Terry Brooks,
Star Wars:
The Phantom Menace

(Del Rey, 1999)

On Tatooine, one of the most popular sports is podracing, in which a small pod is dragged along behind two engines bound together by strands of energy. The sport is fast and dangerous and it is engaged in only by non-humans, for humans do not have the necessary reflexes.

Except for Anakin Skywalker. Anakin is a pilot and a pod-racer, even at the tender age of nine. And even though he has never even finished a race, he knows that someday, he will not only finish, but win. His secret ambition is to leave Tatooine behind and see the stars. When he meets an old spacer who tells him that someday he will do just that, he knows it for the truth. The only problem is that Anakin and his beloved mother are slaves and if they try to leave the planet, sensors in their bodies will explode, killing them.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, the Trade Federation has invaded the planet of Naboo. When the Federation attempts to assassinate Qui-Gon Jinn, the Jedi Knight sent to mediate a peace settlement, and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi escape to the planet's surface. Rescuing the Queen and some of her people from the occupying forces, they decide to make for Coruscant, the capital planet of the Republic.

Unfortunately, their ship has been damaged and they cannot reach Coruscant. Instead, they land on Tatooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker at the shop of his owner, Watto.

Not much more of the plot can be told without giving away bits of the story. Suffice it to say that Anakin helps the Jedi and they in turn help him.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is, of course, a novelization of this summer's most anticipated movie. Unlike many movie adaptations, however, this is not merely a thinly-veiled screenplay with a few "he saids" and "she thoughts" thrown in to make it look like a book. Instead, it is a richly-patterned novel that adds depth to the movie.

It does not begin where the movie does, but introduces Anakin Skywalker first, and it continues Anakin's story, sandwiched between scenes concerning the Jedi. When at last the Jedi land on Tatooine, the two plot lines are seamlessly woven together.

Terry Brooks is most famous for his Shannara series. The writing here is cleaner, with much less "purple" (overdone) prose. It is nonetheless still vivid, especially if one has already seen the movie. And, as an added bonus, it gives some depth to Standard Movie Bad Guy Number 12 -- Darth Maul!

One interesting item emerges in the book. In the movie, there is a moment on Tatooine where Obi-Wan says, in what seems to be rather un-Jedi-like terminology, "Why do I sense that we've picked up another pathetic lifeform?" That speech strikes a harsh chord in the movie, one that is never explained. In the novel, it is actually a reference to a previous conversation between Obi-Wan and his master Qui-Gon Jinn, and makes much more sense in that context. I suspect that the original conversation ended up on the cutting room floor.

Another improvement in the book over the movie is that Jar Jar Binks is actually intelligible. After reading the book, I think I will be able to make out his dialogue the next time I see the movie.

I would recommend seeing the movie before reading the book, though, as they are just enough different that the movie might then be a disappointment -- which is not to say that they end differently, but there are scenes in the book that do not appear in the movie, mainly everything that happens to Anakin before the Jedi land on Tatooine.

Criticisms of the movie cannot really apply to the novel, as Terry Brooks was working with material given to him by an outside source. Whether or not you liked the movie should not apply to the book (a friend of mine, for instance, despised the movie, but loved the book). Give it a try. I think you'll find it as enjoyable as I did and a fine addition to the Star Wars universe.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 22 June 1999

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