It’s finally here: the most anticipated Star Wars novel in years, Darth Plagueis by James Luceno, is out today. The book tells the story of Plagueis, the Muun Dark Lord of the Sith, as he foments galactic turbulence and interstellar strife, studies the deepest and most elusive aspects of the Force, and converts young Palpatine of Naboo into the fearsome Darth Sidious, destined to become Senator, Chancellor, and eventually Emperor. As befits a story of such epic proportions, hype about this book’s contents has been gathering ever since Del Rey and Lucasfilm brought it back from cancelation. Author James Luceno is no stranger to Prequel-era tales of the ascendant Sith Order, having written such Star Wars novels as Labyrinth of Evil and Cloak of Deception. Last month, I spoke to Luceno about the process of transforming a scene from Revenge of the Sith into a novel that lays the groundwork for the entire Prequel Trilogy.
This is the second half of my interview with Mr. Luceno. You can find the first half on TheForce.Net.
When you were writing the scene where Plagueis first meets young Palpatine, how did you get a feel for what Palpatine should do and say? Did you watch any scenes from the Prequels?
I just kept toying with different ideas, different scenarios. That’s one scenario that went through a lot of revision. Once I had a sense of who I thought Palpatine could be – this kind of spoiled scion of wealth, growing up in a world like Naboo – things started to fall into place in terms of his character and what he might be into as a young person. Little by little, my sense of him began to grow. I threw out a lot more material than I ended up using for those scenes. I didn’t want to overdo it, I didn’t want to give too much about his background, because again I felt I was running that risk of humanizing him too much. There was nothing specific in the films [that I consulted], other than the fact that it seemed to me that Palpatine had to have come from a background of wealth and nobility, just based on the way that he first appears to us in The Phantom Menace in his crimson suite and with his patrician attitude. Working from that, I kept trying to look back and back and back until I finally came up with something that I felt worked.
As I read Plagueis and Palpatine’s first few conversations, I was struck by the similarities between young Palpatine and young Anakin, especially in the sense that both of them knew they were destined for something greater.
That’s one of those things that happens when you’re writing and you make these discoveries. A lot of times, an author is not even aware of what he or she is doing until the book begins to assemble itself and you can go back and find things that your unconscious was leading you toward. There is that similarity to Anakin, and I think that at the end of the book, Palpatine really sees a younger version of himself in Anakin when Anakin is presented with Obi-Wan.
The Sith are the main characters in many of your novels. What do you find especially appealing about writing them?
It goes back to this idea that, you know, a lot of actors would rather play the villain than the hero, because the villains just tend to be more interesting, to have more depth. I think that the Sith have become that area of greater depth in the Star Wars saga. I like the Jedi Order, and I like writing about the Jedi, but I think with the way that the Jedi Order has been laid out in the saga, there’s not as much to work with. Originally, I had a different sense of them when I saw [A New Hope] way back when, but when we finally got to see the way the Jedi Order worked in the Prequels, I found there was less mystery than my own imagination had been creating for them.
And it seems to me that, at least in the Prequels, the Sith are the actors and the Jedi are the reactors. So there’s more of an opportunity to give the Sith the motivation.
That’s a good way to think about it. The Jedi are in this position where they’re reacting to what the Sith are finally doing with their grand plan.
Do you think the Rule of Two was a good idea, or do you think that Bane made a mistake?
I like the idea of it. I think it’s an intriguing idea that probably worked for the first couple of generations of Sith Lords to follow Bane. But as Plagueis himself says in the book, it was destined to be overturned at some point because of the kind of power that was generated by the Dark Side. There was going to come a time when a Sith Lord wouldn’t want to step aside ever, or would hide knowledge from an apprentice. It worked for a while, and perhaps there was some point where it should have transitioned into something different. I enjoy toying with that whole notion.
You’ve written books that fall all along the Expanded Universe timeline. Do you have a favorite era?
I guess I’d have to say the Prequel era now, mainly because I’ve been in it for several novels. I think that things have been carried out maybe a little bit too far [in the timeline]. When I wrote The Unifying Force, I was sort of writing the end of an era for myself. I didn’t want to write about Han and Luke and Leia anymore after that novel – although I did in Millennium Falcon, but there was a request that I set that book at a certain time. I just don’t find as much interest out there beyond The New Jedi Order, so I like the Prequel era now.
Do you feel that the Prequel era is more closely rooted in the movies in general?
I think you touched on something. I think it’s easier to hue to the sense of the films in that era. I don’t know how many more stories can be told about the Sith on their way up. You can deal with individual Sith Lords, but there’s going to become a saturation point. I feel that way about Star Wars in general right now – that there’s so many books, there’s so many games and tie-ins, that it’s getting harder and harder not to repeat what somebody has done. I’m constantly worried about that. I read everything, and a lot of times I come up with an idea, and I’ll be reading a book by whoever, and I’ll say, “Well, there goes that idea, somebody grabbed that one.” I suppose this problem is inherent in any franchise; eventually, where do you go for new ideas?
What do you think of Plagueis, and what do hope readers think of him after reading this book?
I would like readers to come away feeling that he was a very powerful Sith Lord who unfortunately got involved with a human. I feel that humans are the most dangerous in their unpredictability. I think that he, as part of a species that’s not quite as emotional as humans, failed to read the signs in his apprentice. He didn’t understand false flattery and manipulation at the level where Palpatine was capable of using it as a weapon.
It’s interesting that you mention Palpatine’s manipulation, because I think that the way Sidious killed Plagueis in his sleep is a great metaphor for the way in which Palpatine, the consummate politician, operates to get what he wants.
From the very beginning, that was something that I tried to write around, because I thought that there wasn’t going to be a powerful enough ending in that business about him being killed in his sleep. But again, this was one of the times that George, as well as Howard, kept saying, “No, that’s what happened, you are not allowed to change that.” There was not going to be any lightsaber duel at the end, none of that. Just that very fact forced me to think hard about what weapon Palpatine was using to bring down Plagueis. If it couldn’t be a lightsaber and a duel to the death, it had to be this sense we always get from Palpatine that he’s the master at manipulating beings. I guess, by extension, you could think that that’s what he does to the entire galaxy – he just lulls everybody into this false sense of security.
Do you have plans for more Star Wars books in the near future?
I don’t have any solid plans. I have an idea which I’m still working with, and if it resonates for me a couple of months from now, I may pitch the idea.
Now that you’ve tackled Plagueis, are there any other characters who you think merit that kind of deep exploration, who we either don’t know a lot about or for whom there’s a gap somewhere in their story that you think should be filled in?
There is, but I don’t really want to talk about it. (laughs) I don’t want anybody else to grab it.
If you started here with part two of the interview, click over to TheForce.Net for the first half. I’d like to thank James Luceno for taking the time to talk to me about his work. Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is on sale now, and trust me, you’ll want to pick this one up!