Book Review: Star Wars Darth Plagueis by James Luceno
I just finished Darth Plagueis by James Luceno, published by Del Rey. I found it to be a really rich expansion to the Star Wars Universe. The novel takes The Phantom Menace Menace and adds a second layer to the film it didn’t have until I read this novel. In my opinion, it does what a Star Wars novel can do at its best, augment the films for the better. It should be known that I love The Phantom Menace and it is one of my favorite films. This novel almost feels like what Back to the Future Part II was to Back to the Future Part I, where you see certain scenes from entirely different perspectives. My review contains large spoilers because the book is impossible to write about while skirting around these giant sequences that make the story connect in with the larger film saga.
Plagueis is sold to the Sith by a banking family. His father sold him with the promise he would become richer than he ever imagined. Plaguei, like Maul becomes a Sith from birth, without a choice to guide him off the moral path. His birth name is Hego Damask. His master is invested in mining operations so they can build something great in the future. Plagueis sabotages one mine and kills his master and that’s how his story cracks open his character. As his master dies he senses the midi-chlorians dying within his cells and tries to keep him alive, but fails. He then has a rush of power, almost like the Quickening in Highlander, but without the visuals.
Plagueis learns that the King of Naboo is corruptible and selfish and I rather enjoyed that this opened the path for Amidala’s rise to the monarchy. She is only only elected ruler of the planet because it was going to serve the Sith’s greater desires. Plagueis also learns that Palpatine’s father Cosigna Palpatine should have been king but his grandfather lost a duel and was pushed out of power. Plagueis begins to desire Young Palpatine and hones in on the hatred Palpatine has for his father’s tepidness.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Young Palpatine killed some kids in a speeder race and his father covered it up using his power. He’s pretty much the rich spoiled brat with sociopathic tendencies. In short, most of what happens in Naboo history leading to the rise of the Empire is thanks to Plagueis’ intervention in the world’s economy and politics. Plagueis is responsible for Palpatine becoming Sith, Amidala getting elected and meeting her future husband, and most everything we see leading up to The Phantom Menace. That’s the power of this great character, everything he does ties into the greater mythology of Star Wars.
Plagueis begins to seduce Young Palpatine with philosophical discussions of power and identity. He starts to show him the dark side and to tempt him. The relationship makes sense in the book and you can see how Palpatine, while already fairly evil, is seduced by Plagueis’ philosophies, justifications, and promise.
Palpatine’s father knows his son should have been a Jedi. He behaves as if he is afraid of the great power within his son. He seemingly always sensed an evil within his boy that scared him deeply. Cos could never give his son over because that is his only heir. So they keep it a secret and hide him from the Jedi.
Plagueis meets with Cosigna Palpatine to strike a deal. He wants Naboo’s plasma reserves to be privatized and he will return him to the place of King of Naboo. Cosigna Palpatine refuses him. Then Cos’ spies tell him Plagueis has been following his son… he tells Palgueis to stay away from his son. Of course he isn’t going to do that. But I really liked that they comodified something we see in The Phantom Menace, the plasma, making it one of the rarest compounds in the galaxy, letting us see exactly why the Sith would care about Naboo in the first place. Before this novel, I just also saw Naboo as a place no one would expect a deep evil to stem from. It isn’t like Palpatine was a senator from Dathomir or something. Now we get a sense of exactly why Naboo was the perfect place for the Sith to start their plans.
Young Palpatine is devastated the only person he ever had a connection with is taken from him when his father cuts of Plagueis from speaking to him any longer and sends Palpatine away. Using the language of the self made man, Plagueis tells Young Palpatine he can become the man he wants to be and make his identity truly his own, not the one his father gave him. Young Palpatine says he wants that very much.
The King of Naboo is then attacked by Plagueis’ corporate enemies. This stalls out the deal for Naboo’s plasma reserves. Plagueis tells Young Palpatine he will make him his apprentice and give him unlimited power, but he must murder his family to prove his conviction to shedding his old identity and forging a new one. There is a little bit of conflict within Palpatine but more than that ,there seems to be exhilaration.
Young Palpatine waits until his family goes on a trip to murder them in cold blood. As soon as they hit lightspeed, he strikes. He kills his entire family to gain entrance as a Sith. Young Palpatine then calls Plagueis who is supposed to help him cover it up. Plagueis says he is insidious by nature and names him Darth Sidious. But Plagueis does something unexpected. He leaves Palpatine with the bodies. He doesn’t send for him. He just leaves it up to him to deal with the aftermath of what he has done.
As the story progresses there are nice surprises. During a mission to assassinate a political foe, a witch approaches Palpatine and gives him a baby. She senses he is a powerful man. Sidious senses something powerful in the child and agrees to accept him. He then sends the child to be raised by droids. That baby is Maul. As the years go one he begins the training of Darth Maul with Plagueis’ approval because Plagueis declares the legacy of Bane to be over now. In other words, the rule of two is not being honored under Darth Plagueis any longer. They have reached their zenith in his eyes.
After that for years, they work on Palpatine’s political career. His path is to dominate through politics. They still haven’t forgotten about the plasma reserves on Naboo either.
There are sequences I really enjoyed with Sith rituals. The master and apprentice bring a cloud of the dark side upon the galaxy to obscure them from the Jedi. Plagueis murders a former Sith rival who wanted to take his place by his master’s side. It turns out Tenebrous, who was Plagueis’ master, had another apprentice. Plagueis kills this guy and resurrects him over and over again. Using the darth side, they impregnate slaves and release them into the wild (which I think might be part of his legacy to be honest).
There is a great cosmic push back from all this and The Chosen One is born. Palpatine is angered because Plagueis brought this down upon them. Years later they come up with a plan. They visit Padmé Amidala’s family because they see her as an easy pawn to place in office after they murder The King of Naboo. Then they engineer Padmé Amidala’s rise to Queen by manipulating her father, and gaining his reluctant approval.
As Padmé Amidala becomes Queen, the Sith take over The Trade Federation and begin to engineer the climate we see in The Phantom Menace. We are then treated to sequence in which Plagueis meets Count Dooku, Qui-Gon, and Sifo Dyas. He wants to turn them and with the rule of two vanquished, his plans are rather clear. He works on Dooku first, corrupting him with talk of politics and philosophy and playing with the unhappieness with the Jedi and the Republic which are already there for the Count.
The Sith use their fortune to begin the clone army and they convince Sifo Dyas something bad is coming (I think a complete corporate takeover by The Trade Federation and that they are controlling the Jedi) and he orders the army for that reason. We will have to see how The Clone Wars bonus content deals with this concept. The Sith murder Sifo-Dyas as Plagueis watches Palpatine getting elected, but Plagueis also learns that The Chosen One is on Coruscant. He wants to murder the boy and make sure the prophecy never comes to fruition.
Palpatine is elected Chancellor and he feels drunk with power, almost as if at that moment he becomes the true Sith master. He has become sick of his master’s plans as he sees his own destiny and opportuntiies for power unfolding before his eyes. Palpatine begins to wrestle with the face his master is a Muun and will live another 300 years and if he should learn the pathway to immortality, he will be stuck as an apprentice for life. The night he is elected chancellor, Palpatine gets Plagueis drunk and shocks his to death using the power of the dark side! But he does not feel “the Quickening” so to speak. But then he feels an immense sadness and loss. He later believes this is because Maul died at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. We Know that Maul did not die. So that is very weird and makes one wonder if Plagueis actually survived somehow.
Palpatine is afraid to actually check and see if Plagueis is totally dead as his body lays there. But he knows that people will assume Damask died because his breathing mask failed (which it did from getting shocked by Sidious). Palpatine considers murdering The Chosen One but instead realizes his master was a fool to think he could tempt the Force like that again. So he decides he must change the nature and will of The Chosen One himself. The book ends on a very ominous note.
So this book matters. It matters to film fans and Expanded Universe fans. The way the story unfolds is natural and the writing is nearly perfect. The novel is an instant Star Wars classic and I cannot think of a more intriguing story for fans of the film series.