QUEEN’S HOPE by E.K. Johnston

Queen’s Hope (Star Wars)
(Padmé Amidala Trilogy Book 3)
By E. K. Johnston
Disney Lucasfilm Press — April 2022
ISBN: 9781368075930
— Hardcover — 280 pp.

Set during the onset of the Clone Wars immediately following the climax of Episode II on Geonosis, Queen’s Hope completes a trilogy of YA Padmé Amidala stories by Johnston. It’s an unconventional trilogy in its chronology, overlap with the prequel film canon, and its thematic focus. Also, as much as it’s been a series featuring Padmé, it’s equally been a spotlight on her retinue of handmaidens/doubles, in particular Sabé, played in The Phantom Menace by Keira Knightley.

The first novel, Queen’s Shadow, established the core exploration of Padmé’s relationship with her handmaidens in far more deeper ways than the films (or television series) could do on their own. Half of the novel directly paralleled The Phantom Menace, from the fresh perspectives of Padmé and Sabé. It then also bridged her transition from royal Queen of Naboo to being a Senator of the Republic. The sequel novel, Queen’s Peril, went back in time to relate Amidala’s election as Queen and how she selected/found her handmaidens.

In this, Padmé was revealed in it to be more than just an individual, but a team of young women working together for justice and the betterment of Naboo – and then the Republic. While Padmé’s story has been well covered through the visual media, these novels allowed fans to see some more background while also building the look-alike handmaidens into unique individual personalities. Together, their various talents and expertises were shown to complement Padmé’s, all united by a vision of hope for a better tomorrow.

Queen’s Hope chronicles how the physical partnership of this vision comes to an end, even as the hope it embodies does continue on. How the story of the Republic and the galaxy will go is of course well known. The Clone Wars series and The Revenge of the Sith chart Padmé’s path to giving birth to twins Luke and Leia, and of course her death (with its inane droid explanation of causation.) She’s going to die, and her handmaidens will go onto lives apart from her. But what happens to their hope amid that?

Johnston crafts the novel with brief passages in italics prior, in the middle, and after the main novel. One from the view of Shmi Skywalker, one from Padmé, and one from Breha Organa (adoptive mother of Leia.) Through this she makes the hope theme of the novel (and series) clear. Through the generational lines of women hope and a struggle for betterment will pass. As Yoda points out later, Luke is not the ‘last hope’, there is another. And the sequel trilogy continues that theme with Leia more to the fore (even more so planned before Carrie Fisher’s premature death) and the use of Rey as the next generation of hope.

The problem with Queen’s Hope is that the pessimism surrounding what will come becomes rather hard to surmount, particularly when there is no significant new plot or character focus in this novel to capture the reader’s interest. This third novel spends a lot of time establishing Padmé’s rather messed up relationship with Anakin – a situation that Lucas did a bad job to start with in crafting in any believable way to the character’s personalities. Johnston tries to work with this, showing how Padmé’s emotion and empathy leads to blindness with Anakin, potential darkness that her handmaidens, like Sabé, can see so readily.

The novel is disappointing in how it fails to go as deeply into the minds and future of the handmaidens, both Sabé and the others, who barely appear. Meanwhile, Padmé goes off on a secret mission tied to the Clone Wars and Palpatine’s continued rise. There’s nothing surprising or new in any of this, and the novel suffers as a result, lacking the emotional heart that the previous ones did by doing a larger dive into the secondary characters.

Here, the secondary characters appear fleetingly, with details seemingly thrown in by diversity committees, with no flesh behind them. A transgender Clone Trooper, a non-binary handmaiden: these would be great additions if they were crafted as anything more than a hollow checkmark on some list, with no development or intimacy or stake in the plot.

The first two novels remain among my most enjoyed Star Wars reads in the new canon universe. It’s in that light that perhaps I react more harshly to Queen’s Hope. Unlike those previous novels, it doesn’t seem to be able to rise above the limitations of the prequels in terms of the Padmé – Anakin – Palpatine relationship. It was fairly unbearable in the films, and it remains so. By failing to focus more on new elements and giving more on the Padmé – handmaiden links, we’re left with little.

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