No matter how worthy the writing (fairly), or significant the story (very), you can’t escape two constant irritations as you work your way through Star Wars: Darth Plagueis.
Secondly, why is papering over the cracks in a multi-million earning movie franchise James Luceno’s job and not George Lucas’?
Out of this tray of broken toys and half-chewed detritus of yesterday’s good ideas, Luceno gamely constructs a convincing narrative, weaving in and out of the films and established canon, shedding some light on the life and death of Darth Plagueis, Palpatine’s unseen mentor – beginning with the death of his master (Vader’s great-grandDarth), Darth Tenebrous, before being usurped by his own protégée part-way into The Phantom Menace.
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis breathes some semblance of meaning into the contentious Midichlorians, while simultaneously preserving the mysteries of the Force, and reconciles conflicting depictions of the Sith throughout the decades of bloated tie-in fiction. The flipside of this – aside from why has it taken so long, and why is it his job when Lucas should have explained all of these things in the first place, possibly instead of a pod race or that horrible Attack Of The Clones love picnic – is the breakneck pace with which he whisks you though the mythology, with whole pages lost in what essential amounts to listing characters and events, perhaps to cement the constantly insecure Expanded Universe firmly into the ‘official’ universe of Whatever Lucasfilm Want To Sell Right Now.
As one of the most high profile tie-in books since the death of Chewbacca, or the glory days of Shadows Of The Empire, Star Wars: Darth Plaguis feels it has a responsibility to raise the plight of the poor orphaned mythology, constantly crying out “Hey, remembered Naga Sadow? How about the Black Sun crime syndicate?” like a chugger in a shopping centre, and the story disappears at early points behind a slurry of information and self-referencing, characters even parroting lines from the films as if it somehow conveys legitimacy upon their own story.
If that characterises the start of the book, the mid-section and the end are characterised by contrived narrative manoeuvres which succeed in making the huge, expansive galaxy of the Star Wars saga feel like an extremely small and claustrophobic place, as we discover Darth Plagueis established pod racing on Tatooine, went drilling for plasma on Naboo, helped Jabba the Hutt out of a tight spot, didn’t think much of Prince Xizor, and led Dooku astray.
Rumour has it he also taught the Ewoks how to build log traps and sold sand to the Sand People.
It all sounds like fan fiction, doesn’t it? But if it is, it’s at least some of the most sublimely crafted fan fiction produced, telling a satisfying enough story about one of the more intriguing characters in the Star Wars universe, and one of the topics – like Alderaan and the early life of Leia – that’s been clearly ring-fenced by George Lucas for more considered exploration.
You never really get past those two core bugbears though, and Star Wars: Darth Plagueis brings that sense of injustice and entitlement that defined the Prequel generation screaming back into view. If you’re young or cheery enough to take everything as it comes, you’ll do fine – but if you still have an itch of disappointment regarding the prequel trilogy, then James Luceno is less an author, and more a guy in a pub apologising for his drunk mate that just spilt his drink down your shirt.