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Twenty Years in the Making, Padmé Gets Her Due

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The intro, first section, and conclusion are spoiler-free. The second section will discuss spoilers and will have a separate spoiler warning. 

We have been waiting a very, very long time to get a Padmé book. She’s been in plenty of books, comics, and TV shows — including a plethora of Phantom Menace-era books that a whole generation of fangirls has seemingly grown up on. But she’s never gotten the central billing in a book before. In situations like this, we usually end up with a typical “too little, too late” entry. Well, it’s definitely late — but the twentieth anniversary of The Phantom Menace‘s theatrical release isn’t a half-bad time to celebrate Padmé, given that the people who grew up with her never forgot about her. As for too little? Oh no — Queen’s Shadow is far from too little. In fact, it might be the perfect book for Padmé to finally get her due. 

There are a lot of parts of this book that read like a love letter to Padmé fandom, handmaiden fandom, and the women who grew up as part of both. I’m not the best person to speak to that aspect of the book, although I can definitely see parts of it. There’s probably more there that I haven’t even noticed: things like how Padmé interacts with her friends and handmaidens (for they are both), things about female comradeship and navigating situations that I just couldn’t know anything about. You’ll hear plenty about that from people who are better equipped to discuss it than I am — in fact, check back here tomorrow for a piece on the handmaidens and what they mean to their fans. But what I can tell you is that anyone who is a fan of Padmé as a character, a fan of her faith in political idealism and willingness to get her hands dirty despite of it, and heck, even just a fan of Naboo, will love what E.K. Johnston did for Padmé in this book. 

A lot of times it felt like the films after The Phantom Menace weren’t quite sure what to do with Padmé. She had a lot of potential that was sidelined in the other two films. But despite that, she was still a key part of the prequel trilogy and she had great development in Clone Wars-era books, comics, and TV despite rarely getting to headline stories. Queen’s Shadow recognizes both these things: the unrealized potential and the potency of the character, and does them justice. It’s set like a bridge novel between Episodes I and II, giving her the post-TPM development that Anakin and Obi-Wan received almost twenty years ago. But Queen’s Shadow isn’t just “Padmé’s turn” — it’s a genuinely incisive look at her character. Despite taking place between I and II, the novel also engages with ideas the audience knows will come up in The Clone Wars and in Episode III. E.K. Johnston just gave us a well-rounded portrayal that does everything it should have, and exceeded my already high expectations. 

Character Development: About the Journey, Not the End 

Attack of The Clones has the biggest time jump for a Star Wars movie inside a trilogy to date – it takes place ten years after The Phantom Menace. Our main characters are in different places at the beginning of the film than where the last one ended, and we spend the first parts of the film catching up with the characters.

a-galactic-senate-history-1_copy_0a6453dbWhat Queen’s Shadow does is help us get from A (Episode I) to B (Episode II) in a way that really gets at the heart of Padmé’s character. The facts and events that lead to her being senator aren’t even the most important part of this, and I’ll leave folks to discover that for themselves in the book. What’s important is the change it represents in Padmé as a person. The book is very much about the difficulties of the transition in role between a remote monarch bound by tradition (even a democratically elected one) and a politically active legislator. There’s a lot that goes into this, and the book engages with this transition in a very significant way. It’s my favorite thing about this book.

Even from just watching The Phantom Menace, we learn that Naboo and Coruscant are very different planets. Queen Amidala’s straightforward appeal to the Senate for help doesn’t work as planned. Queen’s Shadow engages with the same idea — not only that, but it addresses the consequences of Padmé’s actions in Episode I. I’d never thought of it, but it makes perfect sense — a reputation would follow you, and it would impact how willing people are to work with you. The remoteness of Queen Amidala’s personality doesn’t help, either — politics is about charm. 

We already know that the way Padmé interacts with people changes between the films. But even knowing that, seeing her come to the realization that things needed to change, and wrestle with how to accomplish that change, was very welcome. Especially because these changes were coupled with Padmé finding herself politically. Padmé has been involved in politics her whole life — she knows what she believes in. But the scale of galactic politics and representing more than one planet causes her to think through things differently. It’s not just about wanting to do the right thing — the question becomes, “the right thing for whom?” and “with whom do you align to accomplish this?” 

I don’t plan to spoil how Padmé handles this. But I do want to say how much I appreciate how E.K. Johnston thought through the political differences between Naboo and the Galactic Senate, and how she mapped out the transition from the queen we know in TPM to the senator we know in AOTC, The Clone Wars, and ROTS. Politics in Star Wars sometimes doesn’t live in the real world — but E.K. Johnston clearly engages with what the realities of galactic senatorial politics would be, both grime and glitz, and I rather appreciate it. 

Political Connections 

Spoiler warning! Skip to the conclusion if you don’t want to read specific spoilers about characters that appear in the book. 

Connections and references to other Star Wars books can be tricky business. Continuity and lore for their own sake can be pleasing for those who are into those things, but they can also stand in the way of the story and/or present barriers for readers. Luckily, Queen’s Shadow intersects with other Star Wars material (from Battlefront II, to Leia: Princess of Alderaan, to The Clone Wars, and the expected Episode II and III call-forwards) in a way that enhances the story and better informs Padmé’s story. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s use some specific examples — and remember, this is your last chance to skip to the conclusion section if you don’t want spoilers! 

Let’s start with characters. Padmé’s old handmaidens from TPM and her new handmaidens from AOTC play key roles in the story, but this is the easiest thing to justify: this is a bridge story, and Padmé’s closest companions would be expected to be part of the story. It’s even in the title of the book! There’s a lot to say about the handmaidens and it’s out of the scope of my review, but I really appreciate the amount of development they received and how they each were treated as distinct people with distinct personalities. Sabé may have been the largest presence, but they all made themselves felt. The rest of the movie Naboo contingent — the Panakas, Typho, and all the rest could warrant their own article all by themselves too, and I particularly enjoyed the way the novel addressed the change in Padmé’s inner circle and how it related to the change in Padmé’s life (and I’m not going to spoil that!).

We also see characters from The Clone Wars appear, not just for the sake of appearance, but because they’re important in establishing Padmé’s transition to a senator. 

It would be the easiest thing in the world for characters like Clovis, Mina Bonteri, and Onaconda Farr to be simple fanservice for TCW fans. But their role in the story is to be an active presence — for better or for worse – in the development of Padmé’s idea of herself as a senator, and even become important to her continued decision to serve and what that service means. 

e3bbccc7f4da14444bc3a9a50221acc5Similarly, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma accomplish more for the story than simply bridging the gap to the deleted scenes from Revenge of the Sith (though I am very glad to see a call-forward to them!). In both direct and indirect echoes of Leia: Princess of Alderaan, Organa and Mothma are very much political mentors for Amidala. But they’re part antagonists too, and that’s especially interesting. It allows us to see the early grouping of these leaders as more of a triumvirate. They have things to teach Padmé, but Padmé is her own person and aligns with them on her own terms.

Because I know it might come up with some continuity-minded readers: Mothma’s appearance as an apparently established senator in this book might clash with the older lore that said Padmé and Mothma are the same age. That’s likely no longer the case if Mothma was already in the Senate when Queen Amidala deposed Valorum. In cases like this, I like saying that it’s no use crying over spilled continuity — sometimes things change, and sometimes there’s a good story reason for it. Mothma’s been such a constant presence in the new canon and this story would have felt her absence. The Mothma in this book rings true, personality-wise, to the Mothma we’ve come to know in the past few years. That’s the important part, and sometimes you have to unlearn what you have learned.

Padmé ultimately learns from her interactions with these characters and they inform the type of senator she becomes. The Galactic Republic did not live up to Padmé’s idealism in The Phantom Menace. In Queen’s Shadow, Padmé learns how to square the disappointing reality of the Republic with her ideas on what it can and should be. She learns that she can and should care for her homeworld, but she can do that while also being a senator who believes in serving the whole galaxy too. By doing this, she becomes the senator we know her to be during the Clone Wars — someone who believes in negotiation, good deeds, and when it comes down to it, action to fight for what she believes in.

Who is Padmé? 

Queen’s Shadow shows us who Senator Padmé Amidala is. She’s a politician honed by experience as a ruler and as a legislator; and she’s part of an invaluable team of friends who are also her handmaidens. She changes over the course of the novel, but in ways that are true to her character from before and are authentic to portrayals that come after. We learn that no matter what changes occur in her life, Padmé will still fight for what she believes in (first with words, but with whatever else it takes too).

I’ve said a lot about this book, and I’ve only just talked about the politics! There’s a lot of other things I could say, from the very welcome portrayal of Naboo culture to the absolutely fascinating development of the handmaidens. I love all things Naboo, and the contrast of Naboo with my other favorite Star Wars locale, Coruscant, was a delight. My one regret about this book might be not seeing any names or references to the South Asian inspiration for parts of Naboo culture (names like Sheev, Varuna, Pooja, and Padmé itself), but sometimes that runs the risk of coming across as appropriation and I can understand not including it. But even without that, there was plenty of Naboo goodness in this book and I can hardly complain. 

It may have taken twenty years to get the novel that Padmé deserved, but in the meantime, appreciation for the character has just grown. It’s very evident that E.K. Johnston wrote this for her fellow Padmé and handmaiden fans, and it works to this book’s great benefit. If you’re even slightly interested in Padmé, the prequel era, Star Wars politics, Naboo, or Star Wars heroines — you’ve gotta read this book. Heck, if you never quite “got” Padmé as a character, check out the book too — you’ll get it after reading it.

Thank you to Disney-Lucasfilm Press for providing me with an Advance Reader Copy of this book, which assisted me in reviewing Queen’s Shadow. 

 

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