Welcome to another edition of the new weekly opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! Each week, I tackle a specific Star Wars EU event that has garnered a significant reaction from Star Wars fans and offer my own view to further the discussion. Once you read the article, feel free to leave a comment or hop on the forums and offer your own point of view! Also, please remember that these are just my personal opinions, not that of EUCantina as a whole.
This week, I’ll be discussing James Luceno’s recently announced Darth Plagueis novel that is due to hit bookshelves in 2012.
By the time Palpatine had finished retelling “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise” in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker wasn’t the only person successfully seduced to the dark side. In fact, I’d bet that almost every Star Wars EU fan sank deep into their chair when the scene concluded, knuckles white with anticipation. It was a story that was scant on the details, but dense in its implications for the future of the EU. We all knew that, one day, we’d get the story in a book. Preferably told in a fat hardcover, adorned with beautiful cover art. And although there is that hesitation that comes with finally getting something you’ve been waiting for – namely, not living up to expectations – the basic premise holds too much promise to not excite even the most indifferent of fans.
The biggest shock, however, may have been the speed at which the novel was announced. It was as if the release of Revenge of the Sith had lifted the moratorium on all the previously untouchable stories. It was scheduled for an October 2008 release, and the author of choice was announced to be James Luceno. But it didn’t take long for the book to get canceled, to the disappointment of many. The reasons, to little surprise, revolved around EU continuity and an overall decision to hold off on revealing Palpatine’s backstory. Unfortunately, Luceno was instead tapped to write Millennium Falcon, the bridge novel to the Fate of the Jedi series. The story, expected to be a proper epilogue to the short and not-so-sweet Invincible, instead served as a lighthearted adventure that, to be frank, wasn’t that great. Like the story, Luceno faded from the forefront of my mind.
By the time the Darth Plagueis novel is released, it will be the first Star Wars book by James Luceno in four years. Will this mark a glorious return for the author, or do we all have our expectations set so high that he is bound to fail?
“Tell me what you regard as your greatest strength, so I will know how best to undermine you; tell me of your greatest fear, so I will know which I must force you to face; tell me what you cherish most, so I will know what to take from you; and tell me what you crave, so that I might deny you.”
The above quotation, found in Luceno’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, is one of the only quotations and insights that we have into just who Darth Plagueis was. Obviously, he sounds like a pretty nasty Muun. Yes, I said Muun. The original announcement of the Darth Plagueis book confirmed that Palpatine’s master was not human, which definitely came as a shock to me. But the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea. We know that the Empire was mired in anti-alien sentiment, courtesy of the bigoted Palpatine. What we don’t know, though, is why. Given that Darth Plagueis has been revealed as a Muun, I suspect that the answer may very well be provided soon.
Sadly, we have learned the vast majority of the information concerning Darth Plagueis through the most untrustworthy of sources. Of course, I’m referring to Palpatine (or Darth Sidious, if you prefer). Although it is greatly hinted at in the film, Darth Plagueis is confirmed as being Palpatine’s former master in the novels. But already, we see that the storyteller leaves out bits and pieces of the story to fit his own agenda. I wouldn’t claim that it casts suspicion over his entire tale, but it certainly should make one stop and wonder just where the truth blends into fiction.
In fact, let’s take a closer look at this Sith Lord. We don’t know much of his life story, aside from how it ends. Palpatine claimed that his master was “so powerful and so wise” that he could use the Force to influence midi-chlorians and create life. This knowledge of the dark side allowed him to keep the ones he cared about from dying, even though some considered the methods to be unnatural. The only thing he feared, Palpatine claimed, was losing his power. After teaching his apprentice all he knew, Plagueis was killed in his sleep by the very student he taught. Ironically, he could save others from death – but not himself.
When I first contemplated the story, following the end of Revenge of the Sith, I took Palpatine’s word on all of the details except the ending. Surely the Jedi would have found Darth Plagueis’s methods of defying death to be “unnatural,” but Palpatine still needed an apprentice strong in the Force. In fact, he later tells his new apprentice, “To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but if we work together… I know we can discover the secret.” I viewed it simply as a case of misdirection. Palpatine must have murdered his master after being denied the one secret he longed for most, deciding that the secret to immortality couldn’t be so complicated if he had a powerful and malleable apprentice.
But on further review, there’s a much more insidious story being told by Palpatine. There is little doubt that Darth Plagueis was powerful and wise, given the levels of success his apprentice reached. But the ability to influence midi-chlorians and create life, a trait that is decidedly not Sith, does not necessarily mean that he could sustain life in the same method. Perhaps his way of saving those he loved from death was similar to Darth Andeddu’s triumph over mortality or the machinations found in the life-sustaining suits that Darth Vader and Darth Malgus wore. No matter what Plagueis’s methods were, I have the distinct feeling that it was not the Jedi that would have found it to be unnatural. I propose to you, dear readers, that it was Palpatine who was disgusted at how his master used the Force to defy death. And after learning the secret, which his master gave up quite willingly, Palpatine killed him to end such heresy. One must remember that Palpatine would never have given Anakin the secret to immortality, even if he knew it. In order to gain complete control over Anakin, he needed Padme and her children dead. And given that Palpatine used clones to advance his own life, he clearly knew more than he ever let on.
In the end, we know precious little about Darth Plagueis. Luckily, we know a great deal more about the author of his first appearance.
What We Know About James Luceno
James Luceno has clearly been something of a champion regarding Darth Plagueis, first revealing his name to the EU in Labyrinth of Evil and then providing a quotation from the Sith in Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. It shows a passion and commitment to the character, which further explains why Luceno is still at the helm of this book. Although we do not yet know if the proposed story differs from the original, we at least know that the character has been on the author’s mind for several years. He’s also been compared, rather reverently among some fans, to an encyclopedia. Indeed, his ability to include forgotten bits of EU lore into his stories has become legend. One could easily suspect that a book featuring Darth Plagueis would be rife with such inclusions, making him the best author for the job.
Luceno got his start in the Star Wars EU during the New Jedi Order series. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he was in charge of the story bible and outline for the NJO. Like most readers, my first impression of Luceno came from the Agents of Chaos duology. Despite the addition of characters that would become important as the series progressed, like Vergere and Droma, I thought the books were rather average. They heavily focused on a Han Solo so angst-ridden that he was almost a complete stranger, and it didn’t sit comfortably with me. His next book, the prequel political thriller Cloak of Deception, was one that I enjoyed even less. Even with the inclusion of Vergere, I found the book to be slow and with no sense of raised stakes. The reader knew who would live and who would not, making the whole premise rather shallow. It was a rocky start to my Luceno experience, to be sure.
So imagine my surprise when the next book of Luceno’s I read was The Unifying Force. Even today, it stands as one of my all-time favorite Star Wars books. For me, it was the perfect ending to a series that I spent some of my most impressionable years reading. Luceno immediately catapulted to the top of my list of favorite Star Wars authors. First impressions be damned, his book was that good. He only continued to impress with Labyrinth of Evil, the prequel to Revenge of the Sith. It was a pulse-pounding read, and I found myself turning the pages faster and faster as the story continued. Today, it stands as my favorite prequel book.
But sadly, what comes up must go down. Luceno’s next release, Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, just didn’t strike my fancy. I thought it was a good read, maybe even a little better than average, but I was hoping for a more detailed look into Darth Vader following the events of Revenge of the Sith. What I got instead was a run-of-the-mill Order 66 survivor story, with a predictably pedestrian Darth Vader serving as the villain. But even with that slight setback, Luceno’s EU reputation was hardly tarnished. Fan faith in him was further solidified when it was revealed that he would write Millennium Falcon, the novel that would bridge the Legacy of the Force series with the Fate of the Jedi series. There were large expectations, given how turbulent fan emotions were after reading Troy Denning’s Invincible. Many felt that they were robbed an epilogue, and looked to this new addition with stacked hopes. I’ll admit it, I was one of those fans. What we got instead was a typical adventure novel, not unlike those found in the earlier Bantam novels. And though the novel continued the tradition of encyclopedic references, it simply wasn’t what I wanted or expected. For the first time in a long time, I found myself hating a book Luceno had written.
That was two years ago, and it will be another two years before we get our hands on the Darth Plagueis novel. But even now, I think I know how this book is going to turn out.
So What Can We Expect?
I think it’s important that we shouldn’t have expectations for this book that are going to be impossible to satisfy. Every fan I’ve talked to has has admitted to looking forward to the book with interest, but not everyone is going to be pleased with the final version. Luceno does have a few things in his favor, though. This is a subject that he’s been tooling for years, much like he knew the basic ending for the New Jedi Order series. He’s also about due to write a truly fantastic book, and I am really pulling for it to happen with this book.
I think it’s pretty much a given that we’ll see a young Palpatine in the book, given that it was one of the reasons the book was originally canceled. In the novels, that will mark his earliest appearance to date. And let’s face it, the reason we want to read this book isn’t to learn about Darth Plagueis. It’s to learn what made Palpatine such an evil character, and to see the great Sith in his prime. Whether or not this particular book will satisfy that requirement, however, remains to be seen.
I don’t expect this book to be strictly a Sith affair either, although Drew Karpyshyn proved with his brilliant Darth Bane books that all a story really needs is varying degrees of evil. Before the book was canceled, Luceno revealed that his novel would detail the search for immortality by both Darth Plagueis and Qui-Gon Jinn. It makes sense to offer a glimpse into another part of Star Wars lore that fans have craved. It also allows the story to play the two sides off each other, especially if they both look to achieve immortality through very different means. I wouldn’t put it past Luceno to include Qui-Gon in the final product, especially given his cameo in the epilogue of Dark Lord. Looking back, it seems he may have been planting the seeds to this novel well in advance. It’s also worth noting that I always imagined that Darth Plagueis had been long dead before Qui-Gon was a young man. If that turns out to not be the case, I wonder how that will change the way Palpatine’s character is perceived in regards to being the grand mastermind behind the fall of the Republic and the destruction of the Jedi Order. And if Qui-Gon is not yet a Jedi Master in this story, will we see him under the tutelage of Dooku? It’s definitely a possibility.
But what do I expect most? I wrote earlier that we should question the truth of Palpatine’s words regarding his former master. The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis, he called it. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not going to expect a tragedy.