Opinion: Ashley reviews new Star Wars books, ‘Queen’s Shadow’ and ‘Master and Apprentice’

Later this year, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will bring the Skywalker family saga to a close after 40+ years and nine films. As we wait to see whether the Skywalkers will finally be able to bring lasting balance to the Force, there are plenty of Star Wars books to keep fans occupied in the meantime.

Two recent Star Wars novels — “Queen’s Shadow” by E.K. Johnston and “Master and Apprentice” by Claudia Gray” — actually take us back in time to the prequel era. While the Skywalkers aren’t directly involved in these books, the characters that are featured — Padmé/Queen Amidala, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Obi-Wan Kenobi — have a major impact on the Skywalker legacy.

I was able to pick up copies of these novels a couple months ago at Star Wars Celebration. While I enjoyed reading both of these, one definitely stood out to me more than the other. Here are my overall thoughts on how they tie into the Star Wars saga and whether they’re worth a read…

Queen’s Shadow

As a character, Padmé is, unfortunately, sometimes overlooked in the Star Wars franchise. She had some great arcs in “The Clone Wars” animated series (which is returning soon), but in the films she is often used as merely a catalyst in Anakin’s story.

“Queen’s Shadow” allows her to take center stage in her own novel, which is set between the events of “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” In this book, Padmé is just finishing up her term as queen of Naboo and beginning her career as a Senator.

One of the best things about this book is that it fleshes out some of the background characters from “The Phantom Menace.” Padmé’s handmaidens — a.k.a. bodyguards/assistants — get to play more of an active role in the story and we learn about who they are and why they are so loyal to Padmé. It’s always great to see strong female friendships portrayed in fiction, and this is where the book really shines.

The side character who gets the most development is handmaiden Sabé (she’s also my favorite character in the book). Padmé sends her to Tatooine on a special mission that has an important tie-in to “The Phantom Menace.”

Although I enjoyed reading “Queen’s Shadow” and appreciated what it was trying to accomplish, overall the finished product felt a bit flat. After reading/listening to some commentary from other fans, I think I’ve figured out what bothered me about it. (To be fair, I’ve heard from others who really loved this book, just the way it is, so maybe this issue won’t bother everyone, but it definitely stood out to me.)

I really wish the author had written the book with more “nuance.” I know I definitely overuse this word in my reviews, but it captures what I personally want to see in fictional stories. The best stories are told in the gray areas between the black and white, where characters have to really wrestle with difficult decisions and struggle to determine what the right thing to do is.

It’s great to have characters who are noble and upstanding and are positive role models. However, I don’t think E.K. Johnston gave the characters enough flaws in this book. Padmé and her handmaidens all get along really well and work well together. That’s great…but it didn’t necessarily feel realistic.

Being close friends with someone doesn’t mean there will never be conflict. Maybe some of the handmaidens could have disagreed with Padmé sometimes. Or maybe a few of them quietly resent all the sacrifices they were required to make to serve the queen of Naboo. While reading this book, I found myself wishing for more moments of contention (as odd as it feels to say that), because conflict helps us to learn and grow as people.

In short, I felt like this book played it a little too safe, and missed an opportunity to provide a deep, emotional dive into some fascinating characters. It was worth a read, but probably not a book I’ll read in full again (though I definitely would like to return to some of my favorite parts).

I actually found the emotional depth I was looking for in the other recent Star Wars prequel novel…

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Master and Apprentice

When I heard that my favorite Star Wars author, Claudia Gray, was going to write a novel about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, I immediately got excited. I’ve always found Qui-Gon to be one of the most intriguing prequel-era characters. He’s a bit of a renegade Jedi, and he’s more interested in following the Force itself than the Jedi Council’s sometimes bureaucratic rules.

By contrast, Obi-Wan comes across as more of a rule follower who doesn’t like to rebel against “the system,” so I was really curious to see how Gray would portray the early years of their relationship, before we meet them in “The Phantom Menace.”

I know I’m probably biased, because of how big a fan I already was of Claudia Gray, but I really, really loved the character development in this book. Gray digs deep into Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s thoughts and emotions. She shows their moments of failure, conflict, and self-doubt, and in this book, their friendship even comes close to ending permanently. Thankfully, in the end, they come to respect each other’s strengths and learn how to work together more seamlessly — although the journey to get to this point isn’t a smooth one.

I haven’t talked a lot about the book’s plot yet, because I actually feel like it’s not the most important part of this novel. Rather, the plot is merely the skeleton that the best part of this book is built on — Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s emotional growth and development.

We also catch a few cameo appearances from Qui-Gon’s former master, Count Dooku. Random House Audio recently released an audiobook about Count Dooku, called “Jedi Lost,” that I’ve really been wanting to check out. The reasons behind Dooku’s fallout with the Jedi Order and his embrace of the dark side is something I want to see explored in canon more. We also get to meet Rael Averross, a Jedi who’s even more of a renegade than Qui-Gon (imagine that!).

This book has also gotten some attention for its references to prophecies, which may or may not provide some clues about how the Skywalker saga will ultimately wrap up in Episode IX. While obviously not every Star Wars book is going to be a direct tie-in to the main saga films, it’s probably not a coincidence this book was released when it was.

I’ll have to revisit this after Episode IX, but I’d argue that the thesis statement for all of Star Wars can be found in this book:

“It matters which side we choose,” Qui-Gon says of the eternal war between light and dark. “Even if there will never be more light than darkness. Even if there can be no more joy in the galaxy than there is pain. For every action we undertake, for every word we speak, for every life we touch — it matters. I don’t turn toward the light because it means someday I’ll ‘win’ some sort of cosmic game. I turn toward it because it is the light.”

To me, this captures what the Star Wars saga thus far has been all about. I’ve heard some criticism of the sequel trilogy, because it apparently “ruins” all that the characters accomplished in the original trilogy. However, the fact that the First Order rises from the ashes of the Empire does not erase the power of Darth Vader’s moment of redemption. Vader chooses the light to save his son, and that is a beautiful moment. All the sacrifices that were made by Leia, Han, Luke, and the other Rebels were a necessary part of the fight against evil. They were never pointless.

Due to the nature of evil, we’ll have to keep fighting wrongdoing as long as we live. There will always be tyrants and violence and suffering; we can defeat one evil, but another will rise in its place. We will stumble and make mistakes, as Luke Skywalker does in “The Last Jedi.” Yet that should never, ever stop us from choosing the light and fighting for what we know is good in the universe.

Taken as a whole, the Star Wars saga is all about struggling against evil and choosing what is right, again and again and again. The journey is not easy, and sometimes we will find ourselves giving into the darkness. But it’s never too late to turn around and choose the light.

Looking for more Star Wars prequel era content? Ashley digs deeper into Padmé’s character journey as part of the Women of Star Wars blog series. Also be sure to check out the Story Geeks’ podcasts on “The Phantom Menace.”

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