There’s a saying that the books are better than the movie. That’s usually true when the book came first. It’s not always true when the movie came first. In the case of The Phantom Menace, though, author Terry Brooks manages to fill in some of the gaps and create a story with more depth than the film without contradicting anything.
The Republic has survived for thousands of years with diplomacy, so there’s no reason to believe anything will be different when Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi travel to Naboo to mediate a dispute between the Trade Federation and the planet below. Unfortunately, things are not quite what they seem. There is a Sith Lord behind the machinations of the Trade Federation, manipulating events as he sees fit. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the Jedi, the Trade Federation launches an invasion of Naboo using its Droid Army.
The planet below is a beautiful blue and green planet with symbiotic species living on the land and sea. They don’t have much contact with each other and there’s a degree of mistrust. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan sneak down to the planet’s surface with the Droid Army and run into Jar-Jar Binks, one of the Gungans that live in the oceans. He’s not a great representative for the Gungans or the people of Naboo, but he helps Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan meet up with the Queen.
The people of Naboo elect their leader, and both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are surprised to see that the Queen is a teenager. Listening to their counsel, she escapes the planet and the clutches of the Trade Federation to ask the Republican Senate directly to intervene on behalf of the people of Naboo.
Things don’t go as planned, and the party ends up on Tatooine, needing parts to repair their ship. It is there that Qui-Gon meets a young boy named Anakin Skywalker, with some very impressive Force abilities.
There are some good details added to the story that help with some of the things that didn’t seem to make sense in the film. This is particularly well-done in the case of Anakin and his background on Tatooine. Brooks also builds Jar-Jar as a more rounded character and downplays some of his more annoying characteristics.
The relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin seems to start off unevenly here. It’s more Qui-Gon than Obi-Wan that Anakin gravitates to. I don’t think Obi-Wan would have taken to Anakin at all except for his promise to Qui-Gon. I’m definitely interested in reading more of the adventures of Obi-Wan and Anakin as he was training him, especially during the Clone Wars. I was never able to really get into that animated series, but after reading the prequel books, I came away with a new appreciation for it and a desire to watch it.
I didn’t know how the pod-racing scene was going to play out in a book versus on the screen, but I have to say Brooks handled it admirably and made it interesting. I was thinking it was a part I would gloss over, but it held my attention throughout. The relationship between Padme and Anakin didn’t seem creepy at all, which it definitely had the potential to be. Here, it’s as if something is pulling them together, but neither is certain of exactly what it is. It isn’t quite an attraction, although Anakin’s feelings could be akin to “puppy love.” Padme is drawn to him in a way that wants to take care of him and watch out for him, but she doesn’t quite understand it.
Star Wars fans will definitely enjoy the novelization of The Phantom Menace. It adds enough to the movie to make the stories have more depth and better overall. I watched the film again recently with friends and I found myself telling them things that had come up in the book that added to the story. It definitely improves the film.