Oh, Star Wars! Just when I think I’m out, it pulls me back in. Although in this case, it was really the author, E.K. Johnston, that got me to read this particular bit of the endlessly-expanding SW universe. I read Johnston’s That Inevitable Victorian Thing last year, and enjoyed it. So, when I saw she had written a book about Padmé Amidala, my favorite character from the Star Wars movies, I figured I’d give it a try.
The book largely focuses on the early days of Amidala’s Galactic Senate Career, between Episodes I and II. She, along with her handmaidens, make the transition to working on the sprawling city-planet Coruscant, while still retaining the decoy system that they used to great effect in Episode I.
Despite hostile press, and continual interference from the Trade Federation, Padmé begins to form alliances and coalitions, wheeling and dealing with other senators to pass bills, make reforms, and so on and and so forth.
Ah, my friend, if you were one of those who didn’t like The Phantom Menace because it had too much political stuff, you are going to hate this book, because politics is what it’s all about here. There’s one brief space battle towards the end, but otherwise, there’s very little combat for a book that belongs to a series with the word “wars” in the name.
But then, didn’t Clausewitz say that war is politics by other means? The two are closely linked all right, and Padmé’s political jockeying is really just maneuvering in a different sort of war. A dark irony that recurs throughout the book is the knowledge that behind the scenes, the apparently-kindly Chancellor Palpatine, who does nothing in public but read vote tallies and administer procedural rules, is building an army that will sweep the entire Republic away. Like Mao, Palpatine clearly believes that true power emanates from the barrel of a gun, and renders all Padmé’s senatorial efforts for naught.
This is why Padmé’s story is so tragic, when you think about it. Here is someone who believes firmly in the ideals of the Republic, so much so that she is incapable of understanding how it is slowly rotting away.
Or is she? There are some curious things deep within the Star Wars lore, such as a scene filmed, but then cut, from Attack of the Clones wherein Padmé tells Anakin:
Popular rule is not democracy, Ani. It gives the people what they want, not what they need.
This is rather confusing, due to George Lucas’ well-known struggles with writing words. What she means, of course, is:
From this view of the subject, it may be concluded, that a pure Democracy, by which I mean a Society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths…
A Republic, by which I mean a Government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. (Federalist No. 10)
Eh, on second thought, maybe Lucas’ version is better suited to film, even if how the whole “elected Queen” thing works remains unclear.
(As an aside, I’ve been thinking about this since I was 12 years old, and my interpretation is that Naboo elects something like a planetary CEO, who holds ultimate sovereign power for the duration of their term, but is obligated to resign after a certain period. The monarchical terminology is only there because Lucas thought since Leia was a princess, her mother should be a queen.)
But I’m straying off-topic. This book is about Padmé before the Clone Wars, before her relationship with Anakin, and how she navigates the public eye as well as the corridors of power. One of her methods is the dissociative tactic by which she plays “Amidala”; essentially a role created and maintained by her and her handmaidens for public appearances. One of the themes of the book is that Padmé seems to lack a true sense of self; rather, inhabiting one of a variety of personas depending on what she needs to do at the moment. Presumably, all public figures do this to some degree, but it’s taken to a literal extreme here, considering the fact that the “Amidala” persona can be portrayed by a handmaiden as well as by Padmé.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that it is all political theater. That Amidala, with her elaborate gowns and make-up, as well as the Senate itself, are merely actors and sets on a stage, playing a distracting part while the real machinations of power grind on in the dark, shaping a fate for the galaxy quite different from what the squabbling elite of Coruscant imagines. This lends the whole book a grim tone, underscored by the epilogue set at the end of Episode III, that darkest episode of the saga.
Like I said, this really comes down to a matter of preference. If the politics in the prequels bored you out of your mind, then this probably isn’t for you. But if you liked the themes of the prequels, then you should give this book a try.