Shadow of the Sith by Adam Christopher is a Star Wars novel with an almost impossible task. The book’s remit, which becomes clear within the introduction and only gets more obvious thereafter, can be summarized generously as capitalizing on the enormous realms of story potential suggested but unexplored by 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Less charitably, the book aims to make The Rise of Skywalker make sense. Whatever your feelings on the Skywalker Saga’s most poorly reviewed entry, few would dispute that the film leaves a large number of plot threads to be explored, from the story of Rey’s previously unnamed parents to a quest apparently undertaken by Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian in search of a Sith assassin. Shadow of the Sith grabs a fistful of these loose threads and tries to tie them together – and surprisingly, the result is a tidy and immensely enjoyable bundle.
The novel’s success is grounded in solid and effective character work. Much of this focuses on Lando, here in a place that Star Wars has rarely put him: frustrated, on edge, and more than a little desperate. He is still the smooth-talking rogue audiences have known since The Empire Strikes Back on the surface, but below this, the character is utterly haunted by the abduction of his daughter, a development scrapped from the final cut of The Rise of Skywalker but still canonized by the film’s surrounding materials. Christopher does an excellent job of balancing both Lando’s familiar personality and his new, upended status quo as he sets out on a new adventure with the potential to at least redeem the loss of his family or even, he fervently hopes, mend it. The reader’s foreknowledge that the latter cannot come to pass adds a weight of tragedy to his journey – a common theme of the novel as a whole.
Indeed, perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the novel comes in its treatment of another pair of protagonists: Rey’s parents, Dathan and Miramir. When The Force Awakens launched the Sequel Trilogy and established the mystery of Rey’s parentage in 2015, very few would have predicted that their story and even their names would ultimately emerge in a novel set between trilogies and released two and a half years after the saga’s conclusion. The revelation that Rey’s (then-unnamed) father, Dathan, was in some unexplained manner the ‘son’ of Emperor Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker was deeply controversial with many fans, myself included, as was the manner in which the character’s story was left almost entirely untold, his ending alone shown and then fleetingly – while Rey’s (also unnamed) mother, Miramir, received almost nothing at all. It is a tremendous credit to Christopher then that both of these characters emerge fully formed within the pages of Shadow of the Sith. This certainly includes dutifully filling in their background for the canon-obsessives – including more details on how exactly Sheev Palpatine had a son anyway, despite hardly seeming like a great romancer. More importantly though, Christopher manages to make both Dathan and Miramir feel vividly alive, drawing the reader’s sympathies and allowing them to forget any cynicism or skepticism around their very existence. This is no mean feat given that their ultimate fate is the one element of both characters that is preordained, and here again, the book is able to turn what might have been a limitation into a terrible sense of dramatic inevitability.
If this all makes Shadow of the Sith sound like a Shakespearean tragedy, that’s because it never pretends to be anything else. Positioned as a transition between the Original Trilogy and the Sequels, the novel fully embraces its status as a ‘middle act’ and leans heavily into foreshadowing the coming doom throughout, while still telling its own distinct story with a beginning, middle, and end. Yet the ominous tone never threatens to overwhelm the journey or to turn it into a slog, and after a relatively slow start, the pace intensifies steadily throughout into a series of chases and near misses which have the reader on the edge of their seat even as they know already what some of the outcomes will be. Christopher also manages to lighten the mood somewhat through the shrewd use of memorable antagonist Ochi of Bestoon, who oscillates rapidly between almost comically pathetic and genuinely creepy in his cultish devotion.
There are certainly elements that hold the novel back somewhat. If characterization is Christopher’s greatest success, then it wavers most noticeably with Luke Skywalker, who spends much of the book sidelined on what feels like the book’s least consequential sub-plot, as though the author knew his presence was required canonically but wasn’t entirely sure what to do with him. He is never poorly written, but he is also not given the opportunity to undergo the same sort of character journey as Lando, Rey’s parents, or even Ochi. Similarly awkward are many of the book’s plentiful action sequences, which in the second half especially can feel perfunctory, as though Christopher feared the reader’s attention was not being held by the plot and wanted to break things up for a time. These are not significant issues, but they are the more noticeable for how effective the rest of the novel is.
Writing a novel that fills in the earlier stages of a story already finished onscreen is difficult; doing so when that film inspired an, at best, mixed reaction from a fanbase as famously passionate as Star Wars fans is even more so. Given these tricky circumstances, Shadow of the Sith is nothing less than a triumph, feeling like both a crucial chapter in the overall saga and a fine read in its own right. Christopher ultimately succeeds in producing that rarity of franchise media: a prequel book to a film that ends up dramatically more interesting, coherent, and enjoyable than the film itself.