“Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?”
It’s a question Sheev Palpatine asks Anakin Skywalker in The Revenge of the Sith. Of course, Anakin’s answer is no. As was ours, until the novel Darth Plagueis by James Luceno was published in 2012, revealing the details about this enigmatic and very powerful Sith Lord.
The moment Palpatine uttered his name in that movie, Plagueis became part of the canon for all time, escaping Disney’s purge of the expanded universe (now dubbed Legends). Unfortunately for us, the novel didn’t make the cut (having been published before Disney’s acquisition). Nonetheless, there’s reason to hope that Plagueis’s history, or some form of it as told in the book, will survive into canon stories and — perhaps even — an upcoming TV show.
Who Is Darth Plagueis?
As we find out in the novel, Plagueis was born under the name Hego Damask. His was a planned birth, engineered by a Bith Dark Lord named Tenebrous (also known as Rugress Nome). Plagueis was a Muun, which means he was tall and gaunt with a thin body, an elongated head, and a hairless cranium. Like most of his species (and his family), he was into banking. Unlike most of them, he enjoyed traveling. And dabbling with the Dark Side.
Early on in the story, Plagueis succeeds his dark master when the Bith is killed on an Outer Rim planet. He consolidates his family holdings and becomes a preeminent member of the InterGalactic Banking Clan. Through the clan, Plagueis goes on to fund many of the pre-Clone Wars era strife. He makes deals with gangsters and geneticists as well as getting involved in energy and mining projects. His interests also find their way into politics.
It’s in this sphere of influence that Plagueis first discovers Palpatine. The young lad is rebellious and pensive and is so blocked off from the Force that Plagueis can’t tell whether Palpatine is the apprentice for him or not. But Plagueis is a patient Muun. And very gifted at moving events along. As the prompted events unfold, it becomes clear that Palpatine is definitely the one to join him.
Revenge Of The Sith
Following in his master’s footsteps, Plagueis carries the burden of a plan devised by Tenebrous’s master. That Sith had lifted the veil, the one that had kept the dark order hidden from the Jedi for over 800 years. The intent was to force a confrontation. While that master didn’t live to see his work done, Plagueis reimagines it, intending to draw the Jedi into a trap. Part of that trap is to widen the veil and allow the Jedi to learn more, piquing their interest and forcing them to make mistakes.
The broad strokes of the plan we know from the prequel movies. It involves backing the Trade Federation and allowing it to gain traction in the Senate. It requires a flashpoint on an outlier world, one that will cause enough of a bother to get the Jedi’s attention and to create voting blocks in the Senate. As Palpatine’s home world is prime for that and Plague’s apprentice is aiming for the chancellorship, the pieces fall into place.
The only problems: Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin. Qui-Gon is too full of the living Force and is a wild card, especially when it comes to Anakin. Thankfully for the Sith, he’s felled by Darth Maul. Anakin, however, continues to vex them. Neither Plagueis nor Palpatine can determine if he’s been created by the Force to help them or hinder them. And the only opportunity Plagueis has to interview the boy is blocked when Qui-Gon intercedes on Coruscant.
Nonetheless, the plan moves forward. Qui-Gon is killed, Anakin becomes a hero. Palpatine is elected chancellor, and the Republic tips inexorably toward dissolution. With the Sith on their way to winning, Palpatine takes the opportunity to execute his own plan. Taking advantage of his master’s inebriation, he kills him, thus placing himself as the master Sith.
Canon And Legends Collide
Much of what’s in Luceno’s novel is unlikely to become canon. Which is a shame. The book may be heavy on politics and have multiple characters and groups to follow, but it does an amazing job of explaining the history to the prequel movies. It provides a thorough backdrop to the Star Wars universe, with tie-ins to Jabba and Gardulla’s fight, the rise of the Black Sun and Deathwatch, and face time with arms dealers and behind-the-scenes Jedi like Sifo-Dyas.
Yet, already we’ve seen some rewriting. In the Queen’s series (Queen’s Shadow, Queen’s Peril, and Queen’s Hope by E.K. Johnston), the succession of Naboo’s royalty is retconned, potentially leaving out Ars Veruna. Veruna is named king in Darth Plagueis and is met with a horrible yet important demise at the hands of the Sith. While it’s still possible for him to exist in canon, it appears his reign has been diminished.
Also in Johnston’s novels, Palpatine is described as the Sith Lord during the events of The Phantom Menace while in Luceno’s novel, he’s still the apprentice. But perhaps most damning — Luceno worked with LucasFilm quite heavily in preparing for his book and did so with direct notes from Lucas himself. It’s even possible that the characters of Snoke and the cloned Palpatine might have been intended to be Plagueis reborn.
Not all hope is lost, however. There’s still a chance that the TV series, The Acolyte, might include Plagueis. It’s still possible for him — and his immense work with midi-chlorian manipulation — to be included. The timing of the series corresponds with the years Plagueis was at his height, so either expect him to be a major villain or barely mentioned.
It’s interesting, though, how The Mandalorian has begun to look at cloning and the roots of that technology. It could be for alignment purposes — to provide a direct link to the sequel films — or it could be a continuation of what began with Plagueis and the Kaminoans. If so, that would be an awesome thread connecting The Acolyte to The Mandalorian.
Another possible mention of Plagueis could come in the third wave of the High Republic. That series is expected to take readers up to the beginnings of the prequel films. As such, Plagueis is likely to feature in some way. As that series has been focusing on the Ro family, Plagueis would at best be a late reveal. Maybe tying him to the Path of the Open Hand?
Rating Darth Plagueis
While the novel is a thick read, it’s worth the effort. Even though Luceno throws in the kitchen sink, all the detailing is incredible. It oozes with Star Wars scenery, providing plenty of locations and characters that are engaging and memorable. Especially appreciated are the changing points of view. The early descriptions from a droid’s perspective were quite effective as were later episodes of the Sith acting like animals.
Darth Plagueis is a worthy read, regardless of its status as canon. Its take on the dark side is spot on, as is its explanation of midi-chlorians. Unlike in The Phantom Menace, when the topic is awkwardly mentioned, here the science is at the forefront and fits in like a Star Wars version of The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Hopefully LucasFilm will do the readership a solid and make this story part of future tales. It’s a masterpiece that deserves more recognition and assimilation.
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