldn’t work, but like “I love you/I know” last time, maybe that would have been for the best. Makes it stand out all the more.

Nora: Also: he really went with “Jabba of the Hutt”? That construction of Jabba’s name doesn’t make any sense—“the Hutt” would have to be a place for this to work, which it isn’t, unless we’re talking about Pizza Hut referring to itself that way in ads from a long time ago? And that just makes me think of Pizza the Hutt from SpaceBalls. 

Arezou: On that note, the use of “Lando of Calrissian” followed immediately by “General Calrissian” was so jarring I had to ask Nora about the technicalities of naming during that era. Shouldn’t it have been “Lando Calrissian of Bespin?” Yes. Yes, it should have. But hey, as long as it “sounds” Shakespeare, I suppose it’s alright. Is this nitpicking? Buckle up, because there’s gonna be a whole lot of that.

Dramaturgy and Stagecraft – Nora

Dramaturgy, broadly speaking, is about the structure of a play: the stuff that holds it up and keeps it together. It’s both something a play has and something you can do in relation to a play. Sometimes, a theatre will hire a dramaturg to work on this aspect of a particular production, or to advise generally about this side of the rehearsal and development process. But whether or not a dramaturg is working on a play, dramaturgy is still important. (Aside: hire dramaturgs! And pay them! They do amazing work!) 

Someone who’s thinking dramaturgically can tell you about what’s happening under the surface of your play: what assumptions the text makes, what information is being communicated about the world of the play, and what structures of power and influence are at work, for example. 

I have this theory about soliloquies in Shakespeare and early modern plays: I call them “dramaturgical frames”. What I mean by this is that they set up the action that see after them, and they provide the audience with commentary on what comes before them. And they make particular invitations to the audience about how they should understand the world of the play. Of course, not all audiences are going to take up that invitation; but it’s interesting to think about how a script prompts its audience to view the action of the play through a particular lens. 

It’s not particularly groundbreaking to say that male characters tend to have more soliloquies in Shakespeare, and it’s not that surprising that Doescher holds to this trend, especially given that the Star Wars franchise, overall, gives far more lines to male characters. (In fact, this is true across film and television in general.) What’s more interesting, to my mind, is the framing of the play around the language and perspectives of these men. 

What do I mean by that? Well, soliloquies are moments where the characters share truth with the audience—think about R2-D2’s confessions to us in English, where he tells us that he’s choosing to speak only in beeps and squeaks to the other characters. We’re privy to a part of his character that the rest of the play-world is not. This kind of intimacy can create a feeling of affinity and confederacy with the character: we’re part of an “in-group” that gets to know his inner thoughts and feelings, even when he keeps them from other characters. 

When it comes to R2-D2, this is pretty benign; he is one of the good guys, after all. But let’s think for a moment about what happens when Doescher starts to give extensive and frequent soliloquies to characters like Darth Vader (1.1.42-58, 2.4.1-28, 3.4.1-12, 3.4.79-102, and 5.2.211-231) and the Emperor (2.1.5-54 and 5.2.82-120). Now yes, on the one hand, this is a thing that Shakespeare does, too: some of his most famous soliloquizers are characters like Richard III and Iago, who self-consciously establish themselves as baddies from the beginning. But when given the opportunity to play around within a Shakespearean dramaturgy, why not examine what it means to give so much alone time with the audience to such odious figures? If soliloquies are partly about building empathy for a character, and creating that confederacy between audience and character, what does it mean that we’re being invited here to associate ourselves with the leaders of the Empire, repeatedly, and at length? And even if we could claim that there’s value in creating an affinity with Vader, who eventually repents and finds “Anakin” again, why spend so much time with the Emperor? 

Now, yes, proportionally speaking, we get more time with Luke overall in soliloquies than we do with either Vader or the Emperor. But I still think it’s interesting to note which characters Doescher chooses to beef up through these moments of direct address, and which he doesn’t. 

Going to bat for the Tuskens – Arezou

I can’t even begin to explain where the Tusken thing. came from. It might have been the bitter realization last year that the “Sand People” were the closest thing to Middle Eastern representation I’d ever seen in Star Wars prior to the introduction of Dr. Pershing in season 1 of The Mandalorian. Partner that with Din Djarin’s comments in that same show about how the Tuskens were the indigenous species of Tatooine and the humans were the settlers, and suddenly I’m rooting for the Tuskens.

Essentially, I feel very protective of them.

Modern canon, currently including both seasons of The Mandalorian, and Sabaa Tahir’s short story from the first From A Certain Point of View has gone a long way to humanizing the Tuskens and I am HERE. FOR. IT. I have high hopes that this trend will continue in both Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett, both of which are presumably at least partially set on Tatooine.

So imagine my rage when I get to Act II, scene 2 of this and find what can only be described as a staggeringly racist take on the Tusken Raiders, made all the worse by the fact that it’s Luke who is speaking. Luke. One of the colonists on their homeland.

In the scene in question, Luke has just realized that Leia is his sister, and he processes it with – what else – a soliloquy. He kicks things off reflecting on the fact that he and Leia have definitely made out before, and how odd that is, but rather than moving on, a full 20 lines (2.2.266-286) are devoted to an “ancient tale of Tatooine” warning of the…um…dangers of incest. Now to anyone reading it who is somewhat familiar with the Western literary canon, it’s quite clear that the tale he is telling is loosely based on the story of Oedipus. In it the central character, a Tusken Raider, “join’d with his mother in a bond most strange and quite unnatural”. When they find out, the mother hangs herself and the son blinds himself. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So, Ian wants us to know he’s read the classics. Great. But I have two questions: why have we given 20 full lines for a very rushed retelling of Oedipus Rex when we won’t give Leia half that time to develop in any way, shape or form? We have theories on that front (see below). But my second question is perhaps harder to answer and that is: why was this necessary?

I get that Ian probably picked Tuskens because they are the “other”, the non-humans, on the planet where Luke grew up, so it makes sense that those are the legends he might have heard. BUT. I question this decision: “At night upon the sands of Tatooine, his howl may still be heard, a warning to those who would break the sacred fam’ly bond through passions of the body” (2.2.283-286). That’s right. The Tuskens are now mythical beings who do unnatural things and now as a result, literally howl at the moon in warning. Not to make this crass, but Tuskens are near enough to human that the two species can reproduce. I’m not 100% convinced they aren’t actually some form of human themselves. And even then, in the Star Wars universe, there is such a wide variety of sentient species that I shouldn’t be classifying them as “human” and “non-human” with any kind of hierarchy. That’s something the Empire does, in only employing humans in their ranks.

What I am trying to get at, is going out of your way to get in a dig at the Tuskens, to other them further than the text EVER does, just doesn’t sit right with me.

And don’t give me the excuse of this is “modern canon”. The first hint of this that I’ve seen is in Terry Brooks’ novelization of The Phantom Menace, which was published in 1999. The information was available. Also, maybe we don’t punch down at the non-humans never given a chance to advocate for themselves?

Hashtag Huttslayer Forever

Nora: We’ve complained before on this blog that Doescher allows more character development for random space creatures than he does for Leia, and that trend continues here. The rancor keeper gets more opportunity to lament the death of his charge than Leia gets to say anything at all—35 lines in Act 1, Scene 4 go to the rancor keeper. Leia’s longest speech in this play is only 24 lines (4.1.26-50) and is focused not on any aspect of her characterization but rather on the role that the Ewoks will play in the rebellion’s success on Endor. This is also the very first opportunity Leia gets—two and two-thirds of a play later—to process any aspect of the loss of Alderaan. And it’s honestly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick: 

There is a saying back on Alderaan-

Or rather, should I say, there us’d to be

For now no sayings there are heard at all-

(4.1.34-36)

Arezou: ROTJ is that weird sci-fi entry in Star Wars where there are just SO many creatures running around. Not inherently a bad thing, of course. But I do question the decision to give ALL of them more time than Leia is given. Like Nora said, the rancor keeper gets his chance to lament the loss of his pet. OK fine. Whatever. But the rancor itself also has time to sing a death song. Salacious B. Crumb, the monkey-lizard is turned from giggling rodent to a character with actual lines? Entire exchanges are held in Huttese and in Ewokese. And still, Leia seems to only exist to serve the (mostly male) characters around her.

Nora: Backing up a bit, Leia also gets precious little chance to have feelings about being enslaved by Jabba. In 1.4, Doescher lets her elaborate in response to Han’s question (“And where is Leia?” 1.4.147) compared to the movie, but her lines only serve to minimize and trivialize the harm that Jabba has done to her: ‘I am quite safe and, as of yet, unharm’d, / But bound unto this wormlike lump of hate’ (1.4.148-49). Now as much as I appreciate that Doescher doesn’t give us an implied or literal rape in this scene, there’s also a huge spectrum of possible violence between rape and “unharmed.” She is literally chained to Jabba the Hutt. There are ways to let her reassure Han and also communicate that this experience is harmful (like, I don’t know…a soliloquy?? Oh wait, I forgot, those are just for the men and the random space creatures. Silly me.). 

Arezou: She f*cking STRANGLES Jabba the Hutt and…nothing. No moment to reflect on what all that means to her. I know this was published before Bloodline made Huttslayer a thing but come on. All the men are given the space to process the slightest thing that happens to or around them. Leia declares her intention of killing him, then is given 10 lines (1.5.97-106) in which to do it. Half those lines just…explain to the audience what she’s doing (again making me wonder if this was ever intended to be performed), then the rest are him cursing and condemning him for the general wrongs to others. At least let some of this be about what he did to you and your loved ones?

Nora: Part of me wonders if Doescher’s insistence on avoiding any meaningfulinteriority for Leia is a misguided attempt to present her as a “strong female lead”? Because we all know that in order to be “strong” you’re never allowed to have any emotions or character development, ever. But then again, her once moment of contemplation—when she learns that Luke is her brother—minimizes her own strength in the force and positions her as inferior to Luke (3.3.316-333). I don’t know. I’m trying to make it make sense, but I suspect it’s just a whole lot of garden-variety misogyny. 

Arezou: I have nothing to add to this except “stoic and expressionless and without feeling” does not equal “strong” by any stretch of the imagination, and writers would do well to remember this. Though it is a little weird that both she and Luke reflect back on their relationship and while he questions their kiss in ESB, she doesn’t so much.

Final Thoughts

Nora: It’s honestly all becoming so predictable at this point, and I can only pray that with a new trilogy starting in the next installment, we’ll also get some life injected into this series. 

Arezou: The prequels are my favourite trilogy overall, partially due to nostalgia, but also partially due to how well I feel they work as one coherent story. No excuses, Ian. But lots of pressure.

***

Next month we’re jumping into Prequel-land with The Phantom of Menace! I’m a prequel stan, Nora less so. Let’s see how this goes (fingers crossed Padmé gets her due!

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

Nora is a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama and Literature at the University of Essex. She is currently working on her first book, Canonical Misogyny: Staging Sexual Violence in Early Modern Performance. You can follow her on Twitter @noraj_williams