Star Wars novels: Phase one

Star Wars was for a time much like Harry Potter for me: a highlight of my childhood but I left it at that. The prequels came out when I was in my teens, and I loved them. Prior to social media my friends and I weren’t aware we were supposed to hate them if we were “real fans” we simply enjoyed the fantasy. Staying up all night at slumber parties collectively writing Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fanfiction was standard. As mentioned at my Jupiter Ascending post we had no idea these stories weren’t made for us. We pulled what female characters we were given and ran with it. Looking back that may be why those interests didn’t follow me into adulthood, I simply wanted more of myself represented in these fantasy action films. The new trilogy delivered, and while Force Awakens sparked my interest once again, it was The Last Jedi that really pushed me full force back into Star Wars. That winter my friend Gwen and I shared the same level of interest and limited knowledge about the franchise: The Last Jedi brought us back to Star Wars in a way we wanted to explore more of. We heard great things about the canon novelizations, and read the two sequel books in a sort of accidental book club way, and before I knew it, we decided that a great way to learn more about the Star Wars universe would be to start at the top. The fandom as a whole isn’t the most inviting, and I personally wanted to learn about things without bias and commentary. Having someone to read along with has been immensely helpful, even though we live in different states we’re able to read each book simultaneously and discuss them afterward. We’ve learned so much already, noticed parallels within the three trilogies, theorized and speculated. It’s really been fun to get to know the Star Wars universe at our own pace, without judgement, because at it’s core it’s a fun fantasy with as much complexity as the real world around us. So if you’re interested in getting to know Star Wars better, want to go deeper into your favorite movie, or want to fill in some gaps between films, I hope you enjoy these as much as we have!

You can find a full list of the canon Star Wars books here, it even includes where the shows work in should you wish to add those.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Author: Terry Brooks

You know what really made The Phantom Menace for me? Padme’s costumes and Duel of the Fates. You know what this book doesn’t have? Padme’s Costumes and Duel of the fates. Looking back at the story it’s really not that bad, but I can’t help but remember that every time I sat down to read this book I fell asleep. We learn more of Padme as Queen, of young Anakin as a slave, and the dynamic of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. It’s much clearer how young Obi-Wan is in this novel, and how his character develops in the next two as a Jedi trained by Qui-Gon. I learned how the Sith came to be, a small but informative sideline at the beginning of the book that was much appreciated. Anakin’s inner dialogue sets the foundation for what he becomes, already obsessive with the safety of his mother (transferred later straight to Padme) and it’s so clear that he really is too old to begin training. The writing was underwhelming considering Terry Brooks is a renowned fantasy author, repetition and cringe worthy descriptions of Shmi  (“worn” is used more than once to describe her face) and I was glad the choice was made to change authors with each book, things would have gotten stale very quickly otherwise. If you’re going to read through the canon, start with this, and earn the gems to come.

“The Queen favored theatrical paint and ornate dress, cloaking herself in trappings and makeup disguised her true appearance while lending her an aura of both splendor and beauty.”

Epsisode II: Attack of the Clones

Author: R.A. Salvatore

Anakin and Padme can easily be credited with my interest in stories that revolve around a soul sucking kind of love, because from the get go, no good can come of this (in fact, literally all the bad comes from it). I think of this as Padme’s book, we learn so much about her that makes her fate that much more tragic. It’s her coming of age story, breaking off on her own, becoming senator, trying to change the course of history through politics while unknowingly on the verge of an unfathomable shift due to personal decisions. Padme and Anakin’s thoughts on one another add so much to the blossoming relationship, without it we’re left with nothing but forlorn glances and odd shifts in mood. The book adds substance to an otherwise shallow and hasty looking love story on screen, and my Jane Austen loving self is 100% here for it. The book also spends entire chapters and pages with her family, her parents are delightfully average and simple, and she has an older sister and two little nieces. Their home is about as close to an american suburbia on earth that I can imagine, and they spend time there along with Anakin before they travel to the lake. That scene revolves around Padme, but Anakin’s first experience being welcomed into a nuclear family is somewhat heart wrenching, one of those peeks into a life that could never be. The scene reads like any young woman bringing a friend to her family home only to be berated with questions about their relationship, teasing from her sister, and embarrassing family photos. The scene is familiar and perfect, perhaps too familiar to place in a fantasy space opera film, but personally I love seeing these legendary characters in such a normal element. The writing flows well, connecting one character’s story to the next,  opening with Luke’s future family on Tatooine, and following their tragic encounter that rips Shmi from her only peaceful chapter in life. Anakin’s experience with the death of his mother is often paralleled with Padme’s death, but seeing it on the page and reading his inner dialogue I would say his path is effected differently in each instance, and each woman has an opposite reaction to the Anakin they know.

“If you follow your thoughts through to conclusion, they will take us to a place we cannot go…regardless of the way we feel about each other.”

Dark Desciple

Author: Christie Golden

I was not ready for this book. I bought quite a few all at once and didn’t bother reading the descriptions, I knew I’d read them all anyway so what’s the point? Therefore I knew nothing except it centers around one of my favorite characters, Asajj Ventress. I would recommend watching the Clone Wars series before reading this, though it’s not completely necessary. The show is for one thing, excellent, and another, sets the foundation for Asajj and to a lesser extent the other main character. The premise is that after much hesitation the Jedi Council decides the only way to end the war is for Count Dooku to die. And waiting for that to happen just isn’t an option. The mission is top secret, highly dangerous, and given to what I could only describe as the purest bad boy Jedi in the order, Quinlan Vos. Dooku is too powerful to take on single-handedly, so he has to find a way to team up with Dooku’s former sith apprentice, Asajj Ventress. She’s been through it and back, a former slave, Jedi Padawan, Sith apprentice, Nightsister, assassin, and now bounty hunter. She allies with a handful and trusts no one. The two have a dynamic that we’ve only seen on the big screen in the infamous “Throne Room” scene, the light and dark joining for a greater cause. And personal. The gift of a female author is much appreciated, and comes through at moments when I least expected. This book has parallels left and right, changed my mind about where I hope the sequels will go, and convinced me that Ventress is more connected with the force than any Jedi in her time could ever hope to be. She’s beyond their comprehension, and Obi-Wan comes to realize this and forms a great respect, whether they’re fighting the same side or opposite at any given moment. This book is by far my favorite, and completely broke my heart.

“After spending so much time in her company, he now understood why Kenobi held her in such respect, even though she had been the enemy. Was, still, an enemy. Sort of. Or was she? He mentally shook his head and refocused on the task at hand.”

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Author: Matthew Stover

As mentioned with Attack of the Clones, that was Padme’s book. This one is for Anakin and Obi-Wan. I had looked forward to this after the soul crushing novel that was Dark Disciple, knowing this story and the tragedies to come, I felt prepared for this easy read.

I finished it while sobbing on a plane.

The distressing realization that you’re in for more than you know comes before chapter one even starts. The introduction sets the scene for a kind of hope and optimism amid war that only the highly regarded Jedi, Anankin and Obi-Wan can give. They appear on the news as heroes, children play them in the schoolyard, they are known as closer than brothers and invincible as any heroes are. When all hope is lost, Anakin and Obi-Wan will save the day. It’s not clear in the movies that they are well known, much like Superman is in the DC world, but in the book it adds to the weight of what happens. Their dynamic is set from the start, jumping right into action as only they could. The author is an expert martial artist, and that knowledge adds an unexpectedly rich vein to the story. A writing technique I hadn’t encountered previously, he breaks from the storyline at times to give a moment to various characters. Descriptive of their current self, and an unobtrusive background of their past, I loved this flow of information. Anakin’s fall to Palpatine and the Dark Side is given sense rather than seeming like a sudden mood swing. His inner dialogue is utterly painful and tragic within itself, even without considering the consequences. Padme’s struggles and viewpoint is stressful, she’s trying to keep corruption out of the senate, hide a forbidden pregnancy, keep secrets from her secret husband, and act like everything is fine. Her onscreen portrayal supports this, she’s a woman trying to hold the world together while maintaining a calm exterior, that so often looks like weakness. Obi-Wan is, I am convinced, what every Jedi should aspire to be, a far cry from Episode I, and everything that Anakin needed. I felt his loss more than Padme’s, perhaps because she never had to see what Anakin became. If you’re to read only one prequel book, make it this one, the author masters a story that reads so much better than the film, as much as I love the movie, the book is a complex mastery of what Star Wars is about: Love, tragedy, war and peace, and an end that’s only the beginning.

“Anakin and Obi-Wan would never fight each other.

They couldn’t.

They’re a team. They’re THE team.

And both of them are sure they always will be.”

 

 

 

 

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