If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by author E.K. Johnston (Ahsoka), then I strongly recommend you check it out at the earliest opportunity. The story details Padmé Amidala’s rise to prominence as a galactic senator, but the heart of this tale truly lies in the amazing women that she surrounded herself with on a regular basis. Fans of Padmé will love this story as Johnston masterfully highlights everything about the queen-turned-senator that makes her the galactic hero that her fans already know her to be. Those previously indifferent to the character may learn some new things about her and her entourage along the way that will change their perspective forever. Spoilers ahead…
Four years after the Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo, Queen Amidala is nearing the end of her term as monarch, and the future for the young woman is more uncertain than ever before. As Padmé awaits the results of the recent election that will decide the next queen, her loyal handmaidens discuss future plans of their own. For these servants of the queen, it’s a bittersweet beginning to a story about some of the more unsung heroes of the prequel films and how their fierce commitment to Padmé helped shape her into the political force for change that the Republic would need in the years ahead.
When the time comes to pass the torch to her successor, Queen Réillata, Padmé is still trying to decide what her next move would be, and as her handmaidens would go on to fill various other roles on Naboo, there was one in particular that would choose to be by her side in whatever venture she may undertake in the future. Sabé, the handmaiden who served as her decoy during the invasion of Naboo, has become one of her most trusted and closest friends over the years. Sabé was the one most often chosen to impersonate her as queen due to her uncanny likeness and her ability to effortlessly blend into the role of Amidala, and if Padmé is the star of the show, then Sabé deserves the award for best supporting actress.
One of the aspects of this story that completely changed my perception of Amidala was the way that Johnston depicted the handmaidens. Each of these girls, who were chosen initially based on their physical similarities to Padmé, were uniquely trained and specially skilled in ways that I never imagined. But, that’s kind of the point really. The handmaidens were an extension of the queen’s security force led by Captain Quarsh Panaka, and as such, were trained in subterfuge and defense of the queen. In The Phantom Menace, these girls appear unassuming and non-threatening, virtually blending into the background, but to underestimate their skills as a part of the queen’s guard would be a fatal mistake by a would be an assassin.
When Queen Réillata surprises Padmé with a nomination to the galactic senate, the path forward is immediately clear to her. She asks for some time to decide whether or not she will accept, but in truth, she was on board the instant the office was proposed. As a senator, she knows she could really make a difference and utilize her natural abilities in ways that she had never previously considered. Before taking the appointment, Padmé had been planning to return to Tatooine to find Shmi Skywalker and to put all of her efforts into ending the desert planet’s slave economy. Knowing that she was needed in the senate, Padmé sends Sabé to Tatooine in her stead.
With her old handmaidens having moved on, and Sabé heading for Tatooine, the senator needs a new security team – one that would be similar in some ways to what she was used to, but more suited to her new position in galactic politics. Quarsh Panaka’s wife, Mariek, who had also served her during her reign as monarch, steps in as her new head of security, while Mariek’s nephew, Typho, a decorated soldier during the battle for Naboo, also joins the team. New handmaidens are selected to accompany her, including Dormé and Cordé, who will also later appear in Attack of the Clones.
The new team is put to the test almost as soon as they arrive on Coruscant when an attempt is made on Amidala’s life. Though no evidence could be found, there is a strong suspicion that the Trade Federation may be the organization behind the attempt, as their viceroy, Nute Gunray is about to enter into his fourth trial for his alleged crimes against the Naboo. They obviously have it out for her, but for now, all Padmé can do is trust in those around her to keep her safe while she tries to find her place in the senate.
It’s a long road ahead to be sure. When the attempt on her life is unsuccessful, her enemies begin an assault on her character and reputation through the media, painting her as a naïve girl who is too loyal to her own world to have the required objectivity for her new position in the senate. Though Padmé knows that she has the interest of all Republic worlds at heart, this preconception is hard to shake given the fact that she deliberately circumvented the democratic process during her planet’s invasion to unseat Chancellor Valorum and achieve the results she wanted. The fact that her compatriot Palpatine was elected in his place also provides a hurdle for her.
Padmé knows that she needs to do two things to be successful in her new position: find strong allies in the senate and distance herself politically from Palpatine. She immediately finds an ally in Bail Organa of Alderaan, who recognizes her potential, and he eventually introduces her to Mon Mothma of Chandrila. Her new group of allies also includes some recognizable characters from the Clone Wars series like the Rodian senator Onaconda Farr, Mina Bonteri of Onderon, and Rush Clovis of Scipio (who I’m happy to say is just as cringy in this book as he is in the animated series).
Unfortunately, Padmé is not the only one struggling in her new role. On Tatooine, Sabé has spent months trying to locate Shmi with no success. She and her partner, Tonra, have been somewhat successful in freeing slaves, helping them find refuge on other worlds, but it’s not enough. She knows Padmé would tell her that their efforts matter a great deal to those they rescue, but Sabé is disheartened when she realizes that for every being freed, another only takes their place. Eventually, Sabé and Tonra are summoned to Coruscant by Padmé to secretly serve on her security force. While the rest of the team would assist her publicly, Sabé and Tonra would aid her from the shadows.
Having earned one another’s trust and enjoying the time they’ve spent together, it is during this time that Sabé and Tonra begin a romantic relationship. Tonra is as fiercely loyal to Sabé as she is to Padmé, and his ability to understand her and recognize her needs make him a perfect companion for her, so it’s only natural that their working relationship would blossom into the strong friendship that would eventually lead to romance.
With galactic piracy on the rise, Padmé understands the need to arm civilian vessels to defend against them, but this stance leads to some strong disagreements with her fellow senators and Mon Mothma especially. Padmé is a pacifist at heart, but her time as queen under assault by the Trade Federation has also taught her the value of a well-conceived defense, which sometimes required a show of force. When a massive earthquake on Bromlarch causes the planet to seek aid from the Republic, Padmé, Mina Bonteri, and Rush Clovis head to the planet to see what kind of aid would be needed.
After the motion for aid fails to pass in the senate (largely due to interference from Lott Dod of the Trade Federation), Padmé is forced to yet again attempt to work around the process to achieve the needed results. Knowing that a trade deal that would benefit multiple worlds in the Mid Rim would be hard to resist for all parties involved, she is able to work up a proposal that would allow Bromlarch the materials needed to repair their aqueduct system and ensure their survival. The size of the cooperative Mid Rim effort would necessitate that the goods involved be transported under the escort of Republic gunships, effectively eliminating the pirate threat. The motion quickly gains footing in the senate and Padmé’s first proposal passes, giving her a most needed victory and cementing her place as a valued member of the senate.
Padmé’s story ends with this victory, only to be continued six years later in Attack of the Clones. The book however, is concluded in an Epilogue that takes place during her funeral on Naboo following the death of the Republic and the birth of the Galactic Empire. Broken and confused, Sabé is determined to investigate the untimely death of her friend. Padmé’s life was cut short, and she had so much more to offer the galaxy. Looking through the senator’s notes, Sabé would find a plethora of proposals in the works, such as a recommendation to reinstate term limits on the Chancellorship, bills concerning Clone personhood, and a multitude of anti-slavery bills – all chapters in a legacy that would never be – and Sabé needed to know why. It wasn’t fair, and it didn’t make any sense.
Accompanying her on this mission would be Tonra, her former partner and lover, for whom she still had great affection, despite their separation for some time. Forming new identities and packing their things, the pair set out on their new mission, but not before Sabé is contacted by Amidala’s ally, Bail Organa. The story is ended before that conversation is revealed, but the possibilities are endless. What does this encounter mean for Sabé and Tonra? Will they join Organa in the secret formation of the Rebellion against the Empire in the years ahead? What will she do when she finds out about the child that he and his wife have recently adopted? I know if she learns the truth that she will be as dedicated to the princess as she was to Padmé, and I really hope we get to see this story further developed.
I hope that Johnston follows up this story with more tales about Sabé in the future, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a series on Disney + either. It’s anyone’s guess as to what all is in store for us in Star Wars television at this point, but I would jump at the chance to watch a series following the threads set up in this novel. With Keira Knightly reprising her role as Sabé, Richard Armitage as Tonra (yes, he played him in The Phantom Menace as well), and Jimmy Smits reprising his role as Bail Organa, who wouldn’t want to at least give that one a try? Regardless, Queen’s Shadow is an excellent Star Wars novel and character arc. Like Kyle said in his review, fans of Claudia Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan will find a lot of enjoyment in this book as well as the meiloorun doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston is available now in book stores everywhere.