Book Review: The Phantom Menace

  • Author: Terry Brooks
  • 283 Pages
  • Published in 1999
  • Legends**
  • Novelization of the film

What It’s About:

I’m guessing that if you’re here, you’ve at least seen the movies, so I don’t need to go into detailed plot summaries. In brief, The Phantom Menace begins the Prequel trilogy with the introduction of Anakin Skywalker as a young boy, a slave on Tatooine with special gifts. We also meet Qui Gon Jinn, a Jedi Master, and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. They’re on a mission to negotiate a solution to the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo, a planet ruled by a young queen, Padme Amidala. Instead, it turns into a battle between the Naboo (with the Gungans) and the Trade Federation (orchestrated by Darth Sidious, aka Senator Palpatine); between the Jedi and the Sith apprentice Darth Maul; and between Anakin’s hopes and dreams and his fears.

My Thoughts:

One of my favorite things about the novelizations of the movies is the extra scenes that are included, scenes that add to our understanding of the characters or plot. Sometimes the deleted scenes from the films are put back into the book. In this case, I believe the book was put out before the movie, the last time such a thing was done; these days, the movies come first, then the book, to prevent some major spoilers.

Anyway, there were a few extra scenes in the Phantom Menace that I enjoyed, such as:

  • The book begins with Anakin podracing, the one that he never finished because of Sebulba’s cheating. We immediately get a sense of Anakin’s talents, of his knowing beforehand what may happen, of his becoming one with the podracer and the moment.
  • After the failed race, Anakin and his friend go into Mos Espa to buy some sweet drinks, and they come across an old spacer who tells the kids about his adventures as a pilot. Anakin tells him he wants to be a pilot someday too, but his friend, Wald, scolds him and says he can’t because he’s a slave. The spacer tells Anakin, “Well, in this life you’re often born one thing and die another. You don’t have to accept that what you’re given when you come in is all you have when you leave.” The old spacer further inspires Anakin in his dreams.
  • A really interesting, and fairly important scene that was added involves Anakin and a Tusken Raider. On the way home from an errand for Watto, Anakin encounters a wounded Tusken Raider. Instead of ignoring him, Anakin helps the Tusken until his people return to bring him home. He senses the Tusken’s fear, and realizes that he, Anakin, isn’t afraid. He isn’t afraid of anything. Is he? Thinking about it, he realizes the only thing he’s afraid of is if something happened to his mother. This scene foreshadows later events in AOTC, when his mother is kidnapped by Tuskens and dies. The irony of his kindness here is underscored later by the violence and hatred he unleashes on the Tuskens, an act that pretty much seals his fate to the Dark Side.

Another thing I liked was getting into Darth Sidious’ thoughts, especially concerning the history of the Sith. I got a bit of insight into how the Sith formed, what happened to them, and why there are only two at any one time now. I’ve never read any of the books about this, and some day I might (I’ve heard good things about the Darth Bane trilogy), but this little exposition helped me understand their history to some extent.

I also loved getting into Qui Gon’s head, as he’s a favorite Jedi of mine. I love how he focuses on the Living Force rather than being too preoccupied with the Cosmic Force; it heightens his compassion and leads him to Anakin, which changes the future of the galaxy in undeniably important ways. His thoughts on the Force, on Anakin, on his apprentice Obi-Wan are insights into his character that make the book a joy to read for me.

Another focus of the book that isn’t in the movie is Anankin’s dreams. One dream he has is vague, amorphous and frightening, suggesting he’s seeing a possible future for himself. In another, he sees Padme leading an army into battle (the Battle of Naboo). Anakin’s thoughts are often on Padme; he’s clearly enamored with her, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree for a nine-year-old. I understand it’s meant to show Anakin’s love-turned-obsession for Padme early on, but it’s kind of…weird.

There’s a scene on Tatooine, after Anakin wins the podrace and before they leave for the ship. Another boy accuses Anakin of cheating to win the podrace, and Anakin, enraged, attacks the boy and they fight. When Qui Gon separates them, he asks the other boy if he still thought Anakin cheated, and the boy replies that he does. When they walk away, Qui Gon says to Anakin:

“You know, Annie [it’s so weird it’s spelled this way rather than Ani, but whatever], fighting didn’t change his opinion. The opinions of others, whether you agree with them or not, are something you have to learn to tolerate.”

It’s too bad Anakin never really learned that lesson.

Rating: 4 out of 5 lightsabers

**I had been under the assumption that the movie novelizations are canon, but it’s not so. Since the OT and PT novelizations were written before 2014 (when Disney took over), they’re now considered Legends. The movies are canon, but not the novelizations. Go figure.

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