– Spoiler Review –
Star Wars: Bloodline focuses on Leia and events in the galaxy which shape things to come in The Force Awakens. As essential a read this becomes for those itching for more background details on the galaxy taking shape in the new canon, and even for making politics bearable, Bloodline is memorable and will not be easily forgotten in the years ahead due to its portrayal of Leia. It’s all thanks to author Claudia Gray, who is now more than welcomed to return as often as she can to the galaxy far, far away.
Bloodline is set 26 years after Return of the Jedi (and 6 before The Force Awakens), where the galaxy has been lulled into a false sense of peace under the New Republic’s rule and politics has turned into bipartisan squabbling between Populists (who believe individual planets should have more power) and Centrists (who want a stronger, central government i.e. like the Empire) where nothing is accomplished. Or at least that’s how Senator Leia, a Populist herself, sees it, as she’s become jaded to the political process and is worried once something goes wrong it all be too late for them. Once Ryloth, now a free and independent planet, comes to the Galactic Senate on Hosnian Prime (the planet seen being blown to bits in TFA) with a plead for help dealing with a massive crime organization threatening its system, Leia sees this as a chance to get her hands dirty and do something for a change. But she’s accompanied by Centrist Senator Ransolm Casterfo and they start off fighting each other more than the Nikto run gangs they find themselves at odds with, but as they start unraveling the truth of an even bigger and highly mysterious organization pulling the gangster’s strings, they manage to put aside their differences to uncover the truth. A radical proposal to replace the chancellorship with a First Senator, who’d have powers similar to what an Emperor might have, as well as agents of and attacks by the mystery group get in the way of their investigation since Leia’s the Populist front-runner for the position. However, when the dark secret of her lineage to Darth Vader comes to light, nothing is quite the same for her and those she cares about and Leia must press on either way to bring down the enemy threatening to destroy the peace she spent her whole life fighting for or risk see it all be for not.
In my review of Lost Stars, Claudia Gray’s previous and first Star Wars work, I felt like anything not set during events from the original trilogy were her true strength, as she managed to capture the feel of Star Wars even while weaving her own tale throughout familiar moments, and doing it at the level of such authors as John Jackson Miller and Timothy Zahn. Considering Bloodline doesn’t overlap with any film, instead itself completely full of new events, I had some high hopes for her to take full advantage of her obvious love of the saga and bring such a highly anticipated story to exciting life. Without a doubt, Gray simply did not disappoint, making a book full of political intrigue and an intimate personal crucible for Princess Leia in one of the most entertaining Star Wars books in a long time (not only of Legends, but of the new canon, too, right up there with A New Dawn).
Part of Bloodline‘s greatness comes from how well Gray replicates TFA‘s ability to make it really feel like, beyond just being able to see the cast appropriately aged, a lot has happened to our heroes since we last saw them. This is most evident in Leia’s interactions with Han (several of his lines are straight up foreshadowing for TFA), who she mainly communicates with through a screen as he’s off training pilots for the Saber races. Their love is still strong and Han’s just as supportive as you’d expect him to be despite the long distances between them, but it’s obvious being apart is what really helps keep them together. If you already picked up that vibe from TFA, then you know Gray’s doing a fine job if she can emulate that same feeling of two people who love each other but lead their own lives. On top of emulating the film’s feeling of their relationship, their conversations here add a whole extra layer of emotional punch to their reunion in TFA, especially whenever Leia is thinking about their son Ben (who is currently with Luke but out of contact…) and how good a dad Han could’ve been (who takes pilots under his wings because he can’t be a dad to his son) and how much she wants to be a mother to him as well. It’s highly likely Leia and Ben will meet at some point in either Ep. VIII or IX and events within this book set even more emotional stakes to their meeting, especially considering how Ben was omitted from learning about his grandfather’s identity until everyone else in the galaxy does. Also, Bloodline has the same feeling as TFA that the events of the original trilogy are seemingly decades away by having people misremembering facts, newly introduced characters who revere Han, Leia, and Luke much like Finn or Rey, and how quickly the galaxy forgets those character’s deeds in light of the giant family secret everyone finally learns. All in all, Bloodline does an excellent job recreating the feeling the sequel trilogy seems to be going for with the galaxy at this time frame.
And while Gray’s ability to bring SW to life in her work is readily evident on every page, what really shines here is how she handles and portrays Princess Leia. Leia has gone through a lot since we last saw her, as evident by Carrie Fisher’s return to the role in TFA, but Bloodline covers some of the events which push Leia down the path we see her on in the film. In fact, for most the book I could easily see and hear Fischer as Leia, going from grumpy, jaded Senator to grinning over the excitement of being on the front lines of the action again. But more than that, the Leia presented here is one of the more nuanced portrayals of the character since, well, the films it seems. Bloodline isn’t necessarily about her being a mother or a wife, but instead about her regaining her sense of purpose and place in the galaxy, as she currently feels as stagnated as the Senate around her. But the same young woman who overcame the personal tragedy of watching her planet being destroyed in front of her is still in within Leia, who pulls past the galaxy’s outrage of learning her lineage in much the same way to continue fighting for what is right even if no one else is willing to. We also get some cutting insight to her love of Bail Organa, who she only thinks of when she thinks about the word father, how she hopes to emulate her real mother Padmé in the political sphere, but Bloodline shows her come to terms with Vader’s redemption arc and the piece of Vader within herself.
The latter parts are some of my favorite from the book, as it’s interesting to see Leia believe Luke about Anakin’s return in Vader’s final moments, but not quite understand it. Her experiences with Vader are vastly different from Luke’s, as she feels Vader took pleasure in watching her suffer by making her witness Alderaan’s destruction or how terribly he tortured her aboard the Death Star (which plays off Moving Target‘s brief scene of torture and her thoughts on how to deal with it). How can a man who’s done so many horrible things ever have any good in him, especially since she never felt? How she comes to terms with that, as she struggles with her own anger and what it means for her actions, breeds some of the most insightful Leia work to date. And when she finally understands, just maybe, how good intentions can lead to dark deeds and paths, it sets not only the stage for her acceptance of the past but also to give her the right mindset to confront her fallen son in the sequel trilogy’s story ahead. Likewise, the novel gives us a clear and understandable reason for Leia’s break from the New Republic to form the Resistance, as she’s the only one willing to look at the cold hard facts and face the truth of war being inevitably on its way. While this book fills in some much desired background info on the events within TFA, you’ll find yourself staying for the deep and memorable look at Leia, who I hope Gray gets to write more of in the years to come.
But Bloodline isn’t all about Leia (though I wouldn’t have minded one bit) there are several other key players, including Greer Sonnel, Joph Seastriker, the aforementioned Ransolm, Centrist Senator Lady Carise from Arkanis, Senator Tai-Lin Garr, gangster Rinnrivin Di, retired Imperial officer and Amaxine warrior Arliz Hadrassian, and Senator Varish Vickly to name a few. The biggest supporting roles go to Greer, Joph, and Ransolm and each one of them I look forward to reading more about. The way Gray introduces us to Ransolm intentionally sets us up not to like him, as we see him through Leia’s jaded and distrusting eyes first and foremost. While not completely surprising, it was entertaining and utterly intriguing to watch how the two of them get over their party’s ideologies and personal differences to become true and trusting friends. They both bond over their desire to see the government become useful again as well as over dark stories from their past which include hardships at the hands of the same man: Darth Vader. Their friendship makes one believe they could honestly start building the bridge between their parties and bring order and responsibility to the New Republic’s indecisive and stagnant political process, but Leia’s family secret (especially considering Ransolm’s tale about his homeworld) shatters the bond slowly growing between them throughout the novel. However, the way in which they manage to mend it, at least to the point where they can trust one another again, is one of the more heartwarming tales in the novel. It might be too little too late though, as Ransolm’s story ends with him sentenced to death, thanks both to his own actions and having been set up by the mysterious forces who are angered over his and Leia’s part in halting their grand plans from reaching fruition. Gray previously left the story of Thane and Ciena in Lost Stars at crossroads as well, both an enticing and frustrating habit that simply begs for more story and makes me like her as an author even more: not too often do you see authors brave enough to leave the fates of their characters in flux or not exactly in a happy ending (in fact, there are several events with in the book’s final chapters that could certainly classify the ending anything but happy).
Greer and Joph both have just as entertaining and as well fleshed out stories as both Leia and Ransolm do, and while Joph is highly entertaining as a comic relief at times (outside of Threepio), Greer’s is the more intriguing tale. Having won the Junior Sabers (those space races Han’s a part of, who took her under his wing for many years), she suddenly quits and is given a job with Leia in the Senate. The hints hide in plain sight, but they’re so cleverly placed by Gray it’s still a bit of a surprise when the answers for her departure of the racing scene comes. That she continues on in the face of such an impairment is but a hint of the strength of her character, making her a capable and determined mind that I can’t honestly wait to see more of. Joph, as I mentioned before, is a lot of fun to read, as his constant yearning for excitement causes both tension for the other characters and excitement for the reader. He’s also quite integral to helping Leia find a fighting force for her Resistance and not seeing him in TFA begs the question on what’s happened to him since. On top of these two, Lady Carise and her role in both the grander scheme of the mystery group and revealing Leia’s family secret make her a character to despise, though thanks to Gray’s writing she’s one you almost like to despise. It was clear from the beginning there’s more to her than meets the eye, but Carise’s love and near-reverence for outdated nobility (the Great Houses) is both an eventual problem for Leia and Carise’s own satisfying downfall…for now.
The novel’s espionage trappings involve Leia and Ransolm looking into the low-tier gangster Rinnrivin Di’s sudden rise and control of an organization that would make the Hutts jealous at the height of their power. They quickly uncover his up-tick in wealth is being funneled to fund a paramilitary organization know as the Amaxines, but even that group seems to be ewoks compared to the amount of money whoever else besides Rinnrivin or the Amaxines are taking. That means there’s a whole other mystery group (as I’ve mentioned a few times in this review) really behind everything, and as anyone can guess, it’s the First Order slowly gaining power. Hiding behind these other groups, skimming off their profits, is a very sensible and smart system for how they’ve been gaining funds to bring themselves to the military might and power we see them have in TFA (like making Starkiller, for starters). Bloodline reveals they were looking to make themselves known a little earlier and in a much different way to the galaxy at large, but thanks to Leia and crew they delay the First Order’s plans for a while. The covert political backing of the First Order in the Galactic Senate doesn’t come with many surprises (it certainly isn’t the Populists), but outside of Ransolm the novel almost makes it seem like every Centrist is in on it (though it’d be pretty surprising considering how hard it’d be to keep a secret with so many people in on it that were public figures). Either way, this is the background information many have been looking for, at least in regards to the First Order.
Here are a few other things:
- If I had to knock the book for something, it would be how it’s almost too coincidental with certain plot points. For instance, the moment Casterfo uncovers a lead about Rinnrivin Di having relay satellites over Ryloth, Leia and Joph happen to be on the planet to do something about it or the one day Joph and Greer visit her homeplanet to uncover potential leads on how to infiltrate the Amaxine group someone happens to be talking about them. There are several more and while none of them are deal breakers and only slightly noticeable on first read-through, they were certainly more apparent on the second one.
- It’s pretty crazy to consider Luke, Han, and Leia managed to keep the secret so long and were the only ones to ever know about their family lineage to Darth Vader and that the galaxy didn’t know they’re Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala’s kids (while it’s also clear no one yet knew Anakin was Vader until the truth is revealed in the book). On top of those secrets, nobody seems to know Palpatine was a Sith, which might sound like a silly secret to keep, unless they’re doing so to prevent the galaxy from being fearful of Force-sensitives in general, as they’d probably not want to allow anyone with Force-sensitivity to be part of the government again.
- Leia mentions that Luke and Ben haven’t been communicating back for awhile now (which makes you wonder if Ben’s already turned against Luke and his Order, hence the blackout) and Luke’s seemingly not taken a very active role in the galaxy with his Jedi. Even though it’s sad Leia’s been out of contact with both of them, it’s almost nice to know it’s been 6 years or less since Ben’s turn by TFA, considering Leia knows nothing about a Snoke here and by the film she certainly does. Also, the theories that Rey is Luke’s kid/could’ve been a kid from one of his Order’s members who hid her away once Ben turned seems to be thrown out here because she was 5 when dropped off at Jakku and at the time of Bloodline she’d be 13 already. To further mess up either theory, why drop her off at such a young age if nothing that bad is happening at the moment?
- There are a few characters who appeared in TFA that are in Bloodline, including Korr Sella, who’s role was diminished in the final cut of the film but can be seen on Hosnian Prime moments before it blows up and here the start of her aide work for Leia is seen; Dr. Kolania, who is looking over Greer here and is seen nursing Chewie’s ego at the Resistance base in TFA.
- It’s important to note that while several new characters in novel don’t appear in TFA, as we’ve learned twice now thanks to Ahsoka Tano, just because they aren’t in a movie doesn’t mean they’re dead.
- Carise’s homeplanet, Arkanis, was the center of the final Servants of the Empire book, which takes place during Star Wars Rebels‘ timeline. In it, Zare Leonis infiltrates the Imperial Cadet program to uncover what happened to his sister, who was whisked away once she joined as well. His investigation takes him to Arkanis, where a Commandant Hux (yes, General Hux’s father) is breeding a different type of trooper not necessarily loyal to the Empire (which becomes the backbone of the trooper program for the First Order). Bloodline mentions the Commandant briefly.
- While Aftermath and its author Chuck Wendig have basically been under siege by a small contingent of fans since the novel’s release over the inclusion of not only a gay character, but for some background or side characters to gave gay parents, Gray nor Bloodline has gotten any flak (that I’ve been aware of, as I don’t fly in the circles were the distaste for inclusion hides) for Joph having two mothers. Let’s hope it stays that way, as Star Wars is only going to continue to be inclusive…as it should be.
- While it was only in mention to who has trained Leia in the ways of sabacc, it was nice to see Lando Calrissian’s name again, who has been questionably absent from this era so far.
- Towards the end, there’s a cameo-level appearance of Senator Ro-Kiintor, who was first seen in Before the Awakening (in Poe’s section) and is alluded to in the latest Poe Dameron comic issue. Talk about synergy.
- Claudia Gray wrote a little piece of fun in-universe propaganda about campaigning for Leia to be First Senator.
- In a nice little nod to the planet she created for Thane and Ciena as a homeworld in Lost Stars, Bail Organa’s statue is made from their planet Jelucan. Speaking of cameo’s, Yendor, the emissary for Ryloth, was also in LS and a member of Thane’s Corona Squadron (which scouted out D’Qar, the Resistance’s base, decades before they used it).
- In an interview with EW, Gray touches on how Casterfo was partly Lucasfilm’s idea, how she retcon’s Fisher’s one English-accented line in A New Hope, and how she was inspired to make the awesome nickname of Huttslayer canon for Leia. Which, Huttslayer by the way, freaking awesome!
- Prior to the book’s release, Lucasfilm’s Senior Editor Jen Heddle teased 8 things you wouldn’t want to miss in Bloodline, with one of them being Ep. VIII director Rian Johnson gave some input for the story. Since then Pablo Hildalgo, Lucasfilm Story Group member, has revealed what exactly he gave input on (and it’ll be interesting to see how those things take shape in the movie!).
- James Floyd, of ClubJade fame, interviewed Gray for the official site where she talks about how easy but yet complicated it was to write Leia.
- Sarah Dempster over at Eleven-ThirtyEight has a thoroughly well-written look at how Bloodline calls to attention taking extreme views of people (in regards to how the galaxy sees Vader or Leia at this point) negates the ability to see how they could just be regular people too and how that extremist attitude is bringing down the New Republic. An important read!
- The book doesn’t have Leia mention seeing Padmé’s image on Naboo briefly after the end of A New Hope while rounding up Alderaan survivors as seen in her comic book series. However, when Varish is defending Leia in the Senate, talking about her war heroics, Leia’s near suicidal attempt to take out Vader on Vrogas Vas was mentioned, as seen in the crossover series Vader Down (Darth Vader #14).
- And now there’s a lovely little interview between Jen Heddle and Claudia Gray on the official site, where they discuss their mutual love of Star Wars and what Leia means to them.
- Fan-art can be a lovely thing and Carsten Bradley, who goes by @vagabondartist on Twitter, has been inventing lovely alternative covers for current slate of novels. Here’s his take on Bloodline, which includes Casterfo and a stately older Leia with Vader looming over them both. Gorgeous work!
- UPDATE: Scorched, a short story by Delilah S. Dawson (who previously wrote The Perfect Weapon), tells the tale of how Greer Sonnel got her spot on Han Solo’s Five Sabers, was originally exclusive to Star Wars Insider. It is now available to read for free on the official site and it’s also included in the paperback edition of Bloodline; if you already owned the book when it was in hardcover, don’t miss out on the short story on the site…if you haven’t purchased yet Bloodline, if there’s any book that’s a MUST OWN in the new canon so far, this is it so go pick it up and get a good short story with it.
Bloodline manages to juggle being a focused character tale while setting the stage for a galaxy we’ve only started to see take shape and with the novel Claudia Gray earns her rightful spot in the annals of memorable and excellent Star Wars authors. So even if you only come for the background details, stay for the exceptional portrayal of Leia, which is where Bloodline will stick with you long after and sets the stage for her character in the years to come.
+ Insightful and nuanced portrayal of Leia
+ Secondary characters shine, especially Ransolm, Greer, and Joph
+ Some of the background information you’ve been looking for
+ Well-paced, entertaining read
– Maybe a little too coincidental at points
STAR WARS MOVIE REVIEWS:
The Force Awakens
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt | Aftermath: Empire’s End
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening
ADVENTURES IN WILD SPACE (by Chris)