Author E.K. Johnston discusses her new book, why its central characters mean so much to her, and much more.
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: Did you pitch Lucasfilm to write a Padmé book or were you approached about writing it? I’m also curious if handmaidens, specifically Sabé, were always going to be a big part of Queen’s Shadow or if your involvement led to more handmaiden content.
E.K. Johnston: Funny story. Back in 2014, when I decided to go for it and see if I could get a Star Wars book, the series I wrote a pitch for was called “The Queen’s Hands.” So. You know.
StarWars.com: The majority of Queen’s Shadow takes place between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Your first Star Wars book also involved filling in a time gap for a major Star Wars character -- in that case Ahsoka Tano. Was it easier or harder for you to find the voice of Padmé than it was for Ahsoka?
E.K. Johnston: This is going to sound so ridiculous, but while Ahsoka’s voice was easier for me to hear (literally!), Padmé’s voice is…already mine? Like, she’s been a role model since I was a teen, and sometimes when I was writing, I had to think things like, “Is Padmé doing this because it’s a Padmé thing, or a ME thing? OR is it a me thing BECAUSE it’s a Padmé thing?” It certainly kept me on my toes.
StarWars.com: What places did you go for research on Padmé and her handmaidens -- just the films?
E.K. Johnston: I have the Naboo RPG guide [Secrets of Naboo] from back in the day, but honestly the most useful source I had was Battlefront II. You see quite a bit of Theed in that game. And there are, shall we say, other reasons as well. Basically, any story that involved Operation Cinder was great, so I drew on Shattered Empire, as well.
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 from The 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: With this book we now have so much more information about handmaidens -- from their training to their names. Do you have a favorite bit of handmaiden lore you created for Queen’s Shadow?
E.K. Johnston: I am quite fond of the name-changing tradition, which, in my head, extends to other queens choosing names to honor Padmé after she dies.
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.
StarWars.com: Queen’s Shadow is also packed with familiar characters from the Senate including names fans of the films will know -- Mon Mothma and Bail Organa -- as well as names fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will recognize. There are also a few surprising locations different characters travel to which I think will delight Star Wars fans. How did you go about picking which senators and planets to include in this story?
E.K. Johnston: I re-watched a few Clone Wars episodes and asked if I could elaborate on an already existing event, rather than create my own. I don’t mind coming up with my own ideas, of course, and I got to do that too, but every time Star Wars lets me fill in a blank, I’m going to do it.
I picked the Ithorians by default when I typed [non-humanoid alien?] into a dialogue tag, and Pablo Hidalgo gave me a species. That turned out to be WAY more useful than any of us expected, which is always nice.
StarWars.com: I don’t say this as a spoiler, but this book has a, shall we say, memorable epilogue. I’m curious if you knew you wanted the book to end this way from the beginning or if it came to you at some point along the way.
E.K. Johnston: The epilogue was the second thing I wrote. The first sentence of the book was first.
Watch E.K. Johnston on tomorrow's episode of The Star Wars Show!
See StarWars.com's guide to the handmaidens of Naboo.
Star Wars: Queen's Shadow is available now.
Amy Richau is a writer, lifelong Star Wars geek, and diehard Denver Broncos fan. You can find her on Twitter @amyrichau and more of her writing on FANgirl Blog.