Star Wars, Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: April 21, 1999
When casting about for an author to novelize the script for The Phantom Menace--the first in a series of three prequels to the eternally popular Star Wars saga--it's no surprise that creator George Lucas called on Terry Brooks to novelize the biggest science fiction movie of all time. After all, Brooks is a perennially bestselling epic fantasy author whose Sword of Shannara is a classic adventure story, not far removed from the swashbuckling exploits of our favorite Star Wars heroes.
Brooks handles the job of modern mythmaker well. He deftly juggles a hodgepodge of characters: a young stately queen (Amidala) and her handmaidens; a pair of Jedi knights (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn); a bumbling amphibious sidekick (Jar Jar Binks); two Sith Lords (Darths Maul and Sidious) who add more than enough menace to the mix; a couple of familiar robots (C-3P0 and R2-D2); a teeming host of Senators, Chancellors, diplomats, warrior droids, and spies; and one young slave boy who aspires to be a Jedi knight (Anakin Skywalker). With cinematic prose, Brooks brings to life a number of epic battles, skirmishes, and dogfights in space--all the elements that we've come to expect from a rousing Star Wars installment. The Phantom Menace doesn't stray far from those expectations: there is a clear division between the good guys and the bad; good things come in small (and surprising) packages; and heroes lose battles only to emerge victorious on another day. But Phantom does illuminate in ways the other installments didn't. For the first time, we get a glimpse at the whys and wherefores behind the curtain; at times the book reads almost like a sociopolitical thriller as the emerging Federation shuffles for power with the waning democracy of the Republic. The Force is also further illuminated. Turns out it has something to do with "midi-chlorians"--microscopic life forms that live in the cells of all creatures.
The Phantom Menace is a fun read, sure to satisfy Star Wars junkies young and old. And don't forget: turn your light saber off before you enter the swamp or you'll fry your energy pack. --Tod Nelson