“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 stop the ones he cared about from dying.”
--Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master—but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power…over life and death.
Darth Sidious: Plagueis’s chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.
Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination—and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction.
Darth Plagueis is the most revelatory Star Wars novel since…well, since A.C. Crispin’s Rebel Dawn. I’ve read every Star Wars novel ever released, and none match the sheer amount of background information established here. What makes this even more remarkable is that much of it is information I never thought would see the light of day. We learn the identities of the two generations of Sith preceding Emperor Palpatine. We learn how the young Palpatine was seduced to the dark side, how Plagueis came to manipulate midi-chlorines to create and influence life, and how Sidious came to possess Maul. How and when the balance of the Force began to tip toward the dark side, and how the seeds were planted for the clone army. How the Sith’s machinations in many of the stories leading up to and including The Phantom Menace came about, and how they are all interconnected.
Some of the above is bound to be controversial, particularly the timing and circumstances of Plagueis’s ultimate demise, but it is undeniably compelling. Luceno weaves a grand tale of deceit and treachery that spans almost forty years, from Plagueis’s inauguration as a Sith Master to his death at his apprentice’s hands.
Luceno is able to cover such a vast span of time effectively by concentrating on three two year time periods: one in which Plagueis recruits Palpatine, another when Palpatine attains the rank of senator, and finally the period in which The Phantom Menace occurs. While the action of the novel takes place during these two year periods, the book touches on far more history. We learn of Plagueis’s master, and his master before him, as well as one or two other notable Sith Lords. The book is forward looking as well; considerable groundwork is laid for the events in Attack of the Clones. To Luceno’s credit, all this flows naturally from the story and characters.
The character of Plagueis himself is fascinating. As one would expect from the man who trained Darth Sidious, Plagueis is a master manipulator of public figures and events. And as we know from Revenge of the Sith, Plagueis had equal sway over life itself. The combination of these two elements by Luceno is a treat to read. Plagueis alternates skillfully between being a public figure and power broker and a recluse who dabbles in the deepest secrets of the universe. The scenes in which the two sides meet, such as the gatherings where beings of influence and power descend into savagery at Plagueis’s retreat on Muunilist, are chilling and evocative.
The political intrigue in this novel is particularly good, making Luceno’s fantastic Cloak of Deception look like Glove of Darth Vader by comparison. We see everything from the Hutts to Black Sun drawn into Plagueis’s plans, and the shady politics on Naboo—only hinted at in other sources—are a key part of the plot. On Naboo, Plagueis discovers a teenaged Palpatine…and from that point on the novel is as much about Palpatine as it is about Plagueis.
If this novel has a flaw, it is that perhaps too much is revealed about these two Sith. There is very little we do not know about Plagueis by the time this book is over; and we learn more here than ever before of Palpatine’s origins. Part of what made these characters so compelling was the mysteries that surrounded them. And at a time when many established Expanded Universe backstories are being uprooted by The Clone Wars, it seems unwise to establish too much about any character. Still, the publicity materials for this book assure us that “nothing contradicts George Lucas’s vision of his creations”…and Luceno is adept at navigating the incredible number of sources that make up the EU. For example, one of the Clone Wars novels by Karen Miller very briefly (and somewhat oddly) established that Palpatine had been a speeder racer and enthusiast in his youth, and sure enough, Luceno takes pains to integrate this minor fact into his story. I hope this skillful combination of existing EU lore and whatever word from on high Luceno received makes this book embraceable and definitive.
Darth Plagueis is a dark, thorough, and highly enjoyable tale of the two men who transformed a millennia old Republic into an Empire. I was left giddy after finding out the answers to mysteries I, as a fan, had pondered for over a decade. It’s a novel that was well worth waiting for.