Star Wars: Episode I
The Phantom Menace
by Terry Brooks
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 4 out of 4
Adrick's Rating: 4 out of 4
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, an evil legacy long believed dead is stirring. Now the dark side of the Force threatens to overwhelm the light, and only an ancient Jedi prophecy stands between hope and doom for the entire galaxy.
On the green, unspoiled world of Naboo, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, arrive to protect the realm’s young queen as she seeks a diplomatic solution to end the siege of her planet by Trade Federation warships. At the same time, on desert-swept Tatooine, a slave boy named Anakin Skywalker, who possess a strange ability for understanding the “rightness” of things, toils by day and dreams by night—of becoming a Jedi Knight and finding a way to win freedom for himself and his beloved mother. It will be the unexpected meeting of Jedi, Queen, and a gifted boy that will mark the start of a drama that will become legend.
This is the novelization of Star Wars, Episode I - The Phantom Menace. It is basically the same as the film, except greatly expanded on. The book starts well before the film does, and it shows us Anakin's previous pod races and the results of them, only briefly alluded to in the film. The book also has scenes cut from the film (like R2-D2 using his booster rockets when he falls over a ledge in Coruscant). But the highlights are background information on Darth Sidious, Darth Maul, the Sith, the Jedi, and more. And, of course, the book allows us to get into the heads of the characters and find out what they are thinking.
The best thing about the novelization is the added scenes, the scenes cut from the film, and the background information. In fact, I think the novelization has an advantage over the film in some respects. For example, where did the Sith come from? Where did Anakin get parts for a pod if he is a slave? Why is there only one Federation Battleship when the Queen returns when earlier there were more? These questions are all answered in the novel and help round out the film. Brooks has done a great job and all fans will want to add the novel to their collection. You need to in order to get the full story.
Most people would recognize Terry Brooks from his Shannara series. I admit that I lack the patience for big, sprawling fantasy novels, so I came to know him through his more accessible Landover series and, of course, his wonderful adaptation of the movie Hook. It takes a special kind of care and attention to make a movie novelization stand out, but I felt that Brooks’s novel is a far better sequel to Peter Pan than the film could ever be. I was really excited to see him adapting one of my favorite Star Wars movies, and I was not disappointed in the result.
I’ve seen many message board discussions pleading for updates to the Star Wars movie novels, to bring them closer in line with the films. I think the people who put forth that argument are missing the point of movie novels. It’s not about having a perfectly accurate representation of the film, and this has never been more true than it is today. Given that now one can pop in a DVD of the film or, as of this writing, see the movie in theaters in 3-D, it’s hard to argue that anyone purchasing the movie novel really wants to relive the movie beat-for-beat.
One of the charms of movie novels is seeing a familiar story in a slightly earlier stage of development. The dialogue is different. The scenes are different. And sometimes the author has to use his own imagination to expand on scenes that have yet to be filmed. This is a different Phantom Menace than the one we’re all familiar with, from the entirely original opening scenes featuring Anakin to the climactic battle where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan face down a striped-faced Darth Maul in the steamy tunnels of the power generator room. Anakin is plagued by dreams of the future, which is something that was dropped from the film but becomes important in the next two movies.
The heart of the story, however, is still the same. There is little love for Phantom Menace these days, so it’s to Brooks’s credit that he truly embraces the story as the beginning point for the saga. He tells The Phantom Menace with a sense of love for the original films. The extra material for Anakin really makes the difference here—without Jake Lloyds admittedly divisive presence, buying into Anakin as a special boy whose good qualities will one day become twisted into Darth Vader become a whole lot easier. If you didn’t check it out when it was first released, now’s the perfect time to catch up.
There’s also an interview with Brooks from the original paperback edition. It concentrates a lot on the Shannara series, but there are some interesting comments on characterization and plotting.
The new paperback edition also includes a great little short story by Darth Plagueis author James Luceno. It serves as a kind of final reflection on the events of Plagueis by Darth Maul. While investigating the location of the hidden Gungan cities in the final days of the Trade Federation occupation, Maul uncovers some disturbing secrets about his master.
This isn’t just a nice treat for those who have read Darth Plagueis, the events of the story are actually based on two levels from the now-ancient Galactic Battlegrounds computer game. As a fan of that game, I was really excited to see Luceno use it for inspiration. Luceno also takes the opportunity to clear up a few of the lingering mysteries surrounding Darth Plagueis and the character of Captain Magneta. It’s a coda I liked quite a bit.
This book has 4 different covers. The story is identical, but the covers are different. This is an obvious move to gouge fans for more money, and, of course, it works. It works to get $75 more out of my wallet, but I'm VERY turned off by it. I think if Del Rey continues to pull stuff like this, fans are going to be turned off VERY quickly. The same thing happened to the comic book industry. Once they started all the variations on the covers, fans said "Forget it" and didn't buy them anymore. The comic market is in a major slump now. If the Star Wars franchise isn't managed better, the same will happen to it.
I would have also preferred a new Drew Struzan painted cover over the boring stock photo covers from the Lucasfilm archives. If I'm going to pay extra for them, make it worth my while.
Jar Jar Binks gets in the way of the tone of the story here. Now, I’m actually fan of the way the character was ultimately brought to life in the film, but on paper Jar Jar is pretty hopeless. Brooks also spends a lot of page space describing Amidala’s gowns which, judging from the descriptions, were probably one of the few things he had photo references for. Now, I’m the first to admit that they are spectacular, but seeing them described in detail nearly every time Amidala appears drags down the story quite a bit.
Also, since Amazon and Barnes and Noble still had plenty of the old paperback books in stock, finding this re-release was a major challenge. After scouring bookstores an hour away, I ended up finding a copy in my hometown grocery store. Grrr…
I paid over $100 for the entire set. Oy.
Scott could have waited twelve years and bought the paperback version with extra material for $7.99...