A Star Wars story of a different type. Darth Plagueis's tale is a dark cloak and dagger account of the events leading up to Darth Sidious's election as Emperor. The story we know from the perspective we fear.
I have several SW books and this is the best. From Sith history to character development, even the inner workings of the system bureaucracy, Luceno keeps it interesting and fresh. I've listened to this book three times and keep finding new details to explore. It fills in a lot of holes before Darth Vader came on the scene. Also, Narrators can make or break a book. Daniel Davis is absolutely outstanding.
Well Damn. I've read a few Star Wars books up to this point. The first 3 books of the Thrawn Trilogy, a few random clone wars novels. The main problem with them, is that if you know the story of Star Wars, even at a basic level, generally the books will not hold much surprise. We all know how they will generally end, and what characters will survive, and which ones can be expendable. While I give much praise to the expanded universe writers, generally all of the stories are rather cookie cutter. And this is not any blame or fault of the writers themselves. They're hands are tied by the strict canon of the movies.
Another downside of the E.U is the sheer weight and size of the already established E.U. It's a product of it's own ill writing. Literally there's just too much of it, and it's nigh impossible for one story to make a 'splash'. Too many writers, too many stories, and too much going on. There has been plenty of interesting idea's and stories, but so much of it contradicts, or just doesn't make any sense, and is often written more for shock value rather than actual story quality. I still cringe at the Yuzhan Vong story line)
Anyway, with that being said, I came across the novel Darth Plagueis, actually through me seeing the novel "Tarkin" on the store shelves. I wasn't looking for a Star Wars book honestly (see above explanations), but Tarkin being one of my more favorite characters, and coupled with the fact that it seemed unique to have a story written for a non force weilder. Most stories are written for the most action packed story line potential. A novel about Tarkin's life seemed different.. So I picked it up, made a mental note of the author and found that he wrote other books along the same lines. These Foundational characters or "Legends" series as they call it.
In looking up some reviews, I found that the author, James Luceno, had written one book in particular that was seemingly regarded above the rest. Darth Plagueis. Now I knew the new Plagueis, having remembered his reference to in Episode III. Something about living forever...helping Padme survive childbirth, and stopping Anakin from being whiny. So I wasn't expecting to get a new Star Wars novel anyway, so I figured I can put Tarkin aside for a sec and go for the back story of Darth Plagueis. I think I came out a winner in this regard...
The story of Darth Plagueis, and I mean content wise...is freaking dark for a Star Wars story. I haven't read probably 5% of all of the star wars books, but wow, this story is far heavier and more adult than any other star wars book I've come across. The narration is superb and the sound effects and music just make for such a 'movie like' production. I love the way Star Wars books handle the background sound effects and extra's. Because Lucasfilms (now Disney.... >.> ) has a near infinite library of sound effects from the movies, it's a cinch to add them in and it really does add to the immersion of the book. It's not over done, I mean it doesn't feel like you're actually listening to the audio track of a movie, but it's very tastefully done in my opinion. Doors opening, laser fire, decapitations... it's really a charming experience xD
Anyway, back to the story... The story, I actually have sort of mixed feelings about. The praise that it undoubtedly deserves is the sheer amount of detail that went into writing this. Luceno clear drew from many many sources and references in the E.U. There is no shortage of cameo references and character's we've heard of before, both in the movies, and in the E.U. This makes a fun read as you get to pick up on characters that you know, and others that you don't, but can have fun googling. This also, on the other hand proves to be sort of a negative in the same right. James Luceno, seems to take this idea a bit too far for me, and goes about listing characters and names, like a laundry list. And it often comes off seeming a bit forced and un-natural. Sort of like "Okay geeks, here are some names for ya, see how many you can recognize!" While this is an exaggeration, sometimes he does take it a bit too far. But overall it doesn't detract from the story, but just sort of gets in the way. I mean was the inclusion of Jedi Master Sabioth *really* needed?? Okay, actually that was pretty cool, I'm not going to lie… damn my nerd tendencies… The galaxy is a big place, not all characters need to be in each other's stories, just to keep fans happy. Thankfully though, none of the "cameo" character's involvement seems forced. Most had their place and purpose in the story.
The biggest joy I got from this story is the sheer amount of history that it tells. It really explains much of the years before Phantom Menace and gives a much further and to me, much needed background of the story of the Phantom Menace. Luceno tells us the story of how Plagueis and the Sith Order at the time were basically a fallen, broken sect. The Jedi Order had dominated and were pretty much the police of the Republic. Plagueis, and his Master Tennebruis, wished to even the playing field, and at the most extreme, change the balance and tip it in the Sith's favor. Meaning they wanted to eliminate the Jedi's strangle hold on the Republic.
Now this is something that I've always felt was completely and utterly silly... The Sith have this stupid "rule of two" jazz, by where apparently in the entire galaxy, there can only be 2 sith at one time. While literally the Jedi order can be near infinite. I don't care how crafty or clever you are...Two against a near army of Jedi...you're not going to win. The book sort of fixes this but stating that the rule of two was imposed years ago..and not all Sith have followed it. (thank god or the Star Wars E.U would have been pretty dry...) In fact, Plageuis' own master, it's revealed, broke the rule of two by training another. I bring this up because Luceno has a great way of taking something that's a bit odd...or doesn't make sense, and putting another spin on it. He does the same thing about the notorious Midiclorian idea for living beings. Since introduced in Episode I, it's been the target of much ridicule and mock. But James tackles the idea head on and puts a sort of new spin on it. Making it more much realistic, and it actually adds to the story.
Plagueis is obsessed with life, and living and extending life. Though I find this to be odd, and seemingly... unfounded. While I like the idea of it, Luceno never gives us any reason as to why. I mean even Anakin has the reasoning of saving Padme, to his credit his descent. But for Plagueis, we're never really given a 'why' as to his obsession. Yet his madness and pure single sightedness is done so well that it's acceptable. And boy, is his madness explored in this book. If you're a fan or have read H.P Lovecraft's Re-animator book, this reminds me A LOT of that. Dr. Herbert West is a brilliant mind who becomes obsessed with bring the dead back to life. Plagueis has a similar quest, and begins collecting species, and races and has these twisted experiments on a remote planet or moon. The second part of the story involves the political pandering of Hugo Damask. You see Damask ( a Munn) is the same person as Darth Plagueis. His Sith name is Plagueis, while his name in the political sphere and public spotlight is the ultra weathly, noble, and bank lord, Hugo Damask. A massive player in the Banking Clan, Damask has great influence in both halves of his life.
I actually would have loved to have seen more of the "Herbert West Re-animator" side of this story though. I feel that Star Wars in a slight effort to take itself very and perhaps too seriously forces the view of the political realm down our throats at times. Trust me this is interesting, complex stuff here, but in a way it seems forced. We all know that the Sith have held the puppet strings in the Senate, and were behind the scenes manipulating. But there comes a point when you gotta say Okay…everyone has their limits to what they can reasonably contrive. The senate body is huge…again goes back to that silly rule of two… Out of the millions that make up the senate + the Jedi… no one was able to stop Plageuis/Palpatine? Anyway, the book requires some very careful reading at points as that the political engineering becomes very thick at times. It doesn't help that each players has two names and two agenda's. Damask as his "public agenda" which looks different than his "private sith agenda". I read this via Audio, so I found that at times I had to go back and re-listen (I also bought a physical copy of the book since I did enjoy it)
Damask takes on Senator (then just a student though) Palpatine, who we see comes from an estranged relationship with his family. (who would have thought…) It's also made known that the Palps is a native of Naboo, his family being one of the earlier, and more respected houses. I also enjoyed the fleshing out of Naboo. It makes Naboo into, in my eyes, a much more real and tangible world. And actually it seems like it's my kinda planet. Philosophy, science, and a flair for the arts, reign here. Universities, family houses, crests, coat of arms, yellow star fighters…I'd totally move to Naboo. Speaking of which, it's hilariously odd that before Palpatine, the Naboo had no star fighter defenses? Only then did they create the iconic yellow fighters. It's small details, and things like this that make this story really really fun to read…
That being said, a gripe I do have with the book is that it really makes the dynamic duo of Plageuis and Sidious (Palpatine) a bit infalliable. They are just *too* clever at times. I mean I like to see in a story, balance. Both sides struggling to over come the other. While Plagueis does err and it nearly costs him, Sidious is given nearly free reign and outsmarts everyone apparently. It would have been much more realistic to show, especially that Sidious was so young, that he wasn't infalliable, that yes while clever, he still made mistakes and had to pay for them.
The ending of the book picks up at the end of Episode I, so it's a very very nice lead into the new trilogy. (err the ..middle trilogy..) The stage is set, with Anakin, Darth Maul, Palpatine, and even Chancellor Valorum all having been carefully aligned to follow the will of Sidious. Again, the ability for the Sith to do this much planning and have that much perfect forethought is a bit of a stretch, and sort of takes me out of the immersion, knowing that in all feasibility, the sheer about of planning is just too great to be realistic… of course I'm talking about a universe were droids exist and star ships can travel at light speed.
Darth Plageuis, I'd venture to say is perhaps a must read if you're a big Star Wars fan, and furthermore if you're an E.U fan. I must say that I really really feel bad for the authors, prior to Disney taking and removing all of the E.U content. So much fine detail and work have been put into the writing of these books, 'tis a shame that disney would just completely wipe it all away. It's sad, but understandable as authors began stepping on each others toes and such care was having to be taken to write each novel, not to interfere with another. It was just too big for it's own good. That being said, Darth Plageuis for it's detail, realistic reasoning, and sheer plot explanation should be read just for the Star Wars fan's sake of having something truly interesting and insightful to read about. One of the best/better star wars novels to date.
I thought the first part of the book was very enthralling, I really liked the spin of a Muun Sith Lord and his analytical nature and approach to everything. It was all detailed very well. I thought it played out very well especially having just finished the Bane series.What I didn't like was the latter half of the book. It felt like the book was trying a little to hard to write an ending that matched up with Phantom Menace... which it has to. I shouldn't be upset about that cause I knew what I was getting myself into, but still, it made a lot of the latter half of the book forced.
To keep this as short as possible and without spoiling anything:
Shedding new light on Episode 1 and on Darth Sidious, Daniel Davis delivers a story that makes the first prequel film worth the strain to watch because of what it sets up.
Daniel Davis' performance was nothing short of impressive. Between the two greats (Marc Thompson and Johnathan Davis), Daniel holds his own and carries the weight of story with a natural ease. This man belongs in more Star Wars novels after this.
All things considered, A must read for Star Wars fans
Great story line. Would be great to see made into a prequel to the sequels of the prequels that were actually prequels... Lost? I am too. Would be great to see a Darth Plagueis movie as a prequel to the trilogies.
Luceno does a masterful job of tying the EU and prequel trilogy together. I dearly miss this kind of consistency in the star wars universe and hope that one day Lucasfilm will wisely canonize this book in thier current Star Wars book line, which has been mediocre at best.
Such a step up from Chuck Wendig's horrible attempts at Star Wars lore. I'm excited to see James return his skills in the upcoming rogue one prequel. Well done James, very well done!