Last year I reviewed the novel Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston (author of Star Wars: Ahsoka) and admitted that while I found it to be well-written, it just wasn’t for me. In the two decades since Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace first hit theaters, I’ve never found myself wanting to spend much more time with Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens, and that book was almost entirely dedicated to those characters’ experiences between the Episodes II and III of the larger Star Wars saga.
Now Johnston has penned a sequel/prequel to Queen’s Shadow entitled Star Wars: Queen’s Peril, which rewinds time a few years to period prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, as Padmé is being elected queen of Naboo. This effort is shorter and breezier than its predecessor, and offers the writer an opportunity to play with more moving pieces than that book, but it also sacrifices quite a bit of narrative cohesion in exchange.
We follow Padmé’s head of security Quarsh Panaka as he recruits all of her handmaidens, and then we get to know all of their individual quirks and personality traits as they learn to get along with the newly elected queen and each other. They formulate and execute their own decoy strategies, often to Panaka’s frustration, and attend to their governmental duties, all while navigating the difficulties and drama of being a teenage girl– right down to the nitty-gritty biological challenges that period of one’s life would present (pun intended).
Fortunately for the entertainment value of this particular novel, Johnston also periodically checks in with other active players on the galactic scene in the months leading up to Episode I, including Senator Sheev Palpatine and Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, among others I won’t spoil here. These interludes go a long way in helping to keep the book from being as dry and uneventful as Queen’s Shadow was, while simultaneously setting up the dominoes we know will eventually fall later on in the timeline.
Disappointingly, a little over halfway through Star Wars: Queen’s Peril, the story catches up with the beginning of The Phantom Menace and what follows becomes merely a half-hearted episodic recontextualization of moments and scenes from that film, interspersed with a similarly undercooked examination of what life was like for Naboo citizens and state officials in the internment camps set up by the Trade Federation during its occupation of the planet. Consequently, the finished book feels more like an outline for itself than a truly fleshed-out novel. I wouldn’t necessarily fault the author for succumbing to this pitfall, however, as I’m already beyond impressed at the sheer amount of content she’s managed to wring out of what amounted to a handful of seemingly identical background characters initially invented to serve as body-double duplicates of Natalie Portman.
I also want to note that this book deals with some mature themes (like the PTSD after-effects of torture) and on one occasion uses language that I wouldn’t have expected to see in any Star Wars novel, let alone one that is ostensibly directed at young adults. For that reason I would probably recommend it to older teens and above, but only ones who are already deeply invested in Padmé and her royal entourage and want to learn even more about what makes them tick than they discovered in the previous entry. Though it gets off to a decent start before devolving into an alternate-perspective rehash of Episode I, as a whole Star Wars: Queen’s Peril ultimately feels like a mish-mash of lackluster ideas that struggle to make some of the franchise’s blandest characters interesting.
Star Wars: Queen’s Peril is available as of Tuesday, June 2 wherever books are sold.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.