By George Bate
The one and only Padmé Amidala gets the spotlight again in the third installment of E.K. Johnston’s trilogy titled Queen’s Hope. The latest novel marks an improvement over its predecessor in telling a narrative full of intimacy and political intrigue that promotes inclusivity in Star Wars more than ever.
Queen’s Hope takes place during the early days of the Clone Wars and follows Padmé as she balances her roles as a wartime senator and a newly wedded wife. As Padmé tackles a secret mission, her handmaiden Sabé takes on an unexpectedly prominent role as she is exposed to the horrors of war beyond the battlefield.
In the prequel trilogy, Padmé’s journey is largely told in service of Anakin’s, something The Clone Wars television series changed somewhat with several Padmé-centric episodes. However, never has Padmé played such a center role in canon as she has in E.K. Johnston’s trilogy. Indeed, upon concluding Queen’s Hope, it’s evident that Johnston has told the most comprehensive Padmé tale to date. After Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril, it still remains so interesting to live inside the head of Padmé as she navigates tumultuous political territory at such a young age.
Queen’s Hope is a novel that fits in the political thriller genre far better than the action genre, which makes for a particularly captivating adventure for readers to go on. There certainly is action, but the primary focus of this novel is the political landscape of the galaxy in the early days of the Clone Wars. The prequel trilogy’s emphasis on politics received mixed reception upon its release, something that is unlikely to happen with this new Padmé novel. In a literary format, Johnston is able to spend time with the characters and delve deeper into themes of corruption, loyalty, and sacrifice using the grand political makeup of the Star Wars galaxy as an exciting backdrop. In particular, as the entire trilogy has done, Queen’s Hope excels in detailing the political situation on Naboo, which, in many ways, is the centerpiece of the prequel trilogy era.
The political themes and Padmé-centric story afford Johnston plenty of opportunities to deepen the Naboo senator as a character. A pacifist faced with a galaxy-wide war. A woman in love with a man all reason and convention suggests is ill-advised. Padmé’s journey is truly unlike any other character in Star Wars, something Queen’s Hope showcases prominently.
Queen’s Hope mirrors many Star Wars comics and books by adding emotional depth to events that occur in the films. The Invasion of Naboo in The Phantom Menace, for instance, is mentioned fleetingly and in rather matter-of-fact terms in subsequent prequel films, but really feels like a lived, experienced event with genuine implications as it’s depicted in this novel. Emphasizing this point, Johnston writes, “‘What do you want, Neimodian?’ Padmé asked. She was surprised at the venom in her voice.” The trauma and violence inflicted upon Padmé and her people is evident and clearly still felt, making the Invasion of Naboo and other events feel so grounded. It is seemingly menial lines like this that are sprinkled throughout Queen’s Hope that make going back and watching the prequel films all the better. It is a testament to Johnston’s ability to craft such an emotional story with depth to her characters that it changes the way in which the feature films are viewed after reading this novel.
Beyond Padmé, Queen’s Hope also follows her handmaiden Sabé, who played prominent roles in the novel’s predecessors. Sabé is a particularly interesting character to explore now as she has found new life in Greg Pak’s Darth Vader comic series for Marvel set in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Knowing where this character ends up amongst The Amidalians makes highlighting her character in Queen’s Hope all the more interesting. Sabé also offers the reader insight into what it feels like to be in the queen’s shadow for so long and how taking on such responsibilities hinders her individuality. Sabé is endlessly loyal, but this does not mean she is unaffected by her role as a handmaiden and what is required of her. All in all, it’s great to see Sabé continues to play a prominent role in this concluding chapter of the trilogy.
Also of note in Queen’s Hope is its unprecedented attempts to promote inclusivity and representation. From Sache and Yane’s relationship to groundbreaking characters that appear, Johnston is clearly committed to making the Star Wars universe feel more welcoming than ever. Let’s hope this is an influence on Star Wars projects to come as the meaningfulness of such representation cannot be underestimated. Johnston opens her novel with a lyric from Ava Max’s ‘Kings & Queens’ reading, “To all the queens who are fighting alone: Baby you’re not dancing on your own.” From the very beginning, feeling included, represented, and not alone are key parts of this novel, something Johnston should be applauded for.
Queen’s Hope concludes leaving a surprising number of threads being unresolved, perhaps leaving the door open for future installments. Despite this, the novel benefits from particularly touching asides, especially one featuring Shmi Skywalker and Cliegg Lars, and the audiobook narrated by Catherine Taber (the voice of Padmé from The Clone Wars) is excellent.
E.K. Johnston caps off her Padmé trilogy in intimate and emotionally resonant fashion with Queen’s Hope. A novel that benefits from prioritizing political intrigue over action, Queen’s Hope delves deeper into the mind state of Padmé than ever, offering plenty of opportunities to grow the character and reappraise her previous appearances in canon. The political thriller narrative is enthralling as Johnston intelligently explores themes of trauma, loss, and loyalty. Queen’s Hope also breaks ground with its attempts to promote inclusivity and representation in the Star Wars universe, collectively making for a powerful installment in the Star Wars canon.
Queen’s Hope is available wherever books are sold April 5th.