Darth Plagueis by author James Luceno, describes the rise of Darth Plagueis, the Master to Darth Sidious/Palpatine. his discovery and “mentorship”. It’s provides a great narrative that describes the source of Plagueis’ power and how he wields it to manipulate the galaxy to his own ends.
Unlike Palpatine, he developed galactic-level power through a vast business enterprise spanning all industries, legitimate or not. He kept a low profile rather than having a very public one like Palpatine.
Mostly though, this book follows Palpatine’s rise and how he managed both his political career as well as his Sith Training. It gives a glimpse into some of his younger days and shows his growing political career.
The story covers a time period 67 years before the Battle of Yavin (i.e. Episode 4) until around 32 years before the Battle of Yavin (i.e. just after the end of Episode I).
Perhaps the most interesting element to this story is learning about “Darth Plagueis The Wise”. He was a powerful Sith who used his power and strength in the Dark Side to fuel his focus on knowledge and wealth. He’s a very different type of Sith than we have seen. Though he craves power, he goes about it on the peripheries of the powerful. He generally avoids direct action in politics and instead keeps to himself in his personal compound. He enjoys his interaction with the Jedi though and takes a liking to a pre-Dark Side Count Dooku.
Through his pseudonym – Hego Damask, he controls a rather private financial enterprise funding everything from new ship building projects to gambling on Malestare. Through his machinations, he attempts to seed discord between systems that create instability in the Republic. It is through these efforts that he encounters and fosters a young Naboo aristocrat named Palpatine.
What most interesting about this book is that it gives a reasonable background on the relationship between Sith Master and apprentice. It is a rather dysfunctional and unstable relationship and a stark contrast with that of the Jedi. There are traditions and training methods that would seem very un-Jedi like (which is the point). We also get a glimpse into the passions and ambitions of these beings and get an interesting take on what motivates them.
From a Star Wars Saga perspective, the most interesting element to this book is the introduction of Palpatine as Hego Damask’s apprentice. He finds Palpatine on Naboo as a young politically-active college student. He befriends and employs him to provide somewhat important information back to him.
He pushes him to understand his “true nature”. Through his ministrations Palpatine finally falls into the depths of his passions in a brutal and disturbing manner (won’t give this one away). It is from there, Plagueis is able to take him as his apprentice and servent and push him to learn about the Dark Side of the Force.
This element to their relationship was a very telling part of their relationship that I think provides insights into how to think about the relationship between the Sith. In the episode of Star Wars Rebels Gathering Forces , Ezra makes a connection with the Dark Side when confronted by The Inquisitor. It is this connection to the Dark Side when our will is weak when hate can overtake your destiny. Darth Plagueis provides a great insight into this dynamic and its consequences.
What it takes to be a dictator
The most humorous element of the story is seeing how Palpatine managed to appear as both politician and as Darth Sidious. Even a Sith Lord can’t be in two different places at the same time. His machinations of appearing in multiple places in short order under two identities while remaining incognito is both masterful and silly. It’s a part of the story of corruption and manipulation that is necessary for simultaneously managing a political takeover and a separatist coup.
Acknowledgement of the rest of the Star Wars Universe
One critical scene of the story does a reasonable job connecting to the rest of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. If you can imagine a Mos Eisley Cantina-type of scene that depicts a large room on Coruscant filled with Jedi and politicians that play central roles in other stories. It’s an interesting shout-out to these other storylines that intersect around this same time period. This isn’t unique among EU stories, but I thought this was a creative way to weave it into the broader narrative.
What other cameos are there?
There’s a number of other important characters that arise in this film. The most prominent being a tangential role for Darth Maul. As this book covers the time period through Episode I, there are many references to this film’s plot through the latter parts.
Dooku, obviously, appears, but so does Qui Gonn Jin (his Padawan) and Syfo Dyas. There are also several intersections between Qui Gonn and Obi Wan through several of the interactions with the Episode I plot.
What I didn’t like about this book was the ending. Without giving too much away, it’s the same ending to one of my all-time favorite Oscar-winning films. There’s certainly a meaningful parallel between the two stories, but it just seemed really lazy. Writing is sometimes like that, but I was put off by this.
Overall this book gives a great interweaving a many facets of the Star Wars Universe while simultaneously providing a more in-depth tale of the Emperor’s motivations in his rise to power. While the story is not cannon (though Darth Plagueis is), it serves as a critical guide post in the Expanded Universe. I certainly recommend this book for someone who loves Legends/Expanded Universe stories, but are an affinity for the feature films.
There’s even a rumor going around the internet that Plagueis plays a significant part in The Force Awakens. Although Palpatine said that Plagueis had been killed, the back cover of the book gives an interesting quote:
“Plagueis was the most powerful Sith Lord who ever lived. But could he be the only one who never died?”
This is a strange quote for a story that ends with his “death”. Since I try not to believe in rumors, it would certainly be an interesting way to tie in the Prequels and the Original Trilogy into a new take in these newest episodes. If true, this story may provide an extra layer to the new trilogy as well.