Book review: Episode I, the Phantom Menace

I love to read. Love, love, LOVE it! Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of time to read, so Geoff and I have a subscription to Audible. I like to listen to books while I’m driving or working out at the gym. Since I’ve been going through some neat books lately, I figured I’d write up some reviews as I go through them.

One of the series Geoff and I are both listening to is the canon set of Star Wars novels. After Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, the extended universe was moved into ‘legends’ status and a new canon was made – that makes now the perfect time to get caught up on canon stuff, since there’s not decades of material to sift through! Geoff started with post-Return of the Jedi books, and I started to go in chronological order (chronological order based on when I started – I know new books come out all the time!). That meant I started with the Episode I novelization.

In terms of how canon they are, the Star Wars film novelizations are considered canon – but if there are any contradictions, the movies win out. (An example would be Episode VII; in the novelization, Poe and Rey meet. In the film they do not, and get introduced in Episode VIII. In that case, film trumps book.)

Spoilers ahead for the Episode I novelization, of course, but nothing too crazy if you’ve already seen the film.

You’d think that the novelizations would just be a rehash of the films, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve already gone through all of the prequel film novelizations, and I would say that Episode I’s book had the least amount of extra material – but even with that, it still had a good amount! One thing that I loved that the book did was go into more of Anakin’s life before he meets Qui-Gon and the gang. We get to see how Anakin’s second-to-last podrace goes, and we also get to see him meet a Tusken raider. In this case, it’s a peaceful meeting and he saves the life of the Tusken. Seeing that sense of compassion from him toward Tuskens (and the reciprocation) makes the Episode II slaughter even more tragic, since we see that Anakin didn’t start out with that sense of hatred.

We also get more of a feel for Anakin’s Force visions. He has some in this book, both flat out visions and feelings. Anakin establishes that any Force visions he has have come true, so when he tells Padme that he sees himself marrying her, they do a great job of making you realize it’s not just a little childhood crush, it’s this kid just having definitive foresight of his future. The Force visions also influence his podracing abilities; while we knew that from the film, it’s neat to see it more fleshed out in book form.

I mentioned before that in the Tusken raider scene we see Anakin’s compassion; in another scene, we get a showcase of Anakin’s temper already developing. After the podrace from the film, before Anakin finds out he’s freed, he thinks that Padme and the rest of the group will be leaving Tatooine soon, and leaving him behind. Already fuming, when he encounters a young Greedo (yes…Greedo), he gets accused of cheating in his podrace. He attacks Greedo and you can see the temper that leads to his downfall in Episode III already developing. While having a young Greedo in Episode I does feel a little shoehorned in, I liked seeing some of Anakin’s darker side already showing. Film-wise, we don’t see any real negative aspect to Anakin in Episode I, and then jump to him being a very hot-tempered teen in Episode II (I’m hoping we get more media about Anakin’s training before Episode II, and see more of his personality develop – there’s a big difference between a 9 year old and a 19 year old!).

The most intriguing part to me is one of his full Force visions. Anakin has a fullblown vision of Padme in the future, but she’s leading an army (potentially against him?). We know that Anakin believes his visions MUST come true – and many of them do – but this one clearly does not. There’s never a moment where Padme is flat out at the head of an army, unless we count some of her fighting in the Clone Wars (but I don’t think so; none of them involve her leading an entire army). My thought is that we may be seeing a vision where Padme didn’t die on Mustafar; would she have ended up helping to lead the Rebellion against the Empire? It would’ve allowed Luke and Leia to still get away from Vader and the Emperor (and would’ve allowed Leia to actually have memories of her mother, grumble grumble), and we know that Padme loves the Republic and would do anything, I think, to try and restore it. It’s a vision that is never referenced again, but I love that glimpse into a potential future that never came to be. (Can we please have an alternate universe comic of this outcome?!)

Aside from Anakin, we also got some more insight into the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon dynamic and Padme’s political maneuvering. We also got a few additional Darth Maul scenes, including when he actually finds the group instead of a quick cut to Qui-Gon and Anakin running away from suddenly!Maul.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Episode I novelization. It offered the least amount of additional insight out of the three prequel novelizations, but even so it was a really good read.

Tragically, there was still Jar Jar.

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