It’s not the movie, that will come at some point, I’m lazy like that!
Cover Art By: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Written By: Terry Brooks
I think it’s important before I get into the meat and potatoes of The Phantom Menace that my loyal readers, or reader as the case may be, understand my philosophy on multiple platform releases. I don’t hold one against the other, every medium is different and thus every release in a new medium is its own entity and deserves to be judged on its own merits. Generally speaking the only time I will reference any other variations of The Phantom Menace is when I’m letting you know that some aspect of the story struck me but I’m going to cover that in one of the other variations. Hope that clears everything up and makes my stance on adaptation and the like very clear, let’s roll.
Ah, here we go, in whatever iteration you choose to highlight The Phantom Menace represents a keystone moment in the Star Wars saga. The eras are built around the films, and their various adaptations, but we aren’t hear to discuss the film, this is the novel The Phantom Menace we shall be looking at. As a small example, it is for that reason that my hatred of midi-chlorians shall remain stored away for another day. But, it is important that you realize why The Phantom Menace is such a key marker in the Star Wars timeline, a fact that I don’t think the reader quite gets from the novel itself.
Terry Brooks is not an author I am familiar with, and while I know a novelization isn’t the best way to judge an author, I’m not sure I want to be more familiar with his work after the experience of The Phantom Menace. He has an incredibly plain style, it’s beyond simple, I found myself struggling to stay interested in the story at every step. Even the action scenes are rote and by the numbers and incredibly hard to become vested in. Maybe he is more varied in his other work, but in The Phantom Menace Brooks created a barrier between myself and the material right off the bat and I was never able to get past that barrier.
There were some moments where I found The Phantom Menace to be intriguing. Most of these were of the philosophical bent, and in those moments I’m not so sure that the credit belongs with the story material as much as it does my inane need to dissect everything put in front of me with what I already know. That being said, there were a few instances where Brooks presented a moment of interest. One such moment was early in the novel when Anakin Skywalker lends aid to a Tusken Raider. I’m quite confident Mr. Brooks had no idea what awaited Anakin in Attack Of The Clones, but that scene plays out like a stroke of genius. It is eerie to take in, knowing what will one day transpire it is a very sad moment, one of the only times when The Phantom Menace carries any sort of gravitas.
I feel like my thoughts are a jumbled mess in regards to The Phantom Menace. I can only concur that this is due to two things, 1) I am in general a jumbled mess of incoherent thought and 2) the novel was one giant jumbled mess. At about the middle point of The Phantom Menace I realized that the reason the novel wasn’t making an impact on me was the great disconnect in the stories being told. Tatooine feels completely separate from Naboo, while both feel miles away from Coruscant. That action never feels like it belongs alongside the politico aspect and vice-versa. A novel should never create a disconnect between the reader and the material, but lo and behold that is exactly what The Phantom Menace does.
Another area where there is a great disconnect is in the idea of Anakin and Shmi Skywalker as slaves. If they were to be slaves then make them slaves. Based on all we read it’s actually a darn pleasant life they lead, comfortable and normal, with living conditions that a lot of non-slaves would kill for. The slave issue isn’t helped any when Anakin first meets the travelers from Naboo in Watto’s shop. In that meeting Brooks goes out of his way to paint Anakin as a frightful slave about to be beaten any second. The rest of the novel goes against this portrayal, showing Anakin and Shmi as more than willing to stand up to Watto, never fearing any malicious reprisals from him and in general having cordial relations with him. The entire Anakin as a slave facet of the story is a debacle from start to finish and should have been made either harsher or removed altogether.
Before I run out of ranting steam, or review steam if you prefer, it’s time for everyone’s favorite part of my site, when I get all philosophical. I kid of course, I realize that when I take a deeper look at some of the ideas presented it pisses off a great number of fans, but thought and looking deeper into life are your friends, don’t ever forget that.
The first aspect I’d like to get into is, as usual the Jedi. In this case it is one specific Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn. It may be a small thing to some people, but the scene where he influences Watto’s chance cube is darn big in my eyes. If you really stop and think about it, it’s a dastardly act by Qui-Gon. Not only does he refuse to trust that the Force will allow for everything to work out the way it should, but he decides whether or not a person stays in slavery. Through his actions Shmi is denied freedom, and all because he selfishly want to make sure he gets control of Anakin. I realize Qui-Gon is a favorite of many, but man oh man are his actions with the chance cube ever the stuff of an asshole.
My next point of contention is the continued slavery of Shmi. I understand that at some point before his death, or even from beyond the grave, Qui-Gon sets forth events that lead to her freedom. But, that is only Qui-Gon, what about the rest of the Jedi? They accept into their cadre a child who they know has a mother in slavery, and they do nothing about this. I can understand not getting involved with the overall issue of slavery on Tatooine, but to not get involved when the mother of one of your members is a slave, how does that work for the group dedicated to peace and freedom?
To continue the theme of let’s gang up on the Jedi, I’m sorry but The Phantom Menace really paints them in a bad light, why would they ever consider turning away Anakin? First off you have the fact that for years prior to this point in the order the Jedi did take on older members to their order and most of them went on to be well respected members. However the main issue is that the Jedi know how powerful Anakin is, but they initially don’t want to take him in? That is as stupid as you can get. They know there are other groups out there who would gladly take on a child that strong in the Force and train him in their ways (this isn’t even taking into account the possibility that has been presented to them that the Sith are back), some of them more aligned towards the evil side of things. Despite knowing all of this they still initially refuse to train Anakin. No matter how you slice it the actions of the Jedi in refusing to train Anakin paint them as ignorant and stupid, but maybe that was the point, I don’t know.
There were some other things I was going to go all meta on, but this review is already pretty long so I’ll give it a rest and tackle those at another time. The basic gist when it comes to The Phantom Menace is that it is a very disappointing entry in the Star Wars universe. I wanted to like it, but it is thoroughly boring and very rarely engages the reader in a substantial way. The Phantom Menace is a novel you can easily skip, it’s just too bad it is such an important marker in the Star Wars mythos and thus can’t be skipped. Eh, at the very least The Phantom Menace did allow my brain to go into overdrive with the meta thinking and I always like doing that.