E.K. Johnston has been all over the place promoting her latest Star Wars novel, “Queen’s Shadow” Not only has she has been doing the usual rounds of interviews on podcasts and dot coms, but she just wrapped up the “Padmé Tour”, a five-city trek across the U.S. promoting her latest achievement.
With “Queen’s Shadow” a rousing success, debuting at #4 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, fans of the books title character, Padmé Amidala Naberrie, are breathing a happy sigh of relief after waiting 20 long years for this to arrive.
Having just got home from a jam-packed couple of months, we caught up with E.K. in Toronto at Comicon where we discussed Padmé, the Handmaidens and much more!
Warning, spoilers for "Queen's Shadow" are ahead!
You just wrapped up a five-city tour in the U.S. promoting “Queen’s Shadow”, how was the tour?
It was fantastic! We had a really good turnout at each stop and people were in costume and very excited for the book, and really excited to see me. I like it because there are certain people I only get to see on tour, so it was nice to see people I haven’t seen in a year or so.
Each different stop seemed to have its own highlight which was nice as well. I got see a lot of friends I had never met in person before, but finally got to meet face to face, it was a lot of fun.
Do you enjoy touring? The day-to-day thing, travelling from city to city?
By the time I got to the end I was definitely starting to feel the grind and having to train my brain to be “on” each day at events. After the last event in Orlando, I literally went back to the hotel and just fell asleep.
The fans are so great and very understanding when it comes to these types of things. They are always really excited and that helps me get excited, especially when you are on your fourth time zone of the week!
Do you enjoy this side of writing, the business and marketing side of it?
It is most definitely not something I ever thought I would get to do, travel around the world and talk about my book. The thing is, once the book is published it stops being my thing and starts being everyone else’s.
But what’s great about that is we get to talk about it in an open forum. I’ve been sitting on some of these secrets for over a year so once it’s out I get to talk to people about them and that’s a big relief. And at that point it then belongs to the community, which is one of things I love about Star Wars.
Some writers can be pensive when it comes to talking in public about their books. How do you handle those types of things?
It’s definitely something that I’ve had to learn how to do and it’s something I can only do for a short period of time. It’s certainly a different type of skill, but it’s still a skill, and it’s not one that I necessarily had down at the beginning.
Touring with Ashley (Eckstein) promoting “Ahsoka” was great because she’s very good at leading by example on that kind of thing, she’s marvelous.
On this tour there were a couple of events where I was by myself, and even one I had to moderate myself. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the “Ahsoka” tour because I just didn’t know how, but I’ve gotten to the point since where I’m comfortable doing that.
Do you ever let any feedback, negative or otherwise, affect your writing style?
Not really. The most common critiques about the “Ahsoka” book are that it’s not “The Siege of Mandalore” and that it’s boring. And both of those things are valid because it’s not “The Siege of Mandalore” and I tend to write more character introspective books. Books which are a little bit slower, a little bit more methodical, a little bit more contemplative, and the Padmé book is no different.
So, it’s not like I magically became a different writer because people wanted more action scenes in my book. If Lucasfilm or whomever want action scenes, they call somebody else.
One of the cool things about Star Wars books is that you can have both types of storytelling, action and contemplative. So hopefully one day they will hire someone to write a Padmé action-filled book, but it probably won’t be me because I’m not really an action writer.
And I very much did that on purpose, avoid action bits, because she has a few books where she gets to be more physical and even in “The Clone Wars”, she sees more action. I decided very early on that she’s going to “brain” her way through this book.
Were you conscious of the similarities between Ahsoka and Padmé when you began this book? They both seem to be in similar transitional situations in their lives at the onsets.
I was most definitely conscious of it; it’s one of the hallmarks of YA (Young Adult). And even if you look at “Leia: Princess of Alderaan”, “Most Wanted”, “Rebel Rising”, and even “Lost Stars”, which just covers a longer time period than the others, it’s still very much about these kids that think they have everything together, but then they’re like, “oh wait, no I don’t” It’s very much a hallmark of YA so I usually end up with it somewhere in a book. And with Ahsoka and Padmé it was just the two most obvious choices. Same for Jyn in “Rebel Rising” where she’s even trying to decide, “do I even want to be a Rebel?”
With Qi’ra and Han in “Most Wanted” they are not only just trying to eat but also trying to decide what sort of future they are going to have. I love that aspect of YA books, which is one of the reasons why I love writing and reading them.
Padmé has been accused of having poor judgment when it comes to men, do you agree or disagree? Obviously, we’re talking about Anakin here.
I think with Padmé, she has this really obvious “oh no he’s hot” moment when they meet in “Attack of the Clones” And because everything is a secret, and everything is very glamorous and high stakes, they don’t have a lot of real conversations that we get to see on screen. Something is always going on or they are always at risk of being caught, or someone is catching them, but they don’t care, there’s always a twist to it.
I think her biggest flaw in her relationships are also some of her biggest strengths. That’s one of things that makes her so interesting and what makes her great is because she cares so much but at the same time, cares too much, especially for Anakin.
When he goes off the deep end, she’s there for him no matter what, and goes after him because she cares so much for him.
People often point to the scene in “Attack of the Clones” as a weak moment for Padmé, after Anakin returns from Tatooine.
There’s two moments really, and that one in “Attack of the Clones” she’s kind of in shock and doesn’t really know what to do. One thing I got do a little bit with the book was dig into her motivations for that and explore the reasons she’s so disconnected in those scenes. One of the reason’s in my head is that she has emotionally distanced herself from Tatooine.
She can’t get involved in local politics on Tatooine even though she wants to, so she sends Sabé and Tonra instead. But even then, she pulls them back so that she’s not involved at all.
By the time “Attack of the Clones” comes around she’s built this wall between her heart and this planet she cares so much about. And the one person that’s managed to break through that wall is Anakin so unfortunately, it’s a little backwards.
It’s probably not her greatest moment as a human being but I think it’s very understandable. Something terrible has just happened, actually three terrible things have just happened in a row, and she can only really deal with one of them. I think that’s very normal.
It’s really those scenes that make Padmé and Anakin somewhat relatable. We can’t be a Queen or a Jedi, but we’ve all been in relationships, facing tough decisions.
I feel like these two characters have very specialized backgrounds but zero experience in inter-personal relationships, in those specific kinds of inter-personal relationships.
Anakin’s only real example is Obi-Wan Kenobi who is a terrible example, and Padme’s only example is her friends. She’s quite good at being friends with people, but all of her friends work for her, so she doesn’t have a lot of completely separate relationships.
You’ve mentioned the original working title was, “Queen’s Hands” so the Handmaidens were part of this story from the beginning. Was including the handmaidens a must-have?
Even if Lucasfilm had of said “no Handmaidens” (which they absolutely did not) I would have still included friends in the book and just called them “Senatorial Aids” or something.
In the “Ahsoka” book she starts off isolated and then accidentally makes a whole planet full of friends. I think Padmé in the same way, just in a more professional setting, is always going to attract people who are inspired by her because she’s a deeply inspiring person.
This book was very much a love letter to me and all of friends in fandom back in 1999. We all loved those girls (the Handmaidens) so much back then and just never stopped loving them.
What was it about the Handmaidens that you and your friends picked up on that so many didn’t?
I think what it was for me and a lot of my friends in the fandom was that we had Leia, who was functionally the only girl in the universe. And then if you read the books you had Mara who was often the only girl in the universe. And then when “The Phantom Menace” rolled around, we had this Queen and her 6 or 7 friends, and they were all really talented.
Based on limited information we knew we had these girls that were running the planet, are multi-talented and cross-trained to do a bunch of things, and at least one of them, Sabé, is willing to take a blaster bolt if she must.
So, because of the power of fandom, we built this community around them. In a similar way we’ve been building stories around random background characters since the beginning.
Because these were the first group of girls that we got, we really latched onto them a big way.
It can be a tough conversation but a lot of people, me included, looked past the Handmaidens on first viewings probably because they were girls.
It’s one of those things that you grow into and you learn about, and you unpack for yourself. Someday down the road, you look at the movie again and you can look at characters and scenes differently. Your perspective has changed.
The lingering memory for most people with “The Phantom Menace” is always Darth Maul. And not even the whole movie, just the door opening and him pulling back his hood. Because he was new.
For all of us, because it was a new “Star Wars” movie, we all saw it multiple times and on like the tenth time through we were like “there’s five girls in this movie!” and they have conversations with each other which at the time was kind of revolutionary. Some things take time for some people.
Were you disappointed with the lack of Handmaidens in The Clone Wars TV series?
I came into “The Clone Wars” late, so I wasn’t really involved in the fandom but for the series there’s only one Handmaiden, Teckla (Minnau). She makes an appearance in “Attack of the Clones” even though she doesn’t portray a Handmaiden, but she is one in the series, the only one.
We always want to see more of them (Handmaidens) and with Teckla we were never quite sure if she was one or just doing the job of a Handmaiden. But it was still nice to get more material we could use.
The details you provided for the Handmaidens was incredible, especially Saché who for me was so brave and strong.
Basically, all we knew was that Saché and Yané stayed on the planet after the war. There’s that scene in “The Phantom Menace” where they are planning the invasion on the hood of a landspeeder and Panaka says, “almost everyone’s in camps…I brought back as many of the leaders as I could” So I thought it made sense for Saché and Yané to be there and really lean into the fact that they’re 12-years-old and no one will really pay attention to them. Except droids analyze patterns which is how they catch Saché.
The idea of Saché being a hero of Naboo in her own right, as well as being one of the Handmaidens, is what led her to becoming a politician, because she already had this background. She may have still gone into politics without that happening, but it definitely shaped her relationship with not only the Royal Guard but reinforced her feelings about Naboo, and what she’s willing to go through for the planet.
Is there room there for a standalone Handmaiden book?
The thing about the Handmaidens that’s great is I just really feel they excel in groups. Because of that I wouldn’t want to write a solo book about any of them because they function so good as a team.
Like with Ahsoka, because she was so isolated for much of the book, there’s a line in it where she talks to R2-D2 out of habit. And it’s because I didn’t have anyone for her to talk to.
Whereas with Padmé and Sabé, always getting to write them in group scenes, and always having them surrounded by friends, it was nice.
So, going forward, if I was lucky enough to get to write another Handmaiden story, I would still want it to be a group effort rather than a solo book.
Lastly, and once and for all, how do you pronounce “Mariek”?
“Mah-rike”, the name comes from a Dutch friend of mine who is Marieke, and I just chopped off the last “e”. Catherine (Taber) was mortified because that’s not how she pronounced in the audio book.
It makes me happy because both Ashley Eckstein and I pronounce “Raada” differently and I laugh because the galaxy is so big that people have their own pronunciations of so many wonderful words, “Jakku”, “Syndulla”, “Twi-lek”, etc.
So, there you have it. She was extremely generous with her time and we talked about all sorts of Star Wars things, including our shared love of Claudia Gray and her wish list of future Star Wars projects (I won't tell).
If you are a fan of Padmé, the Handmaidens, and the Prequels, and haven't done so already, rush out and get a copy of this book and give it a read. I guarentee you'll enjoy it.
The book is out now and available at all the usual outlets and online places.
Till next time...MTFBWY.
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