Old Friends: Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, C3P0, R2D2, Obi-Wan Kenobi
Synopsis: The is the first episode to the originally planned 9 episode story conceived by George Lucas so many years ago. Taking place 32 years before the first movie that introduced us to the Star Wars galaxy, it chronicles the rise of Palpatine, introduces us to the Jedi Council, and to the young Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although there are 2 more movies to follow this one, this one begins the story and fills in some blanks.
Review: For those who have not seen the movie, here is a quick recap of the storyline: 2 Jedi Knights are sent by the Jedi Council to negotiate a solution between the planets young Queen and the Trade federation, who have blockaded Naboo and are planning an invasion. Unfortunately the Trade Federation has no intentions to negotiate and the Jedi wind up on the planet surface. Here we get our first look at Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans. Yes, Jar Jar is annoying in the movie, but he isn't quite as bad in the book.
On Naboo, the Queen is rescued, and everyone sets off to Coruscant, only to be diverted to Tatooine for repairs. And we finally get to meet the young Anakin Skywalker. There are 3 set pieces that are not included in the movie, but are featured in the early part of the novel; the Pod Race that Anakin did not finish; a meeting with an old Spacer ; and an adventure out in the Dune Sea with the Jawas and Tusken Raiders. These 3 quick diversions add a little to Anakin's back-story.
Of course, the Pod Race is described, and done pretty well. The battles that take place on the planet surface and in space are detailed nicely and the duel between the Jedi and the Dark Lord of the Sith definitely has an edge to it that is well translated from the screen to the page. Terry Brooks has done as good a job as anyone could turning the George Lucas screenplay into a novel. The Jedi Council meetings are interesting and seeing the younger Yoda is a surprise, since he is so much more aged by the time we get to Dagobah.
Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done to save alot of the dialogue, and the Anakin Skywalker character is much too youthfully portrayed for this readers taste. Knowing where this story will end up in 32 years makes the characterization of Anakin not as believable as it should have been. But we can't blame Terry Brooks. The very visual descriptions of the Gungan underwater city, and the battle with the Droid army is well told. And the introduction of the Sith Lord and his Apprentice, while we are prepared for it, still has a sinister undertone.
Granted, the movie wasn't all that great, but it, and this book, are kind of like Vector Prime and The New Jedi Order. It is not great, it is certainly not up to the caliber we are used to in some of the following stories, bit if you want to have a handle on what happens next, you might as well read it.
Title: The Phantom Menace