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Queen’s Peril – An Interview with E. K. Johnston

How does a fourteen-year-old girl become queen of an entire planet?

This is a question many of us have had since being introduced to Queen Padmé Amidala in The Phantom Menace. For years, Padmé has enjoyed a celebrated position among fans, especially women who grew up with the prequel trilogy. She was a fiery character, equally at home making passionate arguments in the Senate as she was shooting a blaster at bad guys, she wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right, and she had an absolutely killer wardrobe. But despite her dedicated fanbase, it took twenty years for Padmé to star in her own novel.

Last year, I talked about how much of a revelation Queen’s Shadow was, and how incredible it was to finally get to read a story that not only gives one of my favorite characters her long-overdue chance in the spotlight, but was the rare story that focused entirely on women and their relationships with one another. It’s not a surprise to learn that author E.K. Johnston has been a fan of Padmé since the character’s debut, because her love for Padmé and the handmaidens came through in every word and detail.

While Queen’s Shadow focused on Padmé transitioning from Queen of Naboo to galactic senator and dealing with the fallout of her actions in TPM, Queen’s Peril goes back farther to focus on her coming of age on the political stage as she becomes queen, builds her inner circle of handmaidens and learns to navigate her personal life amidst the major galactic events beginning to take shape around her. E.K. Johnston was kind enough to sit down with us via email to discuss Queen’s Peril, writing prequels, how her fanfiction background aids her as a writer, and the importance of the teenage-girl experience.

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“Your Focus Determines Your Reality” – The Phantom Menace Turns Twenty

For years, it was a commonly accepted truth in Star Wars fandom that the prequel trilogy was unequivocally a blight on the franchise and perhaps even the worst set of movies unleashed on mankind. In fact, I’m sure in many areas of the fandom that sentiment still holds true. Liking the prequels was not something one admitted to, and especially not The Phantom Menace. A Star Wars movie about trade disputes? Ridiculous.

However as the years have gone on and social media has become a much bigger force in fandom, that sentiment is slowly changing. Far from being universally derided, the prequels have quite a large and devoted fanbase and the era itself is enjoying something of a renaissance these days through books, comics, and television. As we approach the twenty-year mark of the start of this trilogy, it’s worth looking back on the prequels and acknowledging that there’s quite a lot to enjoy…and quite a lot done well.

The Phantom Menace in particular has received the brunt of anti-prequel sentiment, and unfairly so. Not only is it a genuinely fun movie on its own, but it’s vital to the overall Star Wars saga and to the Skywalker mythos. It introduced key characters who are still important to the story years later (hello Darth Maul), brought depth to the franchise as we knew it then, and added key ideas, themes, and concepts that we now take for granted. While the prequels as a whole have experienced a resurgence in public favor lately, so too has TPM finally been getting the respect and appreciation it deserves.

And so in honor of its twentieth anniversary it’s time to take a look back at The Phantom Menace and see what makes it so great. In both its characters and its story, it’s worth appreciating all that it adds to the Star Wars universe.

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Queen’s Shadow: The Celebration of Women That Star Wars Deserves

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While there are no major spoilers below, I do discuss the contents of Queen’s Shadow in detail—consider yourself warned.

On May 19, 1999, The Phantom Menace opened in theaters. It was the first new theatrical Star Wars movie in sixteen years and kicked off a new trilogy exploring the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader, a character that had already earned a spot in the pantheon of classic villains. However, rather than opening the movie on Tatooine, where we learn that young Anakin is living as a slave, we instead start on an unknown planet in danger of invasion, ruled by a teenage girl who will do anything to save her people.

And yet, despite a whole movie and a handful of tie-in novels that centered around Queen Amidala, she became increasingly sidelined as the trilogy went on and her character became inextricable from her doomed relationship with Anakin. Her cadre of handmaidens made a brief appearance in Attack of the Clones, but by Revenge of the Sith she was alone and left to watch her world crumble around her without any apparent support. She ends the trilogy by giving birth to the next generation’s heroes and then, at the age of twenty-seven, loses her will to live and dies of a broken heart.

Three years ago I wrote an article advocating for a Padmé novel. For far too long she had only really existed as an extension of Anakin and wasn’t given a chance to shine on her own. As arguably the main character of The Phantom Menace and (inarguably) a key figure in the story of the final days of the Republic, she deserved a better legacy than only being remembered as the object of Anakin’s fears and an indirect reason for his turn to the dark side. More importantly, for a character who started with so strong a story and so interesting a backstory, it was a shame that her movie potential was wasted with bad writing. So to finally have her given a voice after getting the short end of the stick for so long is incredibly meaningful in a way that’s difficult to put into words.

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Solo: A Lesson in Needing Diversity Behind the Camera

Thandie Newton is Val in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY.

Solo was a film that I never thought to ask for, but went in hoping for a fun summer popcorn movie. After the heaviness of both Rogue One and The Last Jedi, I was ready for a more lighthearted film with lower stakes that weren’t about the fate of the entire galaxy. And for the most part I got exactly that; it was fun, there was good cast chemistry, and it added to the world of the Star Wars franchise without trying to outdo the films and stories that came before it. But though I had a smile on my face for most of the movie, I cannot truly say that I loved it. Because it was also a movie that sharply reminded me that people like myself are generally not the ones making creative decisions in this franchise.

Solo, like so many Star Wars works that came before it, is one that was so clearly (painfully clearly) written by men. The treatment of two of the female characters in particular show the blindspots that come when you’ve never had to think about what representation means to you on a personal level. That doesn’t make it an irredeemably bad movie, or make them bad people, but it shows the limitations that result when you are used to seeing yourself, day in and day out, on screen and behind the scenes and don’t understand how much it means to finally have a character who looks and acts like you. And it’s for that reason that I cannot say that I love this movie. Like with many things in pop culture, it’s one that I like…with reservations.

And with Solo, that reservation is: this movie really let down its women.

Several large spoilers below, proceed at your own risk

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In Defense of Dave Filoni’s Force Mysticism

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It’s no secret that when it comes to Star Wars, Dave Filoni is not shy about putting the “fantasy” in “space fantasy”. Between the numerous Tolkien allusions to interviews discussing his love of Miyazaki, Filoni has always placed a high importance on the fantasy elements of the Star Wars universe—namely, the Force. Both The Clone Wars and Rebels were not afraid to mix the more standard military stories with highly fantastical detours to strange and bizarre worlds that seemed to upend everything we knew about the Force.

And it’s therefore generally met by the fandom with a not-insignificant amount of skeptical eyebrow raises. While Yoda’s encounter with the five Force priestesses in the TCW Lost Missions was more or less well-received, the Mortis arc was firmly a “love it or hate it” storyline in the fandom, and Ezra’s experience in the portal universe is looking to be similarly divisive. It’s weird and confusing and doesn’t make a lot of sense at first blush…but I’d argue that’s exactly why Dave Filoni has the best approach when it comes to depicting the Force.

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