Author: James Luceno
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: January 10, 2012
Era: Rise of the Empire
This review contains major spoilers. Our spoiler-free review can be found here.
“Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.”
– Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis. Never before has an entry to the Expanded Universe been so highly anticipated. Episode III Revenge of the Sith captivated viewers with Chancellor Palpatine’s recounting of the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, a Sith Lord “so powerful and so wise that he was able to use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life.” After years of waiting and a rocky history, the legend has finally been revealed.
As a longtime reader of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, I have found that Drew Karpyshyn’s Darth Bane series provided a point of view unlike any other Star Wars novel. Karpyshyn did a masterful job showcasing the rise of Bane up through the moment the mantel of Dark Lord of the Sith is passed to his apprentice. As a result, I had a lot of preconceived notions going into Darth Plagueis. I’m happy to say that I have never been more pleasantly wrong! James Luceno has managed to bring forth one of the best stories I have ever read in the Star Wars mythos. Yes, one of the best.
This book delivered on so many levels that I actually became giddy at times. The story is packed with references to other Expanded Universe works, both subtle and obvious. Everything from how Ronhar Kim meets and forges a relationship with Palpatine (Star Wars: Republic #64) to the plot of Jedi Council: Acts of War, the events with the Yinchorri, and aspects of Star Wars: Republic: The Devaronian Version, to name a few. It’s an EU fan’s dream come true, but the references don’t seem forced. Luceno manages to touch upon and explain events without beating the reader over the head or confusing them. Those new to the Expanded Universe should have no trouble jumping into this book.
Darth Plagueis opens with the death of the novel’s namesake, the exact scene Palpatine described to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. The prologue brings a certain philosophical depth I’ve not seen since The New Jedi Order: Traitor. Luceno gives readers a look at the galaxy through Palpatine’s eyes as he sets forth as the sole Sith Lord in the aftermath of Plagueis’ death. It then jumps decades earlier to a time when Plagueis himself was but the learner, studying under the tutelage of his Bith Master Darth Tenebrous. But when the enemies of Rugess Nome, Tenebrous’ alter ego, attack, Plagueis seizes the moment and betrays his Master, claiming the mantle of Dark Lord for himself. As the life leaves Tenebrous’ body, readers learn of Plagueis’ fascination with midi-chlorians and the Will of the Force. The amount of Sith history and knowledge that Plagueis brings to the table is a real joy.
The rest of Part One details Plagueis’ search for a deeper understanding of the Force. Under the guise of Hego Damask, a powerful Muun, Plagueis begins to sow the seeds that will eventually lead to the revenge of the Sith and the fulfillment of the Sith “Grand Plan.” With the assistance of his droid, 11-4D, Plagueis begins his searchfor the Sith knowledge lost by Darth Gravid.
The most frightening aspect about Plagueis is not his power as a Sith, but his life as Magister Hego Damask. A rich and powerful Muun born for the sole purpose of furthering Tenebrous’ Sith plan, Damask was the being responsible for financing Gardulla’s podrace circuit on Tatooine, propelling Naboo and its plasma energy resources onto the galactic scene, and maneuvering important players into place. Damask’s wheels-within-wheels manipulations rival those of Emperor Palpatine himself.
The planet of Naboo plays a much larger role in galactic events than some fans were initially led to believe. The way Naboo factors into the Sith Grand Plan blew my mind in more ways than I can count. It not only altered my opinion of the saga, but it changed many of the ways I looked at the EU and Darth Sidious in particular. Luceno does an excellent job explaining how Naboo managed to transform itself—with the help of Demask—from a humble secluded planet into a major player in galactic politics. This is done, in part, thanks to insider information provided by a teenager so frustrated with his influential father that he would forsake his given name and turn against his family: Palpatine. Plagueis recognizes Palpatine’s budding talents and slowly begins the process of turning him to the dark side.
Palpatine’s relationship with his father, Cosinga Palpatine, continues to deteriorate until, in a chilling scene darker than Anakin’s butchering of the Sand People, Palpatine murders his entire family. Luceno makes this dark scene explode off the page, showcasing how Palpatine emerges from the barriers he had created around himself and seizes his full Force potential. As the sole living heir to House Palpatine, the charismatic young man is in an excellent position to further the Sith Grand Plan as Plagueis’ apprentice. The parallels with Anakin’s fall are obvious, yet quite different.
Part Two of the story jumps forward ten years and spans a two-year period. It is tough to say which part of the book I enjoyed most, but the second installment definitely has an edge. Having been Plagueis’ apprentice for nearly a decade, Palpatine is now fully immersed in the dark side. The Force is discussed in-depth. Luceno covers many exciting topics, from the ancients, Celestials, and Rakata to Ashla and Bogan, the Potentium Theory—that light and dark depend on the user’s intentions—and the various forms of Sith Lightning. The two have a very interesting discussion about the transformative power of Sith Lightning, which ends with a chilling quote: “The power of the dark side is an illness no true Sith would wish to be cured of.”
One of the interesting concepts Luceno brings to the fore is that of the “realm of the Force.” The rendering of a hole in the Force by Darth Tenebrous’ Master is what clouded the Force and prevented the Jedi from sensing the future. With practice, the Sith were able to learn how to hide in plain sight. Palpatine was building his power in the dark side so he would, as his Master put it, be able to gain power over himself. This would eventually lead to power over another, then a group of individuals, an order, a world, a whole species, and finally the Republic itself.
Of course, Plagueis doesn’t give Palpatine access to much of the Sith lore and historical locations, fearing that these dark places might lead the Jedi to them. The two travel across the galaxy, training the Echani Sun Guard on Hypori and battling warriors in Kursid. The latter turned out to be one of my favorite scenes in the book, due to the way the natives worship their battles with the Sith. These fascinating warriors could easily turn out to be a threat at some point in the future.
When he wasn’t learning the ways of the Sith, Palpatine devoted his time to politics. With Plagueis’ help, he achieved the position of Naboo’s Ambassador by age twenty-eight. It was also surprising to note that he was just as much the ladies’ man as was hinted at in books like Children of the Jedi and The New Jedi Order: Rebel Stand, when Roganda Ismaren made claims to Palpatine’s womanizing ways.
Whereas Plagueis was Palpatine’s mentor in the ways of the Sith, Vidar Kim, last seen in Star Wars: Republic – Bloodlines, was his mentor in the ways of politics. Plagueis himself encouraged Palpatine’s friendship with Kim, suggesting that his apprentice allow it to deepen. It didn’t hurt that Vidar had a son, Ronhar, who had been admitted into the Jedi Order. Plagueis figured that Ronhar and Palpatine would cross paths sooner or later, providing Palpatine with valuable experience. Once more Plagueis had a plot within a plot, all to further the Sith Grand Plan. The Muun was a mastermind. If it wasn’t for the fact that most of the things Sidious was doing were at Plagueis’ request, one could almost say that the novel’s focus had shifted toward Palpatine and his rise to power. As a result, Luceno takes care to remind the reader who the real mastermind is. And it isn’t Sidious.
That’s not to say Sidious himself wasn’t up to no-good. At one point, Palpatine travels to Malastare to attend a gala for the winners of the Vinta Harvest Classic (a reference to Star Wars: Republic—Emissaries to Malastare) as a member of Senator Kim’s party. Sidious runs across a lot of members of Hego Damask’s gatherings on Sojorn, the Sith Lord’s own little “who’s who” of the underworld, as well as those whom the Muun has angered. The group eventually discusses the Trade Federation, which is growing more and more powerful, and how to prevent its continued success. By the end of the scene, Senator Kim receives an urgent message that his family has been killed in a tragic “accident,” leaving him with only his estranged son, Jedi Knight Ronhar. This event eventually serves as the catalyst for Palpatine becoming the Senator of Naboo.
Some readers might grow bored with endless politics and almost nonexistent action, and I would tend to agree. But Luceno always found a way to keep things interesting and well-paced. The whole double play between the Sith and their alter egos was great, and it services as a fantastic history of the downfall of the Republic.
Plagueis, in many ways, was like his Master, obsessing over science. In this case, Plagueis’ science was the study of midi-chlorians. And after the recent release of The Tenebrous Way in Star Wars Insider, I find myself wondering just what Plagueis would have thought had he known about his Master’s true obsessions and his creation of maxi-chlorians. When Yinchorr became a member world in the Senate, the Council of Elders awarded Plagueis a convicted murderer for his experiments. The murderer provided Plagueis with a great deal of insight into the Yinchorr’s ability to project a Force bubble similar in a sense to the ysalimiri of Myrkkr and the vornskr which hunt them. Plagueis was indeed well schooled in midi-chlorians. Some fans feel a strong dislike for midi-chlorians, but Luceno’s explanation as to how they work is quite satisfactory.
It’s during one of Plagueis’ introspectives that we discover his personal views on “balancing the Force.” He believed that the Jedi had created a Force bubble similar to the ysalmiri, but on a galactic scale; a bubble which bathed the galaxy in the light side and prevented the dark side from infiltrating. That was, until Tenebrous’s Master burst the proverbial bubble. Generations of Sith were mystified that the Jedi considered the banishment of the dark side balancing the Force. The Sith believe in the Force’s ability to self-regulate. You almost get the feeling that they consider it to be a partner, a sentient being who will aide them in their plan if they prove themselves worthy. Plagueis had a wide assortment of specimens, like Venamis, who had been a prisoner for eleven years. He experimented with telepathy, regeneration, healing, and most importantly extending life. With the help of his droid 11-4D Plagueis was able to break many barriers with regards to the Force. While toppling the Jedi and the Republic was key to the Sith’s plan, the main goal was in the realm of the Force, they planned to topple the Force and become “the embodiment of the galaxy’s animating principle.” These two were playing for keeps, and the Jedi didn’t know they were playing for their lives in a rigged game of Sabacc.
Another theory entertained by Darth Plagueis and indeed both Jedi and Sith was that the balance between light and dark was under the guidance of the Celestials, which merged themselves with the Force some thousands of years prior and have been guiding it ever since. I have to admit, the theory has merit. There has always been a feeling of a cosmic ying yang at play within the Star Wars universe. This could explain it. But that is not to say that all entertained this theory. Many Sith out right spurned it.
The only aspect of this story that didn’t sit right with me was the side trip Darth Sidious makes to Dathomir. Plagueis had all but forbid him to seek out worlds strong with the dark side, so Palpatine chose the next best option: Dathomir. While on the planet, a human Nightsister approached Palpatine and offered to give him her son as a gift. This baby, a Nightbrother marked with the traditional black and red markings, would later become the fearsome Darth Maul. It’s a clever little retcon to Maul’s past, which was thrown for a loop with the introduction of his brother, Savage Oppress, in the The Clone Wars. Unfortunately, this chapter bothered me a lot. It was the one part of the book that felt shoehorned in. It was too coincidental for my taste. Hopefully, this back-story will be further expanded upon in future Expanded Universe works, like upcoming Darth Maul biography or The Clone Wars television show. The funny part of this scene occurs after Palpatine takes possession of young Maul. He tries to mindwipe the Nightsister, telling her to forget their meeting. Her response, “I will try,” was a nice way to interject humor on Luceno’s part. The whole chapter about Dathomir made me stop for a moment and think about the ramifications of what I had just read. Maul had a twin. My first instinct was to say it was Savage. But then I thought about it some more and I’m not so convinced. Savage, as we see him in The Clone Wars, looks to be the same age Maul was in Episode I The Phantom Menace, nearly a decade earlier. This leaves me wondering if we might not see Maul in The Clone Wars after all, but perhaps his twin.
As the events of The Phantom Menace draw near, Plagueis and Sidious discuss how to take the final steps in their plan. Plagueis tells Palpatine that he will be the one to become Supreme Chancellor, with Plagueis himself guiding from the shadows as the co-Chancellor. It is at this moment that Palpatine bestows upon his Master the title of “Plagueis the Wise.”
In another surprising turn of events, the reader discovers that it was Hego Damask who first contacted the cloners on Kamino. Plagueis’ vision of an army of Yinchorri wasn’t feasible due to their violent nature, forcing Damask to begin the search for a more viable species to clone. Despite the limitations, Damask still had the Kaminoans move forward with cloning and testing, provided all the funding necessary to set the Kaminoans up to create what would later be the training center for the Grand Army of the Republic.
Meanwhile, Palpatine uses the assassination of Senator Kim to bring Kim’s son Ronhar into his confidence, as seen in Republic: Bloodlines. From here on out the story begins to pick up speed. Damask travels to Serenno to meet with Jedi Masters Jocasta Nu, Dooku, and Sifo-Dyas, along with young Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn. Plagueis immediately sees Dooku as a being who might one day be a good insurance policy in case something were to happen to Sidious. Plagueis even ponders luring Dooku to the dark side to further the cause of chaos. Plagueis, at the meeting in his capacity as Magister Hego Damask, ends up getting into an economic/political debate with Qui-Gon, which leads to his grilling Sifo-Dyas about a war the likes of which we see during the Clone Wars. He ends the discussion with a very direct question, one that I’m sure had been on his mind for decades: “If attacked, would you counterattack?” As the conversation progresses, Plagueis begins to place seeds of an Army of the Republic in Sifo-Dyas’ head. He mentions a group of cloners near Subterrel, but intentionally leaves out the name “Kamino.”
Suddenly, things begin to go haywire. Damask’s enemies kidnap Palpatine, having seen them together in a meeting with Jedi on Coruscant, and attempt to kill him. Plagueis’ Sun Guards arrive just seconds before Palpatine would have unleashed the full power of the dark side upon them. Plagueis, meanwhile, is severely wounded in a surprise attack on Coruscant’s exclusive secret society, the Canted Circle. Plagueis managed to escape with the help of Palpatine and his assistant, Sate Pestage, but not before suffering massive injuries.
Eventually, Plagueis summons Sidious to Muunilinist, to his private little island so powerful in the dark side it made Sidious take notice. It’s clear that Plagueis is almost like Batman while Sidious builds up a sort of Batman Beyond type of relationship in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Plagueis. When Sidious arrives at Plagueis’s library it even feels very much like the Batcave. Like Darth Bane, Plagueis has spent his early life gathering texts, scrolls, ancient holocrons, and more. Palpatine can’t wait to delve into all the rich lore contained in the library. It is here that Palpatine learns of his Master’s pregnancies. Suddenly I took a keen interest in everything that was being spoken. Would the origin of the Chosen One be explained? Had Plagueis already succeeded and created Anakin inside Shmi Skywalker? Nope. Not yet. Plagueis informs his apprentice that, in his haste and failure to use appropriate caution, he left an opening. He felt that his attempts to discover the secret to extending life and tip the balance of the Force had caused the Force to strike back, resisting their efforts. It had to be won over to their cause. Again that sense of partnering with the Force ccame to mind.
Plagueis is convinced that the Jedi have failed because they lost the allegiance of the Force, giving the Sith the opportunity to coax it into aligning with them. When the Force would finally open to them, they would strike. It reminds me of Yoda’s saying “always in motion the Future is.” These openings are moments one cannot see, but they can prove to be a game changer. Some Force users have the ability to look into the future and see multiple paths, but these moments can often cause the Force to diverge
In preparation for war, Plagueis moves from his library on Aborah to Sojorn, letting Damask Holdings fall by the wayside. Plagueis places San Hill, the son of his long-time ally Lars Hill, into the role of chairman of the Intergalactic Banking Clan, which would later back the Separatist movement. The Sith know that the only way to bring down the Jedi Order and the Republic is to break it apart with a civil war, one in which the Jedi will become enemy of the public. The two decided to focus on systems already full of strife and petty conflicts. The Outer Rim worlds began to suffer while the Core prospered, all so the Sith could more easily manipulate the beings of the galaxy.
One of the biggest changes fans will have to get used to is that Darth Maul, for as infamous and revered as he is, was merely a pawn. Sidious bestowed upon him the title of “Darth,” but only as a means of inflating his ego. The “apprentice” had no knowledge of Plagueis. In fact, Palpatine relegated him to being a simple warrior, denying him information about Sith history and galactic politics. The young man received the best training on Mustafar and Orsis under the supervision of Trezza, a Falleen combat specialist. Plagueis eventually learns of the existence of Maul, and approves; provided that Sidious doesn’t consider him to be an actual apprentice. It was Plagueis himself who firnished Maul with most of his comforts, Maul just had no clue. As did we.
Part Three picks up some twenty-five years later when Sidious has become a Master of the dark side. As the third part of the book starts I found myself not wanting to set it down. Even when re-reading Darth Plagueis, I would find myself stopping to dwell on parts of the story that I had not contemplated before. Right out the gate Luceno makes another nod to an EU work, Republic: The Devaronian Version, which was a behind-the-scenes retelling of Jedi Council: Acts of War, as told by Vilmarh Grahrk, the Devarion smuggler who loved to pester Quinlan Vos in the Republic line. I find books that cover a long span in short bursts like Darth Plagueis does to be very entertaining. And as the book jumps forward, it keeps finding ways to look back on the life of Hego Damask. So much happens in the book’s third act that it’s almost impossible to cover every detail.
With the dejarik pieces finally moving into place, the story begins to pull up alongside The Phantom Menace. Stages are set, and Luceno gives readers a shocking revelation: Plagueis was alive and well during the events of the first film, we just never saw him. Even more surprising was that Palpatine was still the apprentice when the Sith came on the scene, not Maul. This gives a whole new meaning to the film’s closing line “But which was destroyed? The Master, or the apprentice?” We later learn that Plagueis dies in the film’s final moments, but this is a shocking revelation nonetheless.
The ramifications of this book now echo across my knowledge of the events of the film. In part three we see Palpatine claw his way to the front of the story. It is he, with the help of Plagueis, who put Padme on the throne as Queen of Naboo. Luceno does a fantastic job of merging EU books and comics into one cohesive story without any ill effects on continuity. Jabba and Gardulla the Hutt, the true Mandalorians as seen in Jango Fett: Open Seasons, C3PX, Dooku and Palpatine’s conversations about the fall of the Republic, the creation of the foundries on Geonosis, and much more are all touched upon.
Readers also learn about the creation of what would eventually become the Grand Army of the Republic. Sifo-Dyas did indeed order the clone army, but it was at the suggestion of Plagueis who, with the assistance of the Intergalactic Banking Clan, funded the whole operation. Damask was a very, very wealthy Sith Lord.
Dooku eventually tells Palpatine about the existence of Anakin Skywalker, whom the Jedi believe could be the Chosen One. While Luceno doesn’t explicitly state Anakin’s origin, but since both the Sith Lords were shocked to learn of his conception it seemed like a dead give away, but it did closely coincided with Plagueis’ attempts to create life. I would say Plagueis’ surprise and thoughts that it was the Force trying to undo his plans was a good give away though. Palpatine immediately decides to begin seducing young Anakin to the dark side, thanks to a Force vision. But in order to accomplish this task, Maul would have to kill Qui-Gon Jinn. We all know how that turned out.
The climax of the book, of course, is a unique view of the end of The Phantom Menace. With Palpatine’s election to Supreme Chancellor all but assured, the two Sith Lords take a moment to celebrate their victory. Drunk on power and intoxicated by his drinks, Plagueis indulges in a rare moment of sleep. This is when Sidious strikes. He murders his Master, unleashing a flood of Force lightening into the dying Muun.
Suddenly, Luceno throws in a plot twist. In many ways, most of Darth Plagueis lowered Palpatine’s reputation and cunning in the eyes of the reader, instead showing how Plagueis had been the mastermind in many instances. This, however, is most certainly not the case. Sidious hates his Master much more than we were initially given to believe. My favorite part of the speech was when he tells Plagueis that he was never really his Master. “You lost the game on the very first day you chose to train me to rule by your side—or better still under your thumb. Teacher, yes, and for that I will be eternally grateful. But Master—never.” This one line gives you the sense that Palpatine had long ago determined that his Master would have to be dealt with at some point; that there was some merit to Bane’s Rule of Two after all. And we learn what many of us suspected all along: that the man who “wrote” the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise was none other than Lord Sidious. He coins the tale there on the spot as he mocks his Master for his experiments with midi-chlorians. But the most interesting part of Plaguies’ death is that Lord Sidious sees himself as the Sith’ari. He tells his former Master that he clouded his mind just as the two of them had clouded the minds of the Jedi. Sidious never intended sharing the Chancellorship, and all he really wanted was his Master’s secrets. Sidious then flips the script on not just Darth Plagueis, but the reader as well. We learn that since his rise to mastery, most, if not all, of the ideas that Plagueis had for the Sith Grand Plan had come from Palpatine all along. Sidious had cleverly planted ideas in Plagueis’ mind, ideas which Sidious would later be ordered to put into play. As his former Master lay dead, I immediately flipped back to the prologue and re-read the chapter. It fits in perfectly right after Plagueis slumps to the floor.
The novel ends with Palpatine luring Dooku ever closer to the dark side. With his former apprentice Qui-Gon dead and another one, Komari Vosa, leading a group of renegades, Dooku has become even more disenfranchised with the Jedi Order, cementing his decision to leave. Dooku tells Palpatine that he suspects that the Sith apprentice was killed on Naboo and confides in Palpatine about his intentions to ally with the Sith in order to bring down the Republic.
What strikes me is that Jedi tales are filled with small adventures, whereas Sith stories give readers a recounting of their lives. I really enjoy this approach to the storytelling, and it leaves me wanting to know even more about the characters involved. While this book may have slowed down at times due to the politics involved, they were integral to the story: the dejarik game that is the revenge of the Sith. Luceno shows readers just how the Sith Grand Plan came to fruition, and we get one heck of a story in the process.
As I said in our spoiler review, this book is a must-have. Every Star Wars fan should enjoy Darth Plagueis! It’s obvious that Del Rey and Luceno intended for this book to be a jumping in point to the Expanded Universe, as well as a fantastic look into the life of Palpatine and his Master. Needless to say, they did an excellent job. This book was a pleasure to read and a very fun ride. By the time it was all said and done, Luceno had me rooting for the Sith. Darth Maul’s usage in the book, while good, wasn’t all it could have been for me. But this is really the only complaint I can level against Darth Plagueis. I’m eagerly awaiting a sequel to this chronicling Darth Sidious’ life and times as a Sith Lord, it was set up so perfectly. Luceno’s latest novel will go down in history as one of the best entries to the Expanded Universe, hands down.
Reviewed by Mark Hurliman
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