Queen’s Peril: Padme in Disguise

When I first heard that E.K. Johnston would be following up last year’s solid Star Wars novel Queen’s Shadow with a prequel, I was very skeptical. But after reading the book, I was happily proven wrong.

Queen’s Shadow (released July 2, 2020 by Disney Lucasfilm Press) expands on the story told in Shadow while at the same time tying Padme and Naboo into the larger Star Wars narrative even better than its predecessor.

Queen’s Shadow took place after The Phantom Menace, telling the story of Padme’s transition from Queen to Senator and how vital her handmaidens were in every aspect of her life. Queen’s Peril is the story of how Padme transitioned from citizen to Queen, the first days of her working with her handmaidens and how the early days of her reign led right into the events of The Phantom Menace.

Cover of Queens Peril Cover

At its heart, this is a book about Padme and how she forms a routine and relationships with her handmaidens. While they are a bit hard to tell apart at times, they do have their individual personalities, talents and back stories. Just like in Shadow, Peril gives us a Padme more relatable than her onscreen incarnation. Padme is the idealist who wants to do what she can to make things better. She takes a situation- her security- and inventively changes it through the handmaidens to better suit her. Certain scenes, such as the first time she gathers her new team, or when they decide to buck authority for a simple night out, are very well-written and help make the galaxy far, far away feel more down to earth.

However, the novel is not just about Padme. Nearly every character from the Phantom Menace makes an appearance at one point or another, with many given weighty moments. This book made me want to watch The Phantom Menace again. The moments relate not just to the first Star Wars episode, but provide insight into other events throughout the saga (however, one of Jar Jar’s interests comes off as totally out of left field).

The book is an entertaining, quick read. However, there are some times, particularly with the character asides, where the pacing feels off. There was a concept or two (notably the idea that very few people know of the Queen’s true identity- based on my understanding, the candidates for Queen take a pseudonym when they run for office and don’t give it up) that went over my head. And if you haven’t read other Star Wars books, some references might not make a ton of sense. But none of this detracts from the whole reading experience.

Queen’s Peril is out this week. If you want to explore the state of the Star Wars galaxy right before the movie saga begins, these pages are definitely worth turning.

Thrawn: The Chiss Student Exchange Program

When it was first announced at last year’s Star Wars Celebration, I thought Timothy Zahn’s novel Thrawn would be fascinating because it’s the first piece of new Star Wars canon material to be centered around a character based in Legends. After reading Thrawn, I can say that applies, but there is an additional, bigger reason for its appeal: just as New Dawn serves as an origin story for the leaders of the Rebels of the show of the same name, Thrawn serves as an origin for some of the key players on the Empire side featured on Rebels.

Overall, Zahn does a good job of letting go of the baggage in bringing Thrawn into the new Star Wars canon. Thrawn is a solid, entertaining novel. But it does have some drawbacks.

The not-so-good

Timelines: This book takes place over a number of years. How many, I couldn’t tell you. It opens sometime after the end of the Clone Wars. Different amounts of time pass between chapters. But we’re never told how much. The novel ends as Thrawn is asked to help out with the Rebellion on Lothal, but it isn’t clear if this refers to his being summoned in Rebels Season 3, or sometime before. Thrawn makes a rapid climb up the Empire’s ranks, but I kept thinking in the back of my head while reading this “how much time has passed here?”

Thrawn the unreliable narrator: During the novel, Thrawn tells two conflicting versions of what happened with his people and why he wants to work for the Empire, one to Emperor Palpatine, the other to a Nightswan, a rival who has beleaguered him throughout the course of the book. More detail is given in the story told to Nightswan. But it’s never said which version of the story is true. The first paragraphs of the novel lend credence to the Thrawn-as-exile narrative, as does that fact that Palpatine could use his powers to divine the truth. However, Thrawn gives Nightswan a compelling story (told as a dialogue) that casts doubt on the first version.

Strategy: Thrawn has always been presented as a great strategist, and this new incarnation is no different. But when a novel spends a lot of time on character motivation and Thrawn’s observing of other character’s actions, the pacing suffers. Portions delving into his thought process as things unfold require an extra reading, making some parts of the story flow more slowly than the rest of the book. What’s more, while he’s an underdog in the Imperial Navy hierarchy, Thrawn is rarely taken advantage of or unable to turn a situation his way. He never fails and seldom stumbles.

Been here, done that: Certain plot elements seem familiar. Near the end of the book, Thrawn is leading a siege on a planet, which for some reason seems like something I’ve already read in a Star Wars novel. Also, Thrawn collects (and later uses) Clone War-era Separatist droids (and I’m not sure we ever find out definitively why), which was a plot element in Lords of the Sith.

Mysteries: The book presents a few mysteries that it never solves. There’s a compelling epilogue. Yet the status of a major character is in doubt and we don’t know the time period of this epilogue. Additionally, and more importantly, one of Thrawn’s stated motivations for working for the Empire is the desire to size them up, to help defeat threats from elsewhere (please do NOT be the Yuuzhan Vong!). But there’s no hint of what these threats are. Unless this book is the first in a series (which we don’t know yet), it has no business dropping a mystery like that without paying it off.

Having said all that, there are some very strong things about this novel. What worked:

Letting go of the past: This novel does a great job of presenting a new Thrawn. The basics are the same. But there are changes. Notably, he’s not as big an art fan as he is in his Legends appearances. Also, while Mitth’raw’nuruodo is still a thing (sigh), several other things associated with Thrawn/Zahn/Legends, namely ysalamiri, clones with two U’s in their names, the Outbound Flight Project have been left behind.

The Empire: The Empire in Thrawn is not presented as the evil empire of legend. There is evidence of corruption, menace and some racism against non-humans. Yet it is a functioning government working to keep the galaxy stable. For the first two-thirds of the book, the Empire does not do anything one would consider evil. It just is. And when a certain mobile battlestation is brought up, you get a concise, simple reason straight from The Emperor as why he thinks it will keep the local systems in line.

The rivalry: Throughout the book, Thrawn is trying to stop a smuggler/thief/rebel called Nightswan. Thrawn is intrigued by Nightswan, who is his intellectual and strategic match. Thrawn doesn’t want to beat Nightswan, he wants to use him, both for information, and as mentioned earlier, to send to his people. During their face-to-face meeting, it’s revealed that Nightswan sees himself as a leader of a band of Rebels, but unable to form a larger rebellion.

The characters: Zahn writes good characters here, with many of them showing growth during the undeclared amount of time that passes in the novel. Despite Thrawn’s perfect qualities, and unclear origin, he is compelling. His exchange with the rebel leader makes you believe he wants the Empire and Chiss to exchange knowledge and personnel. His translator, Eli Vanto, is sympathetic  and learns how to strategize like Thrawn. As far as characters we know, Tarkin is Tarkin, which is a good thing. The Grand Moff is not a main character, but he is in his element and in the new canon, he has proven to be a character that works. One of the supporting characters in Rebels, Governor Ryder Azadi isn’t directly featured, but his presence is felt. Rather than the Azadi we know, a guy opposing the Empire while wearing a big hat, he comes off as a corrupt and conniving leader.

But the biggest character surprise here is Governor Pryce. She’s a main character who transforms from social climbing party girl to ambitious careerist to mass murderer. She’s much more interesting than she has a chance to be on Rebels.

I know it seems like I have more negatives here than positives. But Thrawn is a good read that puts a new spin on a popular (if not featured in the films) character. I’m happy with the job that Zahn did here, even if that means I still have to see the word Mitth’raw’nuruodo.

Empire’s End: Cowards, Fake Deaths and The Galactic Hatch

A few months before the release of The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm published Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, the biggest storytelling element in the ‘Road to TFA.’

Aftermath wasn’t received that well. Mostly because fans were expecting to hear about the further adventures of Han, Luke, Leia and Wicket. Instead, those and other main characters were on the periphery, while Aftermath focused on a group of rebels (and recent converts to the cause). It wasn’t a bad book (although it did have a few too many fake deaths), but it wasn’t what people wanted.

The second book, Life Debt, was better by every standard. Han and Leia were main characters again, the main plot was more developed and the new characters actually had a history.

Empire's End

The final volume in the trilogy, Empire’s End, was released last week and is the best of the three. It really puts an end to the Empire (even if a small group goes off to form the First Order) and brings the story to a close for most of the new characters we met. While Luke is mentioned only a few times, there’s appearances from Han and Leia and cameos from other Original Trilogy mainstays. And Jar Jar.

But there were a few things about the book that I want to call out, probably not any deserving of a post on their own, but I’d have more to say here than I could get away with on Twitter.

And away we go…

Most Disappointing Development

Senator Jebel is alive.

Who is Senator Jebel? This guy:

Senator Jebel

That’s guy from Rogue One who wants to surrender after learning of the Death Star. The most cowardly character in the entire Star Wars universe. I’m no fan of Ki-Adi Mundi, but as big an idiot as the unfortunately-headed Jedi is, at least he rushes head-first into battle.

Jebel, on the other hand, probably went into hiding right after the Yavin Conference and only came out when it was apparent the second Death Star was long gone. And then he was the first to take his shirt off and got the most drunk and crazy at the victory party. And here he is in Empire’s End being horrible. I suppose his still being alive is proof that not every story has a happy ending.

Lando is Still the Man

Lando Calrissian returns for his second (so-far) post-Jedi appearance, getting ready to re-establish his business on Cloud City. In between talking down some stubborn Imperials and trying to decide what to get Han and Leia for their soon-to-be-born child, Lando decides to hire some refugees. Because they’ll need work, he’ll need employees and it’s the right thing to do.

And Lando suggests getting little baby Solo a little mustache and cape. Which Lobot shoots down.

Think of how differently TFA would have been had Lobot just said ‘great idea boss!’

My Snoke Theory Sucks

General MadineAs mentioned earlier, one of the failings of the first book was the overreliance on faking character deaths. Near the end of the second book, an attack by brainwashed Rebels kills several characters, including General Crix Madine (who also died one of the chumpiest deaths in Legends chronology). But there was one line that suggested that maybe Madine was still alive.

I was holding out hope for this. That at some point in Empire’s End, Madine and his awesome beard would come out, guns-a-blazin, having faked his death and ready to singlehandedly win the Battle of Jakku.

It didn’t happen.

Madine is still dead.

Or maybe he’s still faking his death and it will be revealed that he’s Snoke after all.

Nope, Snoke Wasn’t Him Either

Before the release of Empire’s End,  my money was on Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax being Snoke, Supreme Leader of the First Order. Rax was hidden away during the Empire only to take command sometime after the Battle of Endor. There was a line in Life Debt that made it seem like Rax could use the Force. This, plus the Jakku connection made me think that Rax was Snoke.

Well, he didn’t have the Force. And Rax died. So we’ll have to keep looking. But what Rax did do is get the strongest (in his view) of the Empire out of the galaxy to set up what would become the First Order, led by Admiral Rae Sloane (one of the best characters of the new canon). Sloane is joined by a very young (soon to be) General Hux and his army of killer children.

Galli’s In The Hatch

After being recruited by Sheev Palpatine as a kid, Galli Rax spent his early years doing the Emperor’s dirty work on the planet of Jakku. We learn in Empire’s End that meant staffing and protecting the Observatory, an underground facility on Jakku with a bunch of computers that controlled when and how energy was vented from the planet. If the energy was not vented, then the planet and things orbiting the planet would be destroyed.

So Galli was basically Desmond Hume.

And the Observatory was the galactic version of the Swan Station.

No wonder I like this book.

Rax, I’ll see you in another life brotha.

Snoke and The Future of the Dark Side

Appropriately, The Force Awakens relaunched the Star Wars franchise with some new mysteries. One of the big ones being who is this Snoke character and what is his connection to the Force?

The movie itself doesn’t say much about who Snoke is. But he has some control of the Force and seduced Kylo Ren to the Dark Side. It’s clear that he’s not a Sith like Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader, but a whole new type of Dark Side user.


The new Star Wars novel Aftermath: Life Debt introduces a character who many believe is an earlier version of Snoke. The Star Wars Post lays out a great case for why Gallius Rax is Snoke. Going along with this theory and looking at some clues from the first Aftermath novel could fill in more about where Snoke’s tie to the Dark Side.

In Aftermath, during a conversation between some of the remaining leaders of the Empire, Tashu, who at one point served as advisor to The Emperor, says they must look Palpatine’s beliefs for inspiration:

We must instead move toward the dark side. Palpatine felt that the universe beyond the edges of our maps was where his power came from. Over the many years he, with our aid, sent men and women beyond known space. They built labs and communication stations on distant moons, asteroids, out there in the wilds.

In Life Debt, Palpatine was doing some excavation on Jakku, home to Galli, later Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax. Galli stows away on a ship departing Jakku and meets Palpatine, who tells him:

You will go back to Jakku. The spot there in the dirt where my droids were operating is precious. Not just to me, but to the galaxy at large…It is significant. It was significant a thousand years ago and it will be significant again. You will go back there and you will monitor my droids excavating the ground. Then I will send more droids and they will build something there below the ground.

And where was Jakku?

It lies at the margins of the Western Reaches, flung so far into the galaxy [Admiral Rae Sloane is] not really sure if they’re even in the galaxy anymore. The system is close to Unknown Space—the uncharted end of the galaxy, beyond which lurk terrible nebula storms and gravity wells. Those who have tried to traverse the space outside the galaxy have never returned, though distorted, half-missing communications have come back—messages warning of geomagnetic anomalies and slashing plasma winds.

Putting the two books together a case can be made that the power on Jakku preceded the Sith. That it came from whatever was outside the galaxy that gave the Dark Side its power. And because he was so close to it through his formative years, Galli/Rax learned this power himself.

If Palpatine did teach Galli (in the book, he refers to the boy as a friend) some of the ways of the Dark Side, it’s possible that Galli combined these teachings with what he learned from whatever was on Jakku (or outside the Galaxy). It would be these teachings combined: the ways of the Sith and the ancient secrets of the Dark Side  to present the galaxy with a new, evolved Dark Side threat.

Personally, I like the idea of an extra-galactic threat. They messed it up in the old Legends canon (“Oh, they just sense the Force at a different frequency”), but it seems as if now, the Star Wars Story Group is planning these things out and not making them up as they go along.

Of course, if Rax isn’t Snoke than this is all just a crazy theory. But there are plenty of those to go around.

Who Did General Madine Piss Off?

The following contains a spoiler for Aftermath: Life Debt, which was released this week

Growing up, one of my favorite Star Wars action figures (well, one of 15 or so favorites) was the General Madine figure. 

Madine was the guy in Return of the Jedi who developed the plan for Han Solo to lead a team of commandos to take out the Death Star shield generator. I don’t know if it was that he had the coolest beard this side of a hipster convention, or that his figure’s accessory was a battle staff, but Madine certainly commanded my attention. 

Like other characters, Madine’s backstory was expanded in the post-Jedi Expanded Universe. In the Star Wars Role Playing Game, it was explained he was a high-ranking Imperial who defected. In the Dark Forces video game, the player rescued him from the Empire. And then in the 1995 novel Darksaber, Madine was killed. By a Hutt. While on a mission to stop the construction of a bootleg Death Star. 

Madine was one of the first characters with a speaking role in a Star Wars movie to be killed off in the then-Expanded Universe. After Disney bought Lucasfilm, they announced all ancillary material was invalid (no longer an Expanded Universe, but now Legends), giving Madine, Chewbacca and all the other characters who suffered lame deaths a second chance at life.

Madine was mentioned in the Shattered Empire comic series. But he didn’t last much longer after that. In Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath: Life Debt, Madine gets three mentions, all short and none good, especially the last:

They killed members of the New Republic government, too. Madine is rumored to be dead.

Maybe the “rumored” part is setting up something else for the future. But it doesn’t sound good. At least in Darksaber, Madine went down fighting. In Life Debt, he was shot watching a parade.

It’s not like Madine had a one-word part in a Star Wars movie. He passed along some major exposition to set up the Empire’s downfall. But in both the Legends and new canon universes, authors killed him off swiftly. 

In a universe with as many characters and spanning as large a timeline like Star Wars, sure, characters are going to die. In Darksaber, Madine had a good death in a bad book. In Life Debt, he had a bad death in a good book. 

Oh well. At least they gave him an awesome action figure. 

The Four(ce) is With Luke

Each day I have a conversation with my son Luke.

He tells me he’s a Jedi.

He tells me he’s a Wookiee.

But he’s quite insistent that he is not a Wookiee Jedi.


Because he’s never seen a Wookiee Jedi in any of the Star Wars movies.

Luke turned four and his knowledge of Star Wars scares inspires me. He can make Star Wars jokes. He can quote lines of dialogue. And he loves to point out errors in his Star Wars books (of which there are plenty).

But Luke’s abilities this past year have not just grown in relation to Star Wars. He’s a lot better able to carry on a conversation. He can tell stories and jokes. He can clean up after himself. He’s going to school every day and he likes it. For the most part.

I hope this next year is a good one for him. And that he eventually gets to see a Wookiee Jedi in a Star Wars movie.

Returning to the Galaxy Far Far Away

When I was five years old, I anxiously awaited the arrival of Return of the Jedi to the movie theater. And I wanted to fly the Millennium Falcon.

Thirty-two years later, I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of the sequel to Return of the Jedi to the movie theater. And I still want to fly the Millennium Falcon.

As the release date of Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens gets closer, the hype keeps increasing. I was a fan during the dark times of the late 80s and early 90s. I couldn’t wait to see the prequels. But that was different. We knew where the Star Wars story was going. The prequels were all history. The story ended (discounting Expanded Universe) with Return of the Jedi.

Now, here we are, 30 days out from the debut of the official continuation of the Star Wars saga. A new entity owns the Star Wars universe and has big, long-term plans for the saga and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve read a few articles recently similar to one published in Wired, which claimed that the story is ongoing, I’ll never see its end.  You know what? I’m fine with that. Star Wars has been a huge part of my life. It’s fueled my imagination and taught me to dream and to be an optimist. It’s been with me throughout good times and bad. And I’m happy the story won’t be ending. I’m happy that I’ll be able to share it with my kids.

The next 30 days can’t go by quickly enough.

Teasing Star Wars

This morning was an exciting morning to be a Star Wars fan.

The first teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was posted online. The short teaser doesn’t show much. A few shots of characters and locations (one familiar location, no familiar characters). But by the last shot, where the greatest spaceship in the galaxy loops and rolls over a desert planet, I was drooling for more.

This teaser reminds me of 16 years ago, when the teaser trailer for Episode I was released. That was also exciting to have new Star Wars material for the first time in a long time. That teaser gave a lot more away than the Episode VII trailer does. But times sure are different. Back then, I was in my dorm room, downloading a video file that was about 20 Megs large. The source was some guy’s camcorder from inside a movie theater. Even though the official version of the trailer was released shortly thereafter and has been available on DVDs and YouTube for some time, I think I watched that poor quality AVI file more than any other version.

Here’s the Phantom Menace trailer (the official) version for comparison:

Next to the Episode VII teaser, this is practically a full-length feature. It has dialogue, multiple locations, familiar characters. And it’s about double the length.

To me, while the Episode I trailer felt like Star Wars, after seeing today’s trailer, I can say that the Episode VII one is Star Wars. And the appearance of a certain hunk of junk may have something to do with that.