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.

Queen’s Shadow begins as Padmé’s reign ends, so we unfortunately didn’t get to see much of the royal handmaidens, save Sabé. Were you excited to have the chance to spend time with the original handmaiden crew this time around?

Honestly, it was the thing I was most looking forward to. I love “get the team together” stories, and this is one that’s been on my mind for a while. It was fun to write them as total pros, but getting to write them learning how to work together and so on was even better.

You’ve been a fan of Padmé, the handmaidens, and Naboo since the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. How does it feel to be the one creating the official backstories and details after all this time?

It’s…still a bit surreal, to be totally honest. Like, we used to talk about this on the internet, and now it exists! It’s kind of like the dream I didn’t know I had (because I didn’t think it was POSSIBLE, not because I didn’t want it to exist), and getting to work on these characters and their relationships is just a gift.

Which was your favorite backstory to write?

Rabé. 😉

There’s been increased passion lately for stories about Padmé and stories about her handmaidens. What is it about their popularity that makes these stories so interesting?

I think it’s kind of a weird combination of the girls who loved the characters from the start growing up (and having disposable income!), and also feeling more comfortable being “public” with their fandom. When I was fifteen, I couldn’t afford a lot of merch, and I didn’t talk about Star Wars much outside of my circle. Now, not only do we have the buying power, we also know how to talk online without being overrun or distracted by detractors.

The Queen's Amulet by Julianne Balmain and illustrated by Matilda Harrison

Stories featuring almost exclusively women are unfortunately quite rare in Star Wars, and even more rare are ones that focus on teenage girls. What aspects of teen girlhood did you think were most important to represent? Which was your favorite moment of teenage girl downtime?

Saché being twelve and having a crush was just SO DELIGHTFULLY AWKWARD. Many of us have been there, and we can’t really EXPLAIN it, and it feels RIDICULOUS, but also REALLY IMPORTANT, and so…it’s a disaster, and I love her. I was also determined to work menstruation into the book, preferably as a plot point, and I’m really pleased with how editorial and the Story Group responded to that. My favorite moment of downtime was definitely them at the concert. I’ve been low-key planning that for a while!

This is a younger Padmé than we’ve seen before, who is just starting out in her political career and meeting the people that will become major players in her life. Which themes here were most important to focus on?

Is “Avengers Assemble” a theme?

But for real: I like the idea of her idealism being tempered with wisdom, not cynicism. She fights really hard for that, and people (in-world and otherwise) often dismiss her for that, but it’s way harder to wake up every morning and Decide To Be Good than it is to just watch the world go by.

This novel featured many more points of view compared to either Ahsoka or Queen’s Shadow. How did you pick and choose which ones to focus on? Were there any characters you wanted to include that ended up not working out?

I knew from the outset that Padmé, Sabé, and Saché were going to be my major players. I needed Panaka to get the “behind the scenes” stuff, but you’ll notice he becomes less frequent as the book develops (you might also notice that the book opens with Panaka, Palpatine, and Padmé’s dad, all thinking about her…and then she takes the reins).

I got to write everyone I wanted to, I think? I don’t remember having to cut anyone. Typho was added pretty late because I missed him.

The Queen's Amulet by Julianne Balmain and illustrated by Matilda Harrison

Queen’s Shadow and Ahsoka both take place in between major moments in the franchise, while Queen’s Peril overlaps quite heavily with The Phantom Menace. How did you approach writing around an existing story that takes place at the same time as your own?

I think this is where my fanfiction background comes in handy. I learned to write in the cracks of stories, shifting POVs and putting things on the page that don’t necessarily appear on screen (characters’ internal thoughts, for example). When it came to The Phantom Menace, I kind of [made] myself a list of things I thought would be fun or interesting, and rolled from there. It was a good way to remind readers what [is] coming (most deliberate use of the word “clanked” in fiction ever? Probably), and also keep myself moored to the timeline.

One of the traits of any prequel story is that the audience already knows certain plot points and character fates. How do you approach creating prequels so that the story still remains engaging even if we know, to a certain extent, how it will end?

Oh, I love prequels. A lot of enjoying a prequel comes from being emotionally attached to characters, so leaning into character development is a good way to create interest. With Saché, for example, we know what’s coming her way the entire time, so meeting her as a small, calculating wall-flower and knowing that she becomes one of the planet’s foremost politicians is an adventure. Also, I may never forgive myself for the line about Typho wiping his eyes.

Queen in Disguise by Monica Kulling,
illustrated by John Alvin

The royal handmaidens quickly become an A-Team of sorts, with each person having a speciality and designated role. How did you decide who was who?

I decided who was who in the most A-Type personality way possible: I made a list of everyone’s names and then a list of functions and matched them up. You’ll note each function as the subtitles in the book. From there, I knew what each handmaiden would do, and I could give them something to want (preferably the opposite, because: drama), and roll from there.

Padmé is known for her incredible wardrobe, and one of my favorite aspects of both Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril is the detailed look at how it’s both good-looking and functional. Why was it important to explore that dynamic?

It started off as me being obstinate. I was SO TIRED of jokes about her clothing, you know? Women have always used fabric and handcrafts to portray power and send messages, secret or otherwise. I wanted to bring that to the forefront. Part of that was already done for me, in the Visual Guides, where various symbols are explained, but I love the scene in Attack of the Clones where Padmé picks her cuffs with a hairpin, and so I took that concept and ran.

You’ve talked about the real-world dresses that inspired a few of the outfits in Queen’s Shadow. Any fun fashion easter eggs in Queen’s Peril?

I had a lot fewer outfits to make up in Queen’s Peril because most of them were in the movie, so they were outfits we had seen. I also know a lot of Padmé cosplayers, who work tirelessly to make those costumes accurate and convention-friendly, and I wanted to kind of…give them a shout out too. The conversation where Eirtaé remarks that she can make an identical headdress that’s lighter and more comfortable is a reference to 3D printing. And also the part where LED lights mean that cosplayers don’t have to carry around a car battery. 🙂

Queen’s Peril is available now.