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Book Review: Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare

Book Review: Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare

If the hundreds of novels, comics, video games, movies, and TV episodes are the rice krispies, the Essential Guides are the melted marshmallow that holds it all together.  They fill in the spaces you wondered about and even some you never thought about.  If you are a fan of the Star Wars expanded universe then the Essential Guides are… well, essential.


Today, the next great Essential Guide is released and it does not disappoint.  Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare is a 246-page book written by Jason Fry filled with everything you could want to know about the history of military and warfare in the galaxy far, far away.  Filled with beautiful illustrations, this is a book that once you pick it up you will not want to put it down.

The Star Wars Essential Guides have really come a long way.  I have been reading them since the beginning with 1995’s Essential Guide to Characters.  The layout of the book was like an encyclopedia with individual entries for the different characters.  This same format continued with the next four guides covering things like vehicles, weapons, planets, and droids. Then in April of 2000 (Has it been 12 years?!) Star Wars: The Essential Chronology was released.  I loved this book.  This was the first one to switch up the format.  Instead of having individual entries, this one read more like an in-universe history book.  If there were a Star Wars history class at the time, this would have been the textbook.  A New Essential Chronology was released in 2005 with the same look and feel.

I think the Essential Guides work best in this format although I understand why some subjects work better in the encyclopedic format (Guide to Characters for example).  The last few guides have really embraced the textbook layout with the Essential Guide to the Force being almost all textbook and the Essential Atlas being a bit of a hybrid.  In some ways the Essential Guide to Warfare can be seen as the newest version of the Essential Chronology.  It covers the entire history of the galaxy from the Celestials and Rakata to Cade Skywalker and Darth Krayt, just with the focus being more on the military side of things.

I was much more interested in the historical side of things rather than details of weaponry and ships.  I found myself skimming over the “Armory and Sensory Profiles” where things like ship classification were covered.  I instead was engrossed in the character stories.  The book contains a number of “War Portraits” which tell war stories of specific characters.  If it was Rohlan of Khaal fighting off Sith pirates or Ahsoka Tano’s letter to her friend, I was eating it all up. Some other characters given war portraits are: Boonta the Hutt, Juno Eclipse, Wullf Yularen, Baron Fel, Admiral Trench, General Grievous, and many others.  The prologue featuring an account from the war prisoner Grand Admiral Osvald Teshik is not to be skipped.

The beauty of these guides is they can really get into the nitty gritty of the stories and tie everything together.  They are also the best vehicles for retcons.  For example the history of the Mandalorians is touched on and some of the discrepancies that exist have been “smoothed out”.  Of course a book with this much text can also create its own continuity errors.  There is one fact revealed that has me scratching my head and could possibly start some interesting discussions.

If for nothing else you should buy this book for the amazing illustrations.  Star Wars Books has already given many preview images but that just scratches the surface of what is in this book.  There are illustrations on at least every other page.  Some are simple illustrations of ships or weapons but many are full page paintings.  They have come a long way from the black and white illustrations in the original Essential Guides.  The very detailed galaxy maps that were used in the Essential Atlas can also be found in this book showing things like the placement of sector armies and the paths of specific war campaigns.

Luke vs Shimrra (from Star Wars Books Facebook page)

I cannot recommend this book enough.  If you are a die-hard Expanded Universe fan like me or just like to look at great artwork, you will enjoy this book.  If you have never picked up a Star Wars Essential Guide this would be a great one to start with.

Highlights and Random Thoughts

I’m not sure you can spoil a book like this but if you are worried about spoilers you may not want to read the random thoughts below.

Xim the Despot was no match for the Hutts. (page 6)
Arden Lynn (of Masters of Teras Kasi fame) and her lover Xendor get a cool story. (page 17)
Xendor met the Ones? Did he go to Mortis? (page 18)
Prince-Admiral Jonash e Solo. Relative of Han Solo? (page 24)
Contispex and the Pius Dea Crusades were interesting to read about. (page 25)
Valenthyne Farfalla was half Bothan?  What was the other half?  Why does he have hooves? (page 44)
We get a name for Lord Hoth, Rohlan of Kaal. (page 44)
First official image (I think) of the bounty hunter D’harhan who has a laser cannon for a head. (page 61)
The 14th Army during the Clone Wars was called Red Tails (page 101)
Letter from Ahsoka to her friend. She was kind of crushing on Anakin :/ (page 102)
A recap of Palpatine taking power and Order 66 from the perspective of Kol Skywalker (page 105)
Fighter pilot slang. (page 141)
Lumiya with her lightwhip. (page 187)
Image of Abeloth fighting Jedi and Sith. (page 234)
What? No image of Ben Skywalker? In the whole book?

Buy this book.

Aaron Goins

Darth Plagueis Commentary: Chapters 4-7

Darth Plagueis Commentary: Chapters 4 – 7

Here is part two of our ongoing commentary of the Star Wars novel Darth Plagueis.  If you missed part one, click here to check it out.  For this section of the commentary Bethany and Mark of the Star Wars Report podcast return to discuss chapters 4 through 7 with me.

Note: This commentary does not contain any major spoilers from beyond chapter 7.


Chapter 4

Aaron: At the end of chapter 3 Plagueis can’t come to terms with the captain so he has no choice but to kill her.

Bethany: Luceno is a talented writer, to be able to create a character that is given very little time to establish herself, and yet she’s competent, smart, but not unrealistically so, and makes mistakes that even an experienced captain would.  I mean, dealing with a Sith Lord isn’t something a ship’s captain would expect to deal with!  You liked her immediately, and hoped she and her crew wouldn’t die.

Aaron: And as likeable as they were, Plagueis literally slaughters the entire crew.  In the battle he absorbs a blaster bolt in his hand.  More and more Force users seem to be able to do this.

Mark: We see absorption of a great many things by the Sith.  I find that more and more point of view is key to being able to do ANYTHING with the Force.

Bethany: For me it’s scenes like these that bring you back to the fact that you’re reading about Sith. Things aren’t pretty, or fair, and just when you find yourself reluctantly liking the main characters, they do something unforgiveable, though I won’t say irredeemable.

Mark: Indeed. You knew that something bad was on the horizon.
I found myself in the sway of the Dark Side in this book. I was constantly rooting for the bad guys to win.

The whole Woebegone part seemed to drag on in a sense though. We get introduced in Chapter 3, meet them in 3, and witness their deaths in Chapter 4. In many ways this book was a series of interlinked tales set up in parts that complemented each other while giving the reader chunks of the lives of Plagueis and Sidious.
And in the end I guess the Woebegone was all a great set up to 11-4D. He would turn into a treasure for the Sith.

Bethany: So far, the book takes a very different tone with storytelling, characters, and events. It feels more like a tale being told, or a biography, a lesson in history and politics, than your average epic fantasy novel. It’s brilliant in that it accomplishes both, though!

Aaron: About 11-4D, I thought it was kind of jarring how quickly he changed allegiances.  I know he’s just a robot but I couldn’t see C3PO doing that if his master was killed.

Bethany: It was rather jarring for me. I view droids in much the same way I view Spock or Data in the Star Trek franchise. They really do have feelings, even if they’re well hidden or supposedly non-existent.

Mark: Well in that sense Bethany think of it as 11-4D looking after his own hiney.  He knew he’d be slaughtered if he didn’t welcome his new master.
I felt it was perfect.  R2 and 3PO both become Jabba’s property, while 3PO complains about the situation they do it willingly enough.  It’s in their programing.

Aaron Goins: But wasn’t them (R2 and 3PO) becoming his property all part of a ruse?

Mark: Yes, but 3PO wasn’t in on it.  R2 knew. But R2’s special ;)
I loved how Plagueis made 11-4D watch the ship burn and record it. I got the feeling like he almost treated the droid like an apprentice.  He gives him unlimited access to data he would even later withhold from Palpatine.  The fact is he’s a droid and cannot summon the Force which makes him no threat to Plagueis.

Bethany: Not necessarily an apprentice, but it was interesting to see how he would go out of his way to teach 11-4D, even when it wasn’t needed for a specific task.  Darth Plagueis seemed to have a fairly low opinion of the intelligence of sentients…. (more on that later)…. and always seemed to want beings to be smarter or more evolved than they were.

Aaron: Plagueis stops at a space station to have the ship destroyed and is revealed as “Magister Damask”.  Very interesting name and it definitely has meaning.

Mark: I love “THE Mask.”  And I loved the play up on the alter egos.  While working on the Sith Grand Plan as their Titles, they were also doing the same as their public faces.

Aaron: And “damask” is a type of fabric that has a specific style of weaving. I think his name is a direct reference to this.

Bethany: Wikipedia tells us that: “Damask (Arabic: دمسق‎) is a reversible figured fabric of silk, wool, linen, cotton, or synthetic fibers, with a pattern formed by weaving.”

I find that interesting, and certainly applicable

Mark: Well-placed word indeed, the way it has multiple patterns on it.

Bethany: Not just to the weaving and patterns, but damask is reversible, just like the two roles he has. One minute a Sith, the next a (somewhat) respectable business man.

Aaron: There is actually a reference to the weaving earlier in the book in a conversation between Plagueis and Tenebrous.
This from Wikipedia… “Damasks are woven with one warp yarn and one weft yarn, usually with the pattern in warp-faced satin”
This from a conversation between Plagueis and Tenebrous about Darth Bane… “We weave ourselves into the warp and weft of the tapestry he created”

Bethany: I must say, Luceno is a master at weaving a good story and various storylines together. The amount of research and time he spent on this book is very evident!


Chapter 5

Aaron: Chapter 5 starts out on Muunilist, the home planet of Plagueis, where he is a well-respected businessman.  Just coming off of killing an entire crew and stealing their ship and droid and then destroying their ship, this was a bit of a shift.

Bethany: It made for a good double take on the character of Plagueis.

Aaron: It was the perfect cover for a Muun.  And are these bankers that different from Sith? They all seem pretty cutthroat.

Bethany: At first, as I mentioned before, he didn’t seem all that threatening, then he seemed like a force of darkness to be reckoned with, but now there’s a cunning deceitfulness in him that’s terrifying. His threat level just shot up. Not only is he a masterful Sith warrior, but also a powerful political figure, and a master of manipulation.

Mark: Aaron, good point about cutthroat.  Whereas a Bith Sith makes perfect sense in the math and science realm, a Muun totally puts a lock down on finances as we see with Hego.  He wants for NOTHING.

Bethany: You can certainly tell where Palpatine learns his cunning and trickery, his masterful deceptions of so many.

Mark: We’re also re-introduced to Larsh Hill who later factors into the story.

Aaron: And when you hear the name Hill you automatically make the connection to San Hill.

One of the things I found interesting was the info that the Jedi were the ones who helped pass an amendment that expanded trade routes in the Outer Rim.  This is what gave the Trade Federation full voting rights in the Senate.  The Jedi were responsible for empowering the Trade Federation!  That’s quite a revelation.

Mark: Wasn’t that from one of the comics too?  Acts of War or The Stark Hyperspace War?  (That was the thing, Luceno did such a good job lacing in other EU plots and elements that you miss many of them. Or you get too caught up in searching for things and it might ruin it for you.)

Aaron: It may have been, but it was a surprise to me :)
Speaking of Acts of War the Yinchorri are mentioned which made me instantly think of that comic series.

Bethany: It’s obvious in this book, as in the later prequel movies, that the Jedi aren’t seeing clearly; their Order has problems that the Sith exploit, to the demise of many.

Mark: See I recall reading the Jedi Apprentice books followed by the Jedi Quest ones, and the sense that the Jedi were failing grew throughout those series, politically as well as physically.  Seeing this illustrated in Plagueis’s point of view was fitting indeed.

Bethany: We’re looking at the Jedi from a Sith’s point of view, and frankly they appear to be rather inept sometimes, a threat, yes, but there’s a level of complacency in the Jedi that shows they still don’t know of the Sith, or the dangers that face their Order.

Aaron: Gardulla the Hutt and Jabba’s clan are also mentioned.  So many connections to familiar characters in the Star Wars universe.

Bethany: Again with so many connections to other in universe material, the book gave us such an astoundingly in depth look at the history and machinations behind so many things, which had me immersed in the complex picture it painted. I know some I’ve spoken with some who didn’t enjoy the many references, but I did.

Mark: We also see that Hego Damask’s estate is awarded Rugness Nome’s estate publicly.  I found the relationship of the Sith, both as Sith and as their alter egos, interesting. They find ways to be intertwined in both.  As with Tenebrous’s death, Hego benifits from it as does Plagueis. You start to get a sense of the Dark Side personified in these beings through their Sith mantles.

Aaron: We are also introduced to Plagueis’ giant library.  He wants 11-4D to assimilate all the info in the library.  Plagueis was very interested in things like the Ysalimiri and Vornskrs.

Mark: Yes, in fact his library was the finest to be found anywhere outside Obroa-skai.  This is where 11-4D plays a vital role in my opinion to the Sith plan.  He in a sense BECOMES Plagueis’s library.

Aaron: The Dai Bendu are also a point of interest to him.  I believe they will be playing a major part in the upcoming Dawn of the Jedi comic series.

Mark: Yes, a lot of old RPG materials came to life as off the cuff references by Plagueis.  I loved it. Rakata, Vjun (which some may recall had issues with midi-chlorians), the Choas Academy, Sorcerers of Tund (Lando Clarission books) as well as Myrkr.

Bethany: When 11-4D told his new master that “I have experience in organ replacement surgery, telomere genotherapy, and carbonite suspension. But nothing beyond that.”  Plagueis with upper lip curled said, “Then you’ve merely scratched the surface.” The implications of this, and Plagueis’ vast library and knowledge is rather intimidating, to say the least.

Aaron: We get a bit of a Sith history lesson here as well.  Naga Sadow, Exar Kun, Bane, Zannah…  I want to know more about the Sith Darth Gravid who apparently tried to go good and really set the Sith plan back.

Mark: I was glad they covered that one.  So much of the early references I was worried were ‘one and dones’.  Which a lot were, but then a lot of the rest would come back and be rehashed with greater detail.  Darth Gravid being one of these.

Also the fact Plagueis gives 11-4D a Sith data crystal with the History of the Sith on it was impressive. The Sith are better scholars than the JEDI!  The Jedi only study their own dogma. The Sith, the Galaxy.  Best of all, Plagueis tells the droid his goal of extending life.

Bethany: It is always interesting to see the Sith react to their environment, and to see their inner workings. We don’t get to see that very much in the movies, beyond Vader’s and Sidious’ relationship.

Aaron: And then the big info at the end of Chapter 5…. “One hundred years earlier, Tenebrous’s Twilek Master (Darth Ramage?) had opened a small rend in the fabric of the Force, allowing the Dark Side of the Force to be felt by the Jedi Order for the first time in more than eight hundred years.”

Mark: Funny you say that Aaron.  I, too, thought Ramage was Tenebrous’s master’s name. Yet I couldn’t find it ever actually said.
The whole rend into the Force plays hard core into Plagueis’s point of view on the Force and the dual nature of the Force.  You get a sense that the Jedi created a bubble like the ysalamiri in a sense that kept the Dark Side out. Tenebrous’s Master burst the bubble.

Mark: Anyone catch Vectivus mentioned?!  HE REALLY DID EXIST AND WAS A BANITE SITH! Wow!

Aaron: Yes I noticed him and Cognus mentioned as Sith that came after Bane.  I would love to know the entire line of Sith from Bane to Sidious.

Mark: The chapter titles were fitting. I always enjoyed that about Karen Traviss’s books and Luceno did a great job telling the story through chapter titles as well as the chapters themselves.

Aaron: Yes, all Star Wars authors should do chapter titles like this.


Chapter 6

Aaron: Let’s move on to Sojourn, a retreat for the elite.  It was like an intergalactic hunter’s lodge.

Bethany: Yes, that’s exactly what it reminded me of!  And it creeped me out.

Mark: Those poor crime lords and influential beings who don’t even know they are Dejarrik pieces.

Aaron: And all of his meetings on Sojourn are about gaining power.  Plagueis is constantly making deals.

Mark: And these deals would play key parts later too.  The Sith monitor the future in a sense.
It was interesting to learn Hego played a pivital role in Gardulla’s rise to power over Jabba on Tatooine.  By making the deal to empower Gardulla on Tatooine and setting up podracing, we learn that this will later anger the Gran of Malastare whose own podracing will be hurt a little.  All part of the plan.

Bethany: I like how Plagueis can be ruthless and brutal in the name of political and monetary power, and those around him expect it, but don’t realize the true menace beneath.

Aaron: In the process of him trying to find out who sabotaged the mining drill that he and Tenebrous were almost killed by, Plagueis comes across the info that there is an abundance of plasma on Naboo.  This plays a major role in the rest of the book.

Mark: I won’t look at the Duel of Fates the same- those plasma beams. Who knew?!

Aaron: And then my favorite part of chapter 6.  Tenebrous was training another apprentice!  This completely caught me off guard.  So much for the Rule of Two.  The Sith seem to bend the rules by training multiple potential apprentices, and we see this in Clone Wars as well with Ventress and Opress.

Mark: I found the breaking of the Rule fitting.  As most would see this breaking as insurance, in fact Venimis’s attack is what would have MADE him the apprentice with a Darth title.  And he failed.

Bethany: It’s interesting to see that Sith seem to be tempted even to break their own rules, and they always tend to fall for some temptation or weekness. So many Sith have been killed by consequences, reactions if you will, to their own ambition or arrogance.

Aaron: And when Plagueis defeats Venamis (such creative Sith names) in battle, instead of killing him he keeps him alive for experimentation.  Pure evil and kind of creepy.

Bethany: Um, how about VERY creepy.  Like I said earlier, Plagueis becomes far more terrifying as one becomes more familiar with him.

Mark: Yes, using Venamis to perfect his exploitations of midi-Chlorians was a genius move by Luceno.

“The future of the Sith no longer hinges on physical prowess but on political cunning. The new Sith will rule less by brute force than by means of instilling fear.”

We learn the important differences in philosophy between Tenebrous and Plagueis in Plagueis’s eyes. Which is a good chapter to read before reading the Tenebrous Way.


Chapter 7

Aaron: Chapter 7 fleshes out Plagueis’s origin story.  He was the child of force sensitive parents who were keeping their powers a secret.  Even as a child Hego was ruthless. He used force persuasion to have a classmate jump out a window!

Mark: The parent arc was creepy of Tenebrous.

Aaron: His birth was basically orchestrated by Tenebrous.

Mark: We learn that his parents were manipulated into having Plagueis born. His mother was all but teaching the young Hego for Tenebrous.

Bethany: It’s interesting to me how Plagueis’ background and childhood (if you could call it that) heavily influenced him, if not entirely dominated him and his personality. To grow up the way he did, and to almost naturally and without prodding fall do the Dark Side is horribly twisted, especially for a child.

Mark: I don’t know if we can say without prodding though.  His mother was totally schooling him and grooming him in a sense.

Bethany: True, but was his mother schooling him specifically towards the dark side, or towards using the Force in general?  Although she certainly never goes out of her way to control or teach him otherwise. She let him use the Force to make a playmate jump out of a window and die, and didn’t say anything negative about it, only commented on his “gift”.

Mark: Well young Hego noticed a power closer to his own in Rugess that he didn’t feel around Jedi. I found this interesting too.

Bethany: Yes, it was as if the Dark Side somehow touched him, as if his existence was of the Dark Side specifically.

Mark: I loved the flash backs to Plagueis’s training. And Tenebrous’s line about the Phantom Menace – “We Sith are an unseen opposition. A phantom menace. But the Force works through us all the more powerfully in our invisibility. For the present, the more covert we remain, the more influence we can have. Our revenge will be achieved not through subjugation but by contagion.”

Bethany: That was an incredible thought, very chilling and true. You can almost see it coming inevitably true.

Aaron: This book really implies that there is clear dark and light side.

Bethany: It does, and as if they both have clear wishes. It’s almost a creepy version of the Force, or way of viewing the Force perhaps. Instead of falling to the Dark Side being some sort of perverted way of using the Force, falling to the Dark Side seems more like choosing one path over another.

Mark: Yes, and Plagueis sees it almost as a sentient thing, especially in the way he approaches it.  I liked though how the Sith see things like “the Force works through us all the more powerfully.”

Aaron: And who’s to say that Plagueis’s view on the Force is the correct one.  His philosophy may differ from other Sith and Jedi.

Bethany: Indeed.

Mark: Yes. That was a point in my opinion of the Sith stories. That there are more roads than one to the Force and it’s mastery.  And ANYTHING is possible with the right knowledge, and will power. POOOOOOWWWER!!!
But even the Sith have the Force work through them, just like the Jedi.  I mean if both sides see the Force at work through them, how does that work?

Bethany: I don’t think we really know the answer to that question. There’s always a bit of mystery surrounding the Force, even with the knowledge of midi-chlorians.

Mark: Would it be ONE sentience at work? Or two sentiences fighting each other? I mean I see the Force as one with dual sides. The sentience works on the whole Will of the Force, but it does make you stop and think.

Aaron: I think the way it has been presented to us lately is that it is two sides fighting against each other.  I mean think of Mortis.

Mark: Indeed. Mortis is a good point. I had always thought that the two sides being separate was something Lucas didn’t want, but it’s starting to seem that this is ok as long as it’s hinted at or eluded to but never flat out spoken as fact.
One last thing on chapter 7- “With the wretched of the galaxy being converted to the cause, the powerful would now need to be brought together, with Darth Plagueis as their leader, manipulating the actions of an important few to control the behavior of countless trillions”
This paragraph captures many elements of the book. From the Sith’s strategy, to Hego Demask’s Gatherings of Sojorn, to how every interaction he (and later Sidious) has all work to the BENIFIT of the Sith.

Aaron: Yes that last sentence pretty much lays out the entire Sith Plan.

That concludes our discussion of chapters 4 through 7.  Check back for our next commentary covering chapters 8 through 11.

And don’t be shy, leave your own thoughts on the book in the comments below!

-Aaron Goins


Darth Plagueis Commentary: Prolouge – Chapter 3

Darth Plagueis Commentary
Prologue – Chapter 3

Darth Plagueis is the type of Star Wars Expanded Universe book that begs a deeper look.  Over the next month or so we will be taking the book in parts and doing an in-depth commentary.  Various members of the Star Wars Report staff will weigh in on the discussion and maybe even some other fans as well. For this first section we will talk about the prologue and the first three chapters of the book.  I was lucky enough to get two of the hosts of the Star Wars Report podcast, Mark and Bethany, to chat with me.
Feel free to add your own commentary in the comments section below.

Note: This commentary does not give away any major spoilers from beyond chapter 3 in the book.

Aaron: So before we dig into the book, let’s talk about the hype leading up to the book.  Were you guys excited when you heard about Darth Plagueis?

Mark: Ahh hype… good old hype; by hype are we referring to the many excerpts?  Or the many reviewers that seemed to REALLY enjoy this book?

Aaron: Any hype, created by Lucasfilm or fans.

Bethany: Not really, to be honest.  I was interested to hear of the back story of the Sith, to find out more about Darth Sidious, but beyond curiosity, I didn’t feel much for the book.  Knowing that James Luceno was writing it helped, as I really enjoyed Labyrinth of Evil, which he wrote.  I became more excited about it when I heard other fans speak of how much they were enjoying it.  Peter Morrison had some really great things to say, for instance, and the Jedi Journals podcast had an interview with James Luceno (about Darth Plagueis as well as other things) that I really enjoyed listening to!

Mark: Oh yes! I was shocked that they brought a book back to life. So many cancelled books seem to have a potential to return: Blood Oath, Imperial Commando 2 and so forth.

Bethany: I wasn’t even a part of the fan community back in 2007, when, I believe, the book was first scheduled to be released, and so didn’t have that sense of surprise that you express, Mark. I do wonder what causes books to be canceled though, and simultaneously what causes them to be resurrected.

Aaron:  Was a book like Darth Plagueis a good thing or were you hoping he would stay a mysterious character?

Mark:  I was hoping beyond hope that they would do something very similar to what they did- which was give us (the reader) a great deal of insight into the character. Learning about Sidious’ early apprenticeship was an added bonus. But I’m one of those fans who enjoys learning about the mysteries. The more I learn, the MORE questions I have.  Same with this book.  I was left wanting to know even more about the past due to Plagueis’ knowledge base.

Aaron: In the media materials sent out with the advanced copies of the book they included the statement “This book is canon” and that the book does not conflict with GL’s vision.  Do you think this is an important statement or should we just see it as advertising hype?  Is this book any more canon than other Star Wars Expanded Universe books?

Mark: It all hangs on the honesty of the statement. I mean, if George did have a hand it would be one thing. But if this book had no more or less involvement than any other Del Rey book well I’d say it was advertising hype. I mean I didn’t buy it, but I still recall the many who bought DLC content because they were told it was exclusive and couldn’t be bought anywhere else.
But that’s not to say that when I saw the comment I didn’t stop and take pause. For if it is true- as I hope and try to believe it is- then that means that this IS the direction George wants the back story to take. And that’s my issue with the mystery. Leave it a mystery until GL says ok play. Don’t spell out the mystery of something George is about to do himself. That would be a set up to failure. Which isn’t the case here. Darth Plagueis manages to make you once again unlearn what you have learned in a very CLASSIC Lucas style.

Bethany: Is this book any more canon than other books?  More canon, less canon, canons to the left and right of them…. Canon is always a tricky topic to address. I consider it to be “more canon” than some Star Wars books, like Splinter of the Minds Eye obviously. I’d consider Darth Plagueis to be of a higher canon in that it seems to fit more seamlessly with the movies. The advance review copy I have tells us that the book is canon, that even the Maker himself was involved to some degree, and I really like that fact. Not all Star Wars books feel like Star Wars, in the traditional sense; I feel Darth Plagueis did.

Aaron: Ok, let’s get into the book now.  We get a pretty crazy opening with Sidious reveling in the power of the Dark Side after killing Plagueis. They killed the title character in the prologue! What did you think of this opening?

Mark: Oh what a Tarintino feel to that opening!  I will say I immediately went to that chapter again when I DID get to the end of the book. And it was like reading it in a whole new way. But the prologue had a very Stover’s Traitor feel to the way it was written. I loved how Sidious’s point of view on the dark side was one like his Master’s to a degree, that it’s almost sentient.

Bethany: The prologue really captured my attention! I enjoy Luceno’s dramatic, almost flowery writing style in it, and felt drawn into the book, once I adjusted to his style.

Mark: “Once I adjusted to his style” key words here- the more I review Darth Plagueis the more I realized I had no issue with the Lucenopedia because I’d long ago tuned out the RIDICULOUSLY BIG words with illogicalRogue ones.

Bethany: I didn’t feel as if they were unnecessarily big words, more like an interesting choice of words.

Aaron: The opening reminded me of the recent Star Wars book Riptide which also had a situation thet reversed in time and revisited the situation at the end of the book.
The prologue doesn’t tell us exactly when Palpatine killed Plagueis which was a nice mystery.  We knew it was going to happen, we just didn’t know when.

Aaron: So the book reverses in time and we are now at 67 BBY with Plagueis and his Bith master Tenebrous in a cave.

Mark: Or is it? Sure part one starts 67-65, but chapter one’s first words: “Forty-seven standard years before the harrowing Reign of Emperor Palpatine”

Aaron: That is kind of confusing.

Bethany: Perhaps a typo or continuity error?

Mark: I figured it was used to describe the planet, not a literal placement of the event itself.

Aaron: Did anyone else have a hard time imagining a Bith and a Muun as cool looking Sith?

Bethany: I did have a hard time picturing a Bith and a Muun as cool looking as, say, Darth Maul. I just couldn’t imagine them being a ‘phantom menace’ and striking fear into those that cross them. Eventually it was their, especially Plagueis’s, portrayal of personality and capability to do evil that had me respecting them as the Sith they truly are.

Mark: I admit a Bith Sith, the sound just rolls off the tongue. And knowing what I did about their species made me think it was a LOGICAL choice.  Very scary as we soon saw in the book.

Aaron: I agree Bethany, at the beginning I had a really hard time imagining Plagueis as an intimidating character because he was a Muun.  As the book went on though I found him very menacing no matter his species.

Mark: The Muun makes sense.  The finances the Sith would need to fund their Grand Plan.  It makes sense to have one on the Sith payroll in some fashion.

Aaron: Because of an accident, or was it sabotage, there is a cave collapse and Plagueis takes advantage of the situation and kills his master.  Was Tenebrous short changed? Did you wish he was in the book more or was the small portion we got with him enough for you guys?

Mark: Luceno in my opinion did a great job of keeping Tenebrous relevant to the story, most notably as Rugess Nome.

Bethany: I’m a very curious person, so I certainly wish we’d had the chance to learn more about Tenebrous, but at the same time wonder if the book could have handled delving into yet another Sith character. I’m not sure it could have.  The “accident” shows us just what Plagueis is capable of, very soon into the story.

Aaron: When Plagueis kills Tenebrous there was a lot of talk about midi-chlorians.  It kind of surprised me how much midi-chlorians were focused on in this book considering the negative feelings many fans have toward them.  I for one am happy they are embracing them and explaining them more.

Mark: Ditto. I do think though that Tenebrous and Plagueis got to a place where they weren’t communicating and all but replaced each other in a sense. Had they known about the others fascination with midi-chlorians imagine how things might have been!

Bethany: I actually liked hearing more about the midi-chlorians.  One reason I really liked reading this was learning so much! Like I said, I’m guilty of being curious. :) I like mystery and a sense of the divine and the supernatural in my stories, yes, but I feel the cards were played just right in the opening of Plagueis, things seemed balanced.

Mark: Did anyone else get the impression that Plagueis cared more for droids then sentients?  I felt he felt that droids at least knew their place as tools, unlike the beings of the Galaxy who were his Dejarik pieces.  His comment to the droid in chapter one got to me. “You’ve been useful droid.”

Aaron: It almost came across as an apology.  And 11-4D is basically his best friend throughout the book.

Mark:  Yes, 11-4D (well get to him later).  I found that a PROFOUND character in the EU in regards to the Sith cause, and what could be later Emperor Palpatine’s key to many things.

Aaron: With his ship destroyed, Plagueis needs to find a way off the planet.  He stows away on a ship called the Woebegone.  That poor crew had no idea what was coming.  We get introduced to a crew of varied species: a Togrutan, Kaleesh, Dresselian, Klatooinian… I had to look up what a Dresselian was.

Aaron: Anyone surprised to see a Kaleesh (Grievious’s species)?

Bethany: Not really.

Mark: Missed that the first time. I was focused on the captain and the use of words like Noob and Dumb***.  I was kind of giggling at how real the character felt.  I could see a freighter captain going on like that.

Bethany: As a person who enjoys the Star Wars EU, but hasn’t been reading it for very long, I haven’t read all that much of it. I was pleasantly surprised how seamlessly references to other species, planets, cultures, wars, civilizations, and histories were inserted.  Nothing felt all that forced to me, pun intended.  I didn’t feel a need to have a dictionary and Wookieepedia at hand as I was reading, though I do pull up Wookieepedia on occasion to look up something if it peaks my curiosity.

Aaron: I was actually really liking captain Ellin Lah. Was hoping she would survive.

Mark: I liked how Lah considered everyone on her ship equals.

Bethany: I found it interesting that Plagueis thought that the fate of the crew was a fixed destiny, once he boarded the ship. Kind of the opposite of “always in motion, the future is”.

Mark: Yes, I loved that too.  The Sith take control for sure.  They aren’t inclined to wait and see.

That is it for this first section of Darth Plagueis.  Keep an eye out for the next section of the commentary covering chapters 4-7 coming soon!
Check out these links for more opinions on the Darth Plagueis book.

Mark’s review over at EU Cantina
My review here at Star Wars Report
Pete’s review over at Lightsaber Rattling

- Aaron Goins


Book Review: Darth Plagueis

Darth Plagueis Review

Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers.

To be honest, when a Darth Plagueis novel was announced back in 2007 it didn’t really excite me.  When the book was then cancelled it didn’t bother me.  I had never really been that curious about Palpatine or his master.  I had always thought of Palpatine as this power hungry politician who happened to be a secret Sith.  Frankly, I didn’t like the guy.  He seemed cowardly and purely evil, and if Anakin hadn’t walked in when he did, Mace Windu would have finished him off.

Then the book received new lease on life and was put back on the schedule for a 2012 release.  I still wasn’t excited.  Review copies went out and I started to hear good things.  Very good things.  “Best Star Wars book I’ve read in a long time” kind of things.  I began to be interested.  George Lucas had input?  Howard Roffman helped shape the story?  This wasn’t just another Star Wars novel.  Here is some text found in the front of the review copy of the book.

THIS STORY IS CANON!: The back story of Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious was developed hand-in-glove with the highest authorities at Lucasfilm, to ensure that nothing contradicts George Lucas’s vision of his creations!

Now as a fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, I consider most of the books to be canon on some level, but the above statement seems to imply that this book is to be considered on par with The Clone Wars and the films.  Now I found I wasn’t only interested, but very excited to read this book.  So I got my hands on a copy!

Here is the text from the flap of the book.

Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master—but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power . . . over life and death.

Darth Sidious: Plagueis’s chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.

Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination—and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?”

In short, Darth Plagueis is the story of Sith Lord Darth Plagueis, his rise to power, and his selection and molding of Palpatine as his Sith apprentice.  The bulk of the story takes place in the 33 or so years leading up to the events of The Phantom Menace.  In many ways, the book can be seen as a direct prequel to The Phantom Menace, although the book Cloak of Deception already holds that distinction.

The book is written masterfully by James Luceno.  His writing is very intense and gritty, but not without humor.  Lines like “I assure you, Captain, I am a Muun of my word” made me smile and an in-joke about Jocasta Nu and her lack of knowledge of Kamino made me laugh out loud.  Since the book is a story of the Sith, it is expected that there will be a certain amount of darkness to it.  Just when you find yourself rooting for the main characters they do something so heinous there can be no redemption for it.  There is one scene in particular where the violence reaches levels not usually seen in Star Wars books.  Palpatine is not a Sith to be messed with.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book are the philosophies of Plagueis about the Sith.  Much of Sith history is talked about including many of the masters and apprentices in the Sith line from Bane to Sidious.  The beginning of the book especially reminded me of the first Darth Bane novel in that it was a Sith’s journey to reinvent the Sith.  It seems that Sith ideals change from master to master, and Plagueis is no exception.  His view on the dark side, rule of two, and midi-chlorians have a new twist and are compelling to read about.

All the talk about “canon” and “George’s vision” had me a little worried that other Expanded Universe sources would be ignored.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Almost every character, planet, organization, and event in this book has significance elsewhere in the EU.  I know that sounds like overkill, but it really wasn’t.  Luceno wrote it in such a way that if you are in the know, you would get it, and if not, you would just see them as background characters in the book.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t an advantage to having read the other EU sources., as I felt like my enjoyment of the book was multiplied because of my familiarity of the other EU material.  Here is a list of some of the EU books and comics whose stories ran parallel to, and were weaved in seamlessly into, this book.

The novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter
The short story Darth Maul: Saboteur
The novel Cloak of Deception
The comic series Darth Maul
The comic Republic #64 “Bloodlines
The comic The Stark Hyperspace War
The comic Jedi Council: Acts of War

There are cameos throughout from major and minor film characters from both trilogies.  Even fans of The Clone Wars TV series will get excited over a couple of character mentions!

Overall, I loved this book and would highly recommend it to any Star Wars fan.  I would almost go as far as saying it is required reading for anyone who wants to fully understand the machinations and politics in the Prequels.  This book clearly lays out the overall Sith plan and makes connections you would have never expected.  It leads right up to the end of The Phantom Menace, and my guess is you will never see the movie the same after reading it!

Go buy this book.

Aaron Goins