© 2012 James Luceno
Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the wise? ….it’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. Beginning decades before The Phantom Menace, and culminating in its end, Darth Plagueis follows the career of an ambitious Muun to realize the Sith’s Grand Plan: the downfall of the Republic, the destruction of the Jedi, and the creation of a new order presided over by the Sith alone. The prequel trilogy was driven by Palpatine’s manipulation of events to fully realize the plan, but long before that greatest of villains was pulling the strings, his master Plagueis was building the theater. A story of political intrigue and subtle manipulations, Darth Plagueis is a captivating look into the rise of Palpatine, who takes over the story even though it’s his master’s name on the cover.
According to Revenge of the Sith, Plagueis was a dark lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise that he could manipulate the Force to stop those he loved from dying. We are introduced to him as he kills his own master, Tenebrous, and devotes himself to his twofold work: continuing and perhaps concluding the Grand Plan of the Sith, and conquering death itself. Plagueis has little love for the Rule of Two, which keeps masters and apprentices in perpetual war with one another: it is his hope to create a stable order in which two share in the power, each allowing for the other’s immortality. In tapping the power-hungry and sociopathic Palpatine to be his co-conqueror, however, he….chose…poorly.
As depicted in Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
Plagueis, despite the chaos he creates, is a fairly sympathetic — the kind of villain who is courteous to waiters, you might say. He’s curious about the world, and regards the chaotic-evil of many Sith as beneath him. Young Palpatine, however engages in courtesy only as a manipulative trick: he regards himself as the king of the beasts, and proves himself in private to be The Emperor — in all his cruelty and arrogance — at heart long before he had achieved the power. Here also we see the genesis of the events of later movies — Count Dooku’s disenchantment with the Jedi order, whose total faith in their own righteousness sees them walk into blunder after blunder — and the extraordinary request of Jedi Master Sifo-Diyas that a clone army be created for the service of the republic. Even the leadership of the Trade Federation under the cringy, brainless Nute Gunray is explained.
On the whole, Darth Plagueis makes for fun reading, explaining a lot of the backstory of the prequels and giving certain characters more depth. Plagueis’ understanding of the dark side of the force is of interest, and I wonder if Luceno was channeling some particular philosophy or school of thought on Earth to inform it. There’ an awful lot of business & political manipulation here, though, making the non-Sith chapters a slow burn, and if the prologue of Phantom Menace sends you to sleep, be forewarned that there’s a lot of debate about taxation, trade routes, business privileges, etc.