(Following: The Last Days of the Old Republic and Sword of the Clones)
The Republic is dissolving. Outright war has not become widespread: there are bursts of fighting as the Senate either massively overpowers smaller systems, or withdraws from Independent forces without doing decisive battle. Yet, the Senate is actively building its military, and building bigger ships, and conscripting more men–and doing it fast.
The Independents are the core of what will become the Rebellion. They are mostly from outlying star systems with military capability, and are geographically spread out and disunited. The Separatists are a political party: although there are among them people willing to put their lives, money, and convictions on the line, there is a noted lack of involvement from their erstwhile leader, Darth Tyrannus. This is mostly because he has been preparing to leave.
Tyrannus’ ultimate aim is to break free of the galaxy, which he believes will be inevitably overwhelmed by the Sith, and find a new place where a pure and new regime can be founded on the principles of order and freedom. And, also, where he will not be threatened by the existence of other Sith. Even in a space as wide as a Galaxy, there is room only for one Sith Grandmaster. Tyrannus would like to destroy the failed and ailing Republic, to smash it to pieces before he leaves (which will also delay any pursuit), but this is a secondary objective.
After resigning in protest from her senatorial position, Padme Amidala has joined Tyrannus, whom she hopes will protect her from Chancellor Palpatine–Darth Sidius. Years before, when she bargained for the fate of her planet, part of the price Sidius named was her first-born child with one of his apprentices. She had hoped to die honorably before this price came due…but no such luck has befallen her.
Tyrannus has great use for Padme, whose diplomatic and personal connections help him stay in command of an increasingly unstable situation. As far as the child who will become the Chosen Hero, he’s relying on a policy of patience, courtly politeness, and villainous charm.
…which is cast in an even better light since Darth Maul has been sending Padme love-tokens of his own. Expensive jewelry. Slaves. The heads of former companions. Manipulatory appendages she has shaken. Maul has never met Padme, but he has seen images of her fighting in the catacombs*, and has fallen in love with that image. In his mind, at the end of the “courtship,” he meet her, she will fight him, and he will win. As far as the rest of being a consort goes, Maul is fine with that idea, too. He is apolitically loyal to Sidius, but being the father and teacher of a prophesied hero is a tempting reward for anyone.
*(Sword of the Clones)
More to the point, Maul has been leading a strike force of unsurpassed ruthlessness and brutality. Most of them are Sith apprentices. They keep taking out Separatist-aligned or -hopeful star systems, usually via mass bombardment from orbit. They are the hammer to the Senate navy’s anvil and are hated, feared, and generally successful since the Independents’ military forces are uncoordinated and thinly spread.
Tyrannus’ / the Separatist’s project: a generation starship. Only–they are not planning on building a starship. They’re trying to retrofit a planet. (“A ship that can hold ten billion people—for ten million years. Impossible.” “Not impossible. Such a thing is called a planet.”) They have designed a Dyson Sphere that will go around a barren and uninhabited, but resource-rich planet (Tark Nembi), equipped with multiple power sources in place of a sun. The rogue planet will be propelled by a combination of solar sails and gravitational boosting. That’s the plan, anyhow, and while exciting, it’s not all that important. The important part is that this is the basis of how the Rebellion will later operate: having an existing, innovative, independent, mobile manufacturing capacity which can move from system to system, pick a deserted but resource-rich planet for a base, and create an entire new rebellion from scratch there.
The other important part is that, here and now, the resources required are enormous, and Tyrannus won’t share them. (Tyrannus also has a lot of the high-level scientists, thinkers, strategists, and leaders in his orbit–the people you would want to save from a galactic conflagration. Their movement over to the Independent-slash-soon-to-be-Rebel side is what gives it its organizational and fighting edge in the future.) Padme, what influence she still has, and all the persuasive skills she can bring to the table, is invaluable.
Meanwhile, something else troubling is happening. The leadership of neutral or unaligned star systems are being assassinated prior to takeover by Senate forces. Few reports exist but they are consistent: a heavily damaged Republic-type light craft lands under a distress code…and after that, the Senate. Some report that the ship is infected with a technoplague. Some say it is a kamikazi, smuggling planetbusters inside the planetary defense shields. Some say it is a secret weapon, modified to be heavily armed. And some say that it was only a single man.
And then, one day, a heavily damaged but recognizable Republic-type light attack craft limps into the Tark Nembi system, broadcasting an extreme distress call. Its callsign: Starkiller. Anakin Skywalker, last seen hurtling into a flaring sun in a crippled ship, has returned from the abyss. He has come for Darth Tyrannus’ head.
Anakin is someone who has always been keenly aware that he is not a good person, but who has for a long while tried. He’s tried hard. He has tried being passive, being withdrawn, being serene, and yet he still ended up caring about people, and yet he’s seen them be destroyed because of the choices they made of their own free will. Because they chose the losing side. Because they chose the weak side. Anakin–once a slave–fears powerlessness above all things. He fears being weak. He fears losing the people he cares about. For a long while, Anakin Skywalker tried to be a good person. But, there came a time, floating helpless in the depths of space, that it became crystally clear to him that the rewards of doing good were not worth the effort. The only thing that is, is power.
It does not take long for Padme to realize that she has lost the man she loved, not once, but twice. Subplot: one of Padme’s bodyguards is also pregnant and extremely worried about it. This ties in to the main plot, as Padme does not become pregnant until after reuniting with Anakin. Oops.
Obi-wan, who has been with the Independent forces (so has Bail Organa, in deep disguise as he is royalty of a pro-Senate world), turns up in good, if sneaky, hero fashion. He contacts Padme. She is wary of what Anakin will do if she disappears, but they covertly begin preparations for an en masse evac/breakout.
Opportunity is promptly provided when Anakin and Maul, common enemy gone, turn on each other. The balance of power is with Maul, who has the strike team, but Anakin proceeds to level the field. He traps the Hammer Squadron inside the atmosphere (unable to jump to lightspeed or accelerate sufficiently) and then drops/detonates the incomplete dyson sphere.
The impact is indescribable from the ground. The primary impact zone is far enough away that the rest of the planet isn’t killed instantly, but this is clearly an extinction-level event for Tark Nembi…and that’s even before an enraged Darth Maul arrives.
Anakin and Maul meet in the middle of a planetary hurricane: lightning in the sky, dust in the air, fire on the earth, men, ships, and androids dying. After a short dogfight ends with his craft crippled and spinning, Maul somehow rights its fall, climbs out of his fighter, and stalks along the shuddering flight deck, lightsaber in hand. Although Anakin might just shoot him down from above, he also lands, disembarks, and meets him sword to sword. They meet like titans and duel like gods.
The civilian Separatists, meanwhile, are getting the hell out of Dodge. Padme insists on waiting for the last ship up–somewhat delayed due there being two enemy generals sword fighting on the tarmac. [Obi-Wan wants to wait until the duel is over and then strafe the hell out of the winner. Unfortunately, Padme’s personal vessel is a diplomatic craft…unarmed.] This does mean Padme gets to see Maul, with burning eyes and blood on his lips, with his dying breath reaching out to her–and Anakin gets to see her leaving with Obi-Wan.
Fleeing through deep space, the remaining Separatist / Independent leadership discusses their options. Some Separatists consider surrendering. They’re outvoted, shouted down, and justly shamed for their credulity and cowardice.
Padme and her child–a prophesied hero–are far too valuable and vulnerable to risk….but even though she admits this, and even though she is terrified of falling into Sidius’ power, Padme refuses to remain behind while there is a chance of redeeming–rescuing–the lost Anakin Skywalker. She and Obi-Wan return to the ruins of Tark Nembi.
Anakin has been consolidating his power. With the death of Darth Maul, the remaining Sith are nominally his to command. He does not trust them, and the corrupting, tainted stench of the Dark Side that clings to them equal parts enrages and disgusts the one who was born to bring purity to the Force. He purges it, and them, mostly with summary executions (the 501st get their target practice), but also at least one batch by catching them alive in an underground bunker, collapsing it, and setting it on fire. The flames are so intense that metal liquifies and runs like lava. –this is where he duels with Obi-wan, loses, and is burned in the flames he kindled.