“For years, comics, novels, and TV shows have filled in the gaps between Star Wars feature films. Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow, the new novel from Ahsoka author E.K. Johnston, focuses on the time between Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones with a special focus on Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens. While it’s no secret that Padmé transitions from the queen of Naboo to its senator, this is the first time this period of Padmé’s life has taken center stage in a new Star Wars story. E.K. Johnston answered a few questions for StarWars.com via email about Queen’s Shadow, which releases today, and the effect Padmé and her handmaidens have had on her Star Wars fandom.
Spolier warning: The article discusses details and plot points from Queen’s Shadow.
StarWars.com: Do you remember your impressions of Padmé and her handmaidens when you saw Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for the first time?
E.K. Johnston: It was my 15th birthday. I went to the theater with my friend Lydia. I had no idea what was going to happen, beyond that it was Anakin’s beginning. I remember the music starting, and the crawl, and crying because we never thought we would see Episode I flash up on screen, and here it was! But the thing I remember the most is the switch being so obvious. And I was delighted. All these grown up dudes, and NONE OF THEM COULD TELL. “We are brave, Your Highness” etched itself on to my soul, and that was that. […]
StarWars.com: One of the things fans of Padmé have been craving in new Star Wars content is more information about her family — the Naberries. How important was it for you to include some scenes with Padmé and her family in Queen’s Shadow?
E.K. Johnston: It was important for two reasons. One, I was also curious about this, and two, it helps to make Padmé even more complex than she already is. How does running a planet at 14 affect your relationship with your mum, and that sort of thing.
StarWars.com: I’m also curious if you looked at deleted scenes with the Naberries from Attack of the Clones while writing Queen’s Shadow. I noticed similarities between the descriptions you give of the Naberrie household and how that house looks in the deleted scenes. I’m curious if that is a coincidence or was intentional.
E.K. Johnston: I did. It was quite intentional.
StarWars.com: One of the things that has fascinated me about the handmaidens is how many different roles they play in the shadows (bodyguard, stylist, political counsel) — and this is even more obvious in your book. Just how much these women are doing to support Padmé in her roles as queen and then senator. How would you describe the role of a handmaiden?
E.K. Johnston: To put it briefly, they are everything and nothing, all at the same time. They have to be multi-talented, completely loyal, and have zero ego. Not only do they have to be able to step into Amidala’s shoes, they have to be indistinguishable from one another, so no one ever thinks to count how many of them there are in the room. And, when you’re a teen, you’re supposed to be figuring out what makes you unique, so the conflict and potential for character development is built right in.
StarWars.com: Going along with this, why do you think the Naboo handmaidens have such a devoted fan base?
E.K. Johnston: I mean, I liked Star Wars when The Phantom Menace came out, but as soon as the handmaidens appeared, I loved it. And I didn’t really know where to talk about it. I don’t know if this is quite universal, but I find that the girls who love Padmé tended to make their own corners of the internet to hang out in, and became communities beyond Star Wars, before they went “mainstream” on Twitter. I think that early sense of solidarity is what makes the base so devoted, twenty years on.
StarWars.com: You addressed a few things that people have criticized Padmé about over the years — I’m thinking specifically about the tone of Padmé’s voice when she was queen, which I’ve heard described as “wooden” many times. I’m curious if your reasoning for her “queen voice” came from any official Lucasfilm materials.
E.K. Johnston: That was one of those criticisms I never understood, because even when I was a kid it seemed so obvious? Someone who is going to have a secret name and a secret bodyguard and a bunch of other bodyguards following her around all the time is definitely going to have a different voice for professional settings. Leia has it when she talks to Tarkin in A New Hope, so it’s not even like it’s new for Star Wars. I don’t know what the official explanation is, so I went with common sense.
StarWars.com: You did a wonderful job of individualizing the handmaidens fromThe Phantom Menace early on in the book. How did you decide what each handmaiden would be like and what their relationships would be like with Padmé and each other?
E.K. Johnston: The first thing I did was write all their names down, except Sabé, who was always an individual in my brain, and then give them archetypes — artist, scientist, politician, care-giver. After that, I knew what they wanted, so I could build character around that. Cordé, Dormé, and Versé were a bit easier, because I already knew what jobs I needed them for after they joined the cast. I had to plan dreams for the originals, and that was a bit of challenge. […]
StarWars.com: Padmé spends a lot of time and effort trying to get people in the Senate to take her seriously in Queen’s Shadow. A man who did take Padmé seriously, Qui-Gon Jinn, is also referenced quite a bit. What kind of effect do you think Padmé’ and Qui-Gon had on each other?
E.K. Johnston: I think, in a strange way, they each reaffirmed the other’s perception of the galaxy. They’re both rebels who are deeply entrenched in a system they know isn’t perfect, but also don’t want to give up on. And they keep hoping. Even though they come at it from very different places, literally and metaphorically, they’re both trying to do good.
StarWars.com: How did you decide how to work Palpatine into the story of Queen’s Shadow? I think it’s easy to forget how long Padmé and Palpatine have known each other and how closely they have worked together in the prequel time period.
E.K. Johnston: I didn’t know how much I was allowed to use him, so I really held back in the first draft. One of my editor’s notes was “More Palpatine?” so I put him in all the scenes I had him ghosting through before, which was a delight. He is THE WORST, and therefore writing him is a blast.
StarWars.com: In addition to getting to know the handmaidens more, in Queen’s Shadow we also get more insight into other familiar Naboo characters like Captain Panaka and Typho, as well as new characters like Panaka’s wife Mariek and Queen Réillata. What was the inspiration for creating these two new characters? I’m particularly curious why you made Réillata so different from previous Naboo queens.
E.K. Johnston: I had put Mariek in the first draft, and then the first book I read after I finished that was Princess of Alderaan, so I considered myself lucky that I had already started to sideline Quarsh. Basically, Typho’s not quite old enough, and I am always looking for a reason to put more women in a story, and so: Mariek.
Réillata came to be because I wanted a queen who was different from Padmé without differing from her political ideals. The planet is still in recovery at this point, and so “experience” is a platform to run on, even if you all have the same politics. […]”