“It matters which side we choose. Even if there will never be more light than darkness. Even if there can be no more joy in the galaxy than there is pain. For every action we undertake, for every word we speak, for every life we touch—it matters. I don’t turn toward the light because it means someday I’ll ‘win’ some sort of cosmic game. I turn toward it because it is the light.” — Qui-Gon Jinn, Master & Apprentice
This may be controversial, but I love the Old Republic and Clone Wars eras of Star Wars. In fact, they are my favorite Star Wars periods for the expanded universe. While the movie prequels were largely disastrous, they opened a whole new tapestry of canon storytelling—thanks to The Clone Wars animated series (if you haven’t watched these yet please do so immediately and then come back and talk to me about its utter awesomeness) as well as a number of books and comics exploring the corruption of power, bureaucracy, and half-measures that led to the collapse of the Republic and the fall of the Jedi. So, when new stories are announced in this particular era, I am always ecstatic.
Today, in celebration of May the Fourth, I give you three Star Wars stories of the prequel era—each worthy, wonderful standalones for fans of the age of the Republic.
Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston. Padmé Naberrie was Queen Amidala of the peaceful planet of Naboo—you first met her in The Phantom Menace—and now her reign is over. Her time in power is not over, however, as she is asked by the newly elected Queen to serve and represent Naboo in the Galactic Senate (the position having opened up after Palpatine was appointed as new Chancellor, thanks to then-Queen Amidala’s vote of no confidence in his predecessor). Padmé is not eager to return to life in politics, but knows it is her duty to her people—and so she continues her life of public service in the viper’s den that is Coruscant.
This is not your typical Star Wars novel—there are no big action sequences, none of the impressive acrobatics or Jedi intervention that often define stories of this era. Instead, Queen’s Shadow is a thoughtful, political origin story, showing novice Senator Padmé find her voice and firming up her ideals in a time of ever-growing darkness. If you, like me, are a fan of The Clone Wars and the depth that the series afforded Padmé, you will love this book. If you, like me, have read and fallen in love with E.K. Johnston’s portrayal of female characters in the Star Wars universe—see Ahsoka, be still my heart!—you will love this book. If you don’t know who any of these people are but want to read a thoughtful, powerful coming-into-power story about a young woman trying to do right by her conscience and her people, you will love this book. (Special bonus: if you listen to the audiobook version, you’ll find it is narrated by Catherine Taber, the voice of Padmé on The Clone Wars.)
Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott, narrated by Marc Thompson. Another awesome character who never was truly given the depth he needed or deserved in the films, Count Dooku is a tragic figure. A former Jedi—one who was apprentice to Master Yoda, and who mentored Qui-Gon Jinn, no less!—Dooku’s turn from the Jedi Order to become Darth Sidious’s right-hand man is almost inconceivable. How did he turn to the Dark side, and why? In Dooku: Jedi Lost, Cavan Scott provides long-awaited answers to Dooku’s fall by examining his past—born to privilege and wealth, but then given over to the Jedi Order once his abilities were discovered. Rising quickly through the ranks as a respected and powerful Jedi, this audiobook follows Dooku through the different phases of his life and gives us an understanding of his fears, anxieties, and fascination with old relics that are the key to his undoing.
This isn’t just Dooku’s story, though—it also is the story of Asajj Ventress, one of my personal favorite characters in the entire Star Wars universe. Dooku’s first Sith apprentice, Ventress is a nuanced, complicated character, full of anger and hurt at this particular point in her life—we see how she and Dooku become bonded as master and apprentice, and everything that comes after as she becomes his assassin. While the audiobook unfortunately does not feature the voice actors from The Clone Wars for either Dooku or Ventress, the production is still superb (and once you divorce yourself from that expectation, it’s easy to fall into the narration). Dooku: Jedi Lost is a psychological tale that dives deep into the insecurities and fears that fester and lead to the Dark side, and it’s a journey I highly recommend you take on.
Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray. Last, but certainly not least, if you had to read just one prequel-era novel, this is the book you should read. Master & Apprentice follows Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi as they are sent to help with a political dispute on Pijal, by the explicit request of fellow Jedi Rael Averros. (Like Qui-Gon, Averros apprenticed under Count Dooku and trusts in the younger Qui-Gon’s judgement implicitly.) While the Jedi struggle to understand the terrorist attacks and assassination attempts against Queen Fanry, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan also struggle with their bond as master and padawan. Qui-Gon fears that he is not the master that Obi-Wan deserves, and that he is failing his padawan.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan has a deep-seated respect for authority, for his master, but for the life of him cannot understand Qui-Gon’s motivations or instructions. (If Qui-Gon would just point-blank tell him what he expected or was thinking, Obi-Wan broods, things would be so much more clear.) Add to this, the unexpected discovery that Qui-Gon has been invited to join the Jedi Council—which would mean Obi-Wan would no longer be able to be his padawan, and Obi-Wan cannot help but feel like he’s being gotten rid of—that he has failed his master. Suffice it to say, the relationship between master and apprentice is strained. Things become even harder on Pijal, when Qui-Gon focuses on visions and prophecies and flies in the face of the rules, and the absolute authority of the Jedi Order that Obi-Wan values so highly.
Claudia Gray continues to be one of my favorite authors in the Star Wars ‘verse for her deft writing style and attention to detail—but really, what makes her books stand out so far above all others is her knack for absolutely nailing the voices of characters we have come to know and love. In Bloodline and Leia: Princess of Alderaan she did it for Leia Organa. Here, she outdoes herself with the powerful, fraught relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Calling into the spotlight some of the more glossed-over bits of Star Wars lore—like prophecies, and their importance to basically everything that happens in the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Republic—Gray isn’t afraid to examine the harder questions, nor does she shy away from confronting her characters with harsh truths. This is the book that Qui-Gon deserved.
Happy reading, and May the Fourth be with you!