ith eight simple words, Quarsh Panaka forever married the identities of Padmé Naberrie and Queen Amidala, and the newly coronated ruler began her reign as monarch. E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Peril takes us from the day of Amidala’s election through the harrowing Siege of Naboo and allows us to witness the bravery and evolution of Padmé alongside her cadre of loyal handmaidens.
Following the success of 2019’s Queen’s Shadow, Disney Lucasfilm Press elected to bring Johnston back to further expand Padmé’s history, and wow are we glad that they did. Fans of Queen’s Shadow will be happy to discover the return of all of their favorite handmaidens on an even grander scale. Queen’s Peril endows Sabé, Rabé, Yané, Eirtaé, and Saché with individual purpose, skill, and motivation in a way that simultaneously highlights their unique personalities while also solidifying them as an unstoppable unit.
This book takes all of the pros from its predecessor and sees Johnston expand them tenfold by breathing richer lives into her characters, increasing the volume of storylines through multiple points of view, and filling its reader with an uncontrollable desire to watch The Phantom Menace.
Beginning with the moments leading up to Padmé’s discovery of her impending coronation, Queen’s Peril weaves a sense of tension and stakes throughout the story. Given that the book ends with the full story of the cinematically breathtaking Siege of Naboo, it could have been an easy trap for the rest of the novel’s hijinks and escapades to pale in comparison.
Unsurprisingly, E.K. Johnston deftly avoids such a misstep.
Peril weaves continuously through plotlines of political intrigue, galactic war, intimate friendship, and the realities of adolescence. While you never forget the fact that Palpatine is lurking in the shadows as a perpetual puppetmaster thanks to Johnston’s expert analysis of his plans (the best Palpatine writing in the Canon for my money), you can’t help but find yourself just as intrigued about the way Yané will weave the Queen’s new gown or how quickly Sabé is able to make the change.
Because we see the world through the eyes of the characters, and to them, there is no discrepancy between the importance of a trade meeting on grain subsidies and the thrill of sneaking out of the palace to go to a concert. While many books trick their audience into picking unavoidable favorite plotlines and scenes, Queen’s Peril never sacrifices the quality of its storytelling in such a way.
Additionally, the story as a whole reads as a beautifully cohesive tail of the pressures of political office and the demands of growing up as a teenage girl. Never once did I forget about Padmé’s age as I flipped through the pages, but I couldn’t help but wish every modern political system would take some notes as I did so. The aforementioned meetings about grain trading were tense and interesting, because the stakes were real to Padmé, and her dedication bled through the ink on the page.
Finally, the incorporation of multiple character storylines in Queen’s Peril is an absolute stroke of genius. These occasional diversions to check in on other characters like Senator Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and the #couplesgoals Panakas were akin to hot fudge atop a delectable Sunday. Too much and you may find yourself overburdened with sweetness, but applied delicately, and they enrich the base beautifully.
And so they did. These added character beats elevated the story of Queen’s Peril beyond that of a simple story of a single protagonist into a tale about the galaxy precariously balancing on the brink of bloodshed.
A remarkable amount of Canon material has relied on character-focused narratives, and Queen’s Peril happily adds its name to that list. Despite the praise I heaped upon its plot in the paragraphs above, it can’t be denied that the true strength of Queen’s Peril lies within the characters themselves.
Johnston highlights this focus in the very structure of the book by separating the novel into five major sections. Each section begins with an unnumbered chapter where we see Captain Quarsh Panaka recruiting each handmaiden from her original place of employment, artistry, or education. These interludes allow us to witness these women separate from Padmé in a way that we’ve never been able to before, and the results had me even further solidifying my compassion for each one.
“We are powerful, Captain. Even if it’s not the kind of power you are accustomed to.”
Although Queen’s Shadow introduced us to each of the handmaidens in Padmé’s security force, the precursor to this book still found its main conflict and character moments within the experiences of Padmé herself. While Peril is likewise an undeniably Padmé-centric novel, the other handmaidens are given much more time to cement themselves as individuals, and the results will have you actively searching them out during your next rewatch of Episode I.
And that is one of the best parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, isn’t it? With every piece of EU material that you consume, you are offered the opportunity to slightly alter your future viewings of the films thanks to the new information you receive, and Queen’s Peril takes that opportunity and runs faster than you could ever imagine.
Do you think the handmaidens all look the same? Now you know the purpose. Do you think their names all sound the same? Now you know the purpose. Do you wonder why Padmé and Sabé had such a low voice when wearing the face of the Queen? Now you know the purpose.
E.K. Johnston uses the pages of her book as editorial tools to affect the scenes of the film from which she gained her inspiration, and what could better exemplify the EU than that?
Additionally, Johnston further extends her exemplary record of character inclusion by incorporating previously established LGBTQ elements into her main squad. Seeing characters like Sabé, Yané, and Saché discover queer romantic proclivities without the stain of prejudice and fear was as refreshing as it was exciting, and hopefully that unquestioned acceptance will resonate just as deeply with all of Peril’s readers.
When writing about a specific story or plotline that is already intrinsically familiar to readers and viewers, it can be difficult to create a thrilling narrative that is filled with original concepts. After all, you don’t want to abandon the preexisting locations and characters that your readers are excited by, but at the same time, you need to infuse your tale with surprises and tension.
So what do you do? That’s right. You expand.
And that’s exactly what Johnston does on every level in Queen’s Peril. We may know about Naboo, but we may not know about the entirety of the Chommell sector. We may know about Padmé’s electoral victory, but we may not know about the ceremonial exchange of power between the queens of Naboo. We may know Sabé’s general arsenal of skills, but we may not know what instrument she played at the conservatory.
In these ways and a multitude of others, E.K. Johnston truly lives up to the promise of the Expanded Universe within each chapter of Queen’s Peril. Familiar technologies are intermingled with unknown political maneuvers, and even Palpatine’s nefarious schemes we know by heart are given further depth by additional scenes that let us explore the sick and twisted layers of his mind and soul.
Furthermore, Johnston continues her mission to highlight the importance of traditional femininity in storytelling by emphasizing the importance of Padmé’s extensive wardrobe and the aesthetic skills provided by each handmaiden in the party. The skills first established by their meetings with Panaka during their interludes come fully into play during moments of intense turmoil and anguish, and the ways in which they overcome adversity is as unique as any story I’ve ever read in the Canon.
I mean...where else in the Star Wars universe can you find an improvisational loom becoming a key element of fascist rebellion?
Johnston effectively marries these ideas of innovation and expansion to create a world that is at once all her own and also an exact mirror of the one created by George Lucas over two decades before.
Throughout Ahsoka and Queen’s Shadow before this, E.K. Johnston has shared with us her ability to craft characters that feel much more like old friends than fictional protagonists. The inner monologues of Ahsoka and Padmé revealed characters that were able to ride the line between inspiring strength and touching vulnerability, and through the actions surrounding them, we’ve witnessed growth, maturity, and evolution.
With Queen’s Peril, Johnston has reached a whole new level.
The choice to create an army of protagonists in the early stages of teenage discovery is one ripe with possibility, and Johnston tackles those opportunities with a combination of gusto and respectful restraint. Padmé, Sabé, Rabé, Yané, Eirtaé, and Saché are highly trained security agents, but they’re also marvelously authentic teenage girls.
They’re awkward around their crushes.
They get demoralized when they fall short.
They help each other through their first periods.
They get scared when machines invade their homeworld.
They have arguments and misunderstandings.
And they form bonds like few could ever imagine.
It is within each of these small moments that Johnston shows her exceptional skill as a writer, because she makes us feel as though we are in the room witnessing these intimate moments where true friendships and lifelong relationships are born. Whether you’re a teenage girl now or you’ve never been one in your life, you’ll feel a genuine connection with every one of these girls, and you’ll miss them when you close the cover.
However, Johnston’s thorough character work comes close to being overshadowed by her incredible leap forward in her ability to write action and spectacle. While her previous novels shone brightest in quiet moments of introspection and discovery, Queen’s Peril contains a few scenes that are positively epic.
The entire sequence featuring the Siege of Naboo races by page by page as Padmé storms the throne room while battles rage on every front. Chills roll down your spine as you witness Maul’s preparation for the upcoming battle, and your heart bursts out of your chest when...well...I won’t spoil it for you here.
Johnston’s ability to balance tender discovery with blood-pumping adrenaline is on full display in Queen’s Peril, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen from her before, and it bodes wonderfully for the publishing future ahead of her.
This book is ridiculously fun.
From the time I finished the opening prologue to the moment that I read the final sentence, I had a smile on my face and continuously found every opportunity that I could find to keep reading. The writing style gripped me, the story content enthralled me, and at the end of the day, I just wanted to keep hanging out with these characters.
In addition to all of the fantastic story points laid out in the earlier sections, this book also features a number of lighthearted moments where it emphasizes just how much fun it can be to rule a planet with your best friends. The best example of this lies in a sequence where the girls effectively pull off a heist to sneak out to a late night concert, and you can practically feel the teenage adrenaline as they execute their plan to near perfection.
And this book features a number of moments just like that. Moments where you want to cheer, laugh, and even cry just like you would if you were in the theater, and that’s what makes the entertainment value of Star Wars books so unique.
Because you can visualize the palace they’re walking through. You’ve seen it before. You can picture the dress Amidala dons as the Trade Federation descends. You’ve seen it before. And Queen’s Peril takes that nostalgic love we have for The Phantom Menace and sprinkles it liberally throughout the book to give you that sense of joy and excitement you had the first time you saw Padmé take the planet back.
This is a story of war. This is a story of conflict. But this is also a story of joy.
Queen’s Peril takes the literary baton from Queen’s Shadow before it and enhances Shadow’s strengths in every conceivable way. The plot is exciting and varied, the characters are magnetic and three-dimensional, and The Phantom Menace itself is transformed into an entirely new narrative before your very eyes.
Perhaps no character has been expanded more in recent Star Wars media that Padmé Amidala, and after reading Queen’s Peril, I still hope that her story is just beginning.
For more Queen’s Peril news, check out my recent interview with author E.K. Johnston where we talked about her favorite characters to write, her legacy as a Star Wars writer, and the undeniable joy of podracing.
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