E.K. Johnston supplies a riveting character study of a planetary ruler transforming into a galactic politician, as Padmé Amidala comes out from her Queen’s Shadow and finds her voice in the calm before the storm.
This article contains plot points for Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow.
Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow
Author: E.K. Johnston | Publisher: Disney • Lucasfilm Press | Design by Leigh Zieske | Cover Illustration: Tara Phillips
Normally, when a Star Wars story is characterized as devoid of action-packed battles, lightsaber duels, and Force-filled introspection, it usually comes with a pejorative connotation. Not so with Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow. In her second Star Wars novel for Disney • Lucasfilm Press, author E.K. Johnston expands on multiple themes started in Ahsoka (2016), most notably a woman in transition, at a crossroads of career and direction. With Ahsoka Tano, Johnston set the stage for Ahsoka to find her way in a galaxy transforming around her. Now, Johnston has Padmé transforming herself as the galaxy fights desperately to preserve its edifice. The result is an unapologetic character study of one of the most pivotal characters in all of Star Wars—at one of the most pivotal times in her life—whose time in the spotlight was long past due.
Queen’s Shadow is an achievement in balanced narrative, whose tonal shifts move so effortlessly that it’s easy to forget nothing happening in this story occurred by happenstance. Padmé starts the story less as an individual than the leader of a team comprising “Amidala,” the figurehead leader of Naboo, who speaks in regal monotone, always dressed elaborately and often a handmaiden in disguise. Great care is put into explaining how this team works; the functionality of courtly dress not only for disguise but also for tactical defense, the usage of makeup, the specific roles each handmaiden plays in assembling the character of queen. Johnston takes time to acquaint the reader with each of the handmaidens as well, so while Eirdé may exit early in the novel and Dormé enters later, there is a clear understanding of the mindset of the Naboo Handmaiden, as well as the sisterly (and perhaps more-than-sisterly) bonds that were formed in service of the queen. Ultimately, what got Amidala to the throne will not succeed in Coruscant, and the defensive cloud of guarded and handmaidens finds new purpose as Padmé does as well.
Given this transformation in her staff, what was once byzantine in The Phantom Menace begins to make sense, in a Noobian sort of way, as Johnston uses Padmé as a door to explore the most progressive culture in Star Wars. And, just as queens are elected but senators are appointed, the rich tapestry of Naboo’s underpinnings are uncovered. As a society that prides art, music, civics and pacifism over oration and economics, it starts to make sense that they elect young people to rule—those that are full of idealistic energy and not yet jaded by the harsh cynicism of a life of ambition. It’s obvious, then, why Padmé feels an outsider in her own culture, even after leading her people through the darkest times in recent memory. Her flair for politics, as exemplified by her rousing call of no confidence in the Republic’s Chancellor Valorum, aligns her closer to another Noobian outsider: Sheev Palpatine, who’s talent for politics is decidedly not typical of their culture. Additionally, this black-sheep kinship between Palpatine and Padmé at the outset of the novel only adds to Amidala’s mystique at the galactic stage. She’s already a divisive, polarizing figure, whose lavish garb and polished words raised many eyebrows and cause all the more intrigue as she sets out in her new role as senator.
It’s unnerving to read scenes in which Padmé is unknowingly speaking to the Sith lord who will murder her, stripping her of the will to live so his new apprentice can survive. However, this is juxtaposed by the thrill of seeing Natalie Portman and Keira Knightly off on another adventure, of sorts, as the relationship between Sabé and Padmé is deeply explored. At this moment, Sabé is clearly the most influential and critical handmaiden in the Amidala retinue, and the friendship between decoy and queen is thoughtfully portrayed. Sabé is more than a decoy, it turns out: a complicated character, one who has her own feelings and aspirations, a person who was able to stand close to the light but never embody it.
Through the Sabé character, Johnston is able to detail the delicate balance and deep emotional coexistence of Padmé and her handmaidens. There is duty and devotion, love and affection, friendship and care. However, there is also a co-dependence as well. It’s a trapping that Padmé must shed halfway into the novel in order to become an effective senator.
Ms. Naberrie Goes to Coruscant
All of this is not to say there is no plot to Queen’s Shadow; Padmé investigates attempts on her life, tries to free slaves on Tatooine, sets out to make new allies and eventually resists pirates to bring together a coalition of systems to save dying planet. All this transpires while she grows closer to plotting Rebel Alliance leaders like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, plotting Separatist leaders like Mina Bonterri and Rush Clovis, and establishes new friendships with Typho (just a sergeant at this time), and a weird mechanic known as Artoo Detoo. And while these plots play out, Padmé is left to face her own character and convictions, as she finds the skills and strategies that were successful as queen do not work well when allies and negotiations are needed to get things done.
Holding this mirror up to Padmé’s character is exactly what catalyzes her growth. She recognizes her co-dependence on her handmaidens, eventually redeploying them as political aides, rather than integral to a public persona. She sheds the elaborate makeup for a visage that accentuates her true face to earn credibility and trust in the Forum and on the Holonet. And, she learns to leave her queen’s voice behind, in favor of one full of genuine energy and passion. By novel’s end, she is no longer Amidala; she’s Senator Padmé , and can stand on her own for the good of the galaxy. It’s why Jedi Master Depa Bilaba compliments her by saying she’s not changed, but merely grown—a distinction that marks the core theme of the book.
No Time for Love, Senator Amidala
Queen’s Shadow may be one of the most well-rounded character portraits in all of Star Wars, and no character would feel real and human if there were no time devoted to the heart. Padmé may have one of the largest in all the saga, it turns out, and the fact that she is a person who cannot let go of those she holds dear rings true throughout her appearances in film, television and literature. While not pining for the little boy she met on Tatooine, she did not forget him or his mother either, and made massive but unsuccessful efforts to find Shmi Skywalker. It tracks well to find her professing her love for Anakin in the years to come, because she and Anakin may be cut from the same cloth much more than it seems. Once you are in Padmé’s inner circle, she’ll always look out for you, be it a slave boy, a handmaiden or her pilot.
However, Padmé lets her courtiers know in no uncertain terms when their affections are not wanted. There’s a poignant moment towards the end of the novel where Padmé rebukes Rush Clovis, who attempts a kiss without consent. Given how Clovis was written in the book, the scene was rather obvious. However, it’s a fine example of how Star Wars can still provide modern-day parables of right and wrong; parents should be proud if their sons or daughters learn a thing or two from Padmé.
On other fronts, gender fluidity is center stage in the Star Wars galaxy, and why shouldn’t it be? With thousands of alien species and all sorts of variation in humanoids, binary gender assignment starts to seem foolish. From romance within the handmaiden group to flirtation at Dex’s Diner, you never know who may be hoking up with who—always interesting and worth a re-read of the dialogue.
Queen’s Shadow is a unique novel among Star Wars novels, and an excellent story that adds weight and depth to Padmé’s life. Set in a time where there was seemingly little story to be told, Johnston carved out a space to allow Padmé’s character to shine through. The result is a book that examines the growth of a iconic leader, a woman who finds her true strength, and a warrior that does more with words than a lightsaber.
Joseph Tavano is the owner and editor in chief of RetroZap. Born just months before Luke found out who his father was, he has been fortunate to have had Star Wars in his life as long as he can remember. Growing up just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, he can remember substituting sticks for lightsabers and BMX bikes for speeders. He loves comics, retro games, vintage sci-fi paperbacks, and maps. Though an accomplished drummer, he doesn’t crave adventure (as much) any more, and prefers his old haunts in Salem, Massachusetts, where he resides with his family. Buy him a glass of whiskey and he’ll return it in kind.