01/04/2012. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books/Lucas Books. 368 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51128-7.
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.starwars.com
'Star Wars: Darth Plagueis' is a well-written, engaging, and highly entertaining book that will doubtless be very popular with ‘Star Wars’ fans. Covering the decades immediately before the prequel films, it opens with the killing of one Sith Lord, Darth Tenebrous, by his apprentice, Darth Plagueis. As fans will know, Sith Lords invariably operate in pairs, and it appears to be standard practice for the apprentice to kill his master when the time comes. What makes Darth Plagueis special, though, is that he intends to make this tradition - the so-called Rule of Two - obsolete. He sees the big picture and isn't merely a power-hungry Sith Lord bent on galactic dominance, his goals are much more subtle and far-reaching and the way he works is infinitely more patient and pragmatic than the Sith Lords before him.
Of course, Plagueis has to take an apprentice at some point because he needs a trustworthy associate and front-man if he's to get things done. This is where Darth Sidious comes in, in the form of a young and ambitious political aide called Palpatine on the backwater planet of Naboo. From the reader's point of view, Palpatine serves a double purpose. Not only is he a link with the films that lends familiarity to the otherwise new worlds author Luceno is creating, but in explaining his goals to Palpatine, Plagueis is explaining them to the reader as well.
As the book progresses, events become steadily more familiar, and one of the best things about the book is how effectively Luceno manages to set the stage for the prequel movies. Several characters besides Palpatine get their back-stories filled in, especially Darth Maul, who we see developing from child to man under Palpatine's tutelage. We also find out about more about the political situation that forms the backdrop to the prequel movies. If anything, Luceno does a better job of explaining 'The Phantom Menace' than George Lucas managed. It's a rich mix of well-paced action, rich detail, convincing dialogue and plenty of top-notch character development.
With all this said, the book fails to deliver in one key aspect: once Palpatine arrives on the scene about a third of the way into the book, the Darth Plagueis character effectively slips into the background. Perhaps that's the way Plagueis would have wanted it, but it's a shame, because what we see of Plagueis makes him an interesting character. But while he performs his function well enough throughout the book, he's never developed to quite the same degree as Palpatine, who despite the title of the book, could easily be mistaken for the novel's main protagonist.
Still, 'Star Wars: Darth Plagueis' is an extremely good book if taken for what it is, a lead-in to the prequel films that fills in many of the gaps the films glossed over all too quickly. Highly recommended.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA