Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Terry Brooks)
Closely following the plot of The Phantom Menace, the novelization offers some minor tweaks (some examples being Darth Maul backflipping across the melting pit, and new podracers during the Boonta Eve Classic) and a handful of additional scenes to augment things that already appeared in the movies (such as Darth Maul talking to the Neimoidians before going off to fight the jedi, and expanding the scene where the Gungans and Naboo ally with each other to include depictions of the Gungan refugee camp). Most notable however, are the scenes that start the book. Instead of starting with the Jedi onboard the Trade Federation ship, it starts with two chapters devoted to Anakin before the actual starting point in the movie. The first chapter involves Anakin's last podrace, in which he is sabotaged successfully by Sebulba. The second deals with Anakin's encounter with an aging spacer, and some thoughts about his mother. A third chapter later in the novel is an encounter with an injured Tusken Raider, whom Anakin rescues and attempts to nurse back to health.
The novel overall covers the Phantom Menace faithfully, with no major exclusions. When possible, the story is usually told through Anakin's eyes, and this, coupled with three chapters exclusively devoted to him, make it much more his story than what we saw in theatres. Other characters are represented as well, with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and even Jar-Jar and Darth Maul getting several paragraphs devoted to their thoughts. One character that isn't really fleshed out (to my surprise) is Padme. I really expected her to get several point of view scenes and I can't remember any except for the battle scenes at the end (which do nothing to explain her character). The extra scenes are alright, the podrace probably being the best of the bunch. The Tusken Raider scene was fairly obvious foreshadowing of events to come in Episode II and it will be interesting to see if the author of Episode II references this scene at all when Anakin is savagely murdering a Tusken Village. It felt like the second exclusive scene was a bit unnecessary though, if only because what is outlined there (Anakin's hopes and dreams, love for his mother) are re-visited time and again throughout the course of the novel.
Not much to add here, Anakin is very much the star of this version of The Phantom Menace, and you do learn a good deal about what he wants and who he is. The author sometimes repeats himself needlessly in explaining Anakin's motivations but overall Anakin is done very well. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are very interesting in the book, when the council is determining whether Anakin should be trained or not, there is apparently a rift between the two that I completely missed in the movie. Darth Maul is characterized as best as could be expected, unfortunately he is a rather one dimensional character, and the scenes from his perspective could generally have been more effective from Sidious or the Neimoidians point of view. Jar Jar remains completely awful and the point of view scenes with him serve to make him even more insufferable, I would've definitely preferred to have gotten more inside Padme's head as opposed to having Jar Jar think about what a screw up he is and etc.
Overall the prose was good, the author does a credible job of making both podracing sequences come to life, and I never really felt like something (except for a handful of minor characters that I assume were modeled differently during the first drafts of the film) was described contradictory to what we saw in the movies. The writing for the character's thoughts was clear and easily understood, if not particularly eloquent. The author does have a tendency to gloss over action sequences however. This tendency definitely is what I remember most about his writing style and it significantly impacted the conclusion of the story. During the fight with Darth Maul, the author focuses less on the intense fighting and more on Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon's thoughts during the fighting. He essentially tells you the Jedi are over matched (because they think it) instead of showing you (because Darth Maul almost kills them several times). There is no mention of specific sword play and only action in its vaguest terms during this sequence. The other duel scene in the novel is significantly less entertaining, because, like the movie, it focuses less so on Qui-Gon fighting Darth Maul and more on Anakin running into the ship and getting help.
I would have a hard time recommending this novelization to anyone who didn't enjoy the Phantom Menace (most people I suspect). My favorite scene from the movie (the final duel) is not nearly as well done in the book, and, while the characterizations are nice, they aren't exactly essential to understanding why certain characters do what they do. The book is done fairly well, but it isn't going to salvage the Phantom Menace for you if you absolutely hated it. Recommended only to prequel trilogy fans and also to fans of Anakin.