– Spoiler Review –
Written by the fan-favorite (rightfully so) Claudia Gray, Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a Young Adult novel that’s part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi” initiative, taking place a couple years before A New Hope. It should come as no surprise I’m highly recommending another Gray novel, as she crafts a compelling tale of Leia’s journey into a larger world, the growing rebellion, and how it effects her and her family as the dangers of action and inaction become more real for all of them. Come for The Last Jedi tidbits, stay for the enthralling character piece.
Leia: Princess of Alderaan takes place when Leia is 16 years old, so roughly 3-4 years prior to A New Hope, and covers a very specific period of time as she comes to learn of her parent’s involvement in a rebellion against the Empire, trying to find her place in it, and pushing forward to become the next Queen of Alderaan all at the same time. The book is packed with both big moments and small simple joys from exploring this era. The smaller, but just as exciting bits include learning more about Alderaan and its courtly culture, spending time with both Bail and Breha Organa, the latter of whom has unfortunately never really been in the focus, or even see Leia going through her first love. And for the bigger story moments that’ll dominate Wookieepedia pages, there’s everything from how Leia first learned of her parent’s actions to their eventual acquiescence to her involvement despite their founded fears. For all the big moments that drive the story, I came for and enjoyed the littler ones the most, as they add so much more depth to Leia and her background, thus deepening her characterization. This is the young Leia tale many of us have been waiting for and it never truly disappoints.
Claudia Gray has enshrined herself as my favorite canon author to date with LPoA, though she was already on the way after last year’s Bloodline. Thanks to both, Gray has proven she can bring Leia to life on page no matter the character’s age or era, and honestly I hope she continues to be Leia’s custodian in the written realm for as long as she’s willing. I’d understand if she’d want to tackle other characters and stories (be it Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan & Satine on Mandalore or Lando, as she mentioned recently), and in fact would encourage it because it’s been hard to find a fault with her work of late, but her Leia is so authentic she genuinely breathes her to life. Heck, when (because it shouldn’t be an if) they make a Leia standalone film, I’d easily nominate Gray for the position, or at the very least as someone to consult on it. I mainly feel this way due to LPoA‘s younger Leia, one who is struggling to come to terms with the gravity of the growing Rebellion, her need to be in it, and the consequences of its actions, but is steadily growing into the character we all know and love by A New Hope. Bloodline helped, after the fact, set up Leia and her place in the galaxy leading up to The Force Awakens, and while LPoA is primarily propelling her character towards ANH, the subtlety within might coalesce into The Last Jedi setup, minor as it may be.
Many will have picked up LPoA hungry for The Last Jedi hints, as this is part of the “Journey to The Last Jedi” initiative, and while there are quite a few, I found myself more excited for the Gray-verse (TM pending) connections than those to TLJ. By Gray-verse, I refer to the fact that throughout PoA Gray references the other two books she’s previously written, Lost Stars and Bloodline, and readers of both will have many delights in store. Whether it’s seeing the MoA again (still one of my absolute favorite parts of Lost Stars‘ original bits), explaining that locket of hair in Leia’s keepsake box from Bloodline (did Gray really plan that this far in advance?!?), or spending more time on Parmarthe, each one felt organic throughout the tale, never forced. As exciting as those parts were to me, there were still some TLJ hints to be found, but I feel like the only reason I wasn’t as excited for them was due to having obviously not seen the movie yet, and a reread after seeing might make the connections more enjoyable. While the visit to Crait was a nice touch, having Amilyn Holdo, the magenta-haired character to be played by Laura Dern in the upcoming film, be a main supporting character was a pleasant surprise. The character is quite the oddity, thanks both to her penchant for bizarre fashion styles and aloof, cheerily morbid demeanor, but she brings both levity and grace to the overall novel. In fact, I’m extremely intrigued to see these two interact together in The Last Jedi now, considering the bond they create here and the strain on it being teased for the film.
As great as the connections were, as I said before the little things are what brought me to fall for LPoA, and it all starts with the dynamics of Leia, Bail, and Breha. This was easily the highlight of the book for me, as I have always been curious how the Organas would deal with their daughter becoming part of the growing rebellion they were building, and the conflicts within didn’t disappoint. In fact, finally spending time with Queen Breha Organa was gratifying, as it quickly became clear she held the traditional father role of the family, as she’s the one who has less qualms with Leia joining up and putting herself in danger, while it is Bail who has the traditional mother role and is desperate to protect her from the dangers of their work. How these three come to terms with the changing galaxy around them, and Leia’s insistence of being apart of the rebellion, is one of the many emotional cruxes of the novel. It’s not just with her parents that Leia has struggles, but it’s also within herself, as she discovers the fragility of the life she leads as the stakes and dangers of standing up against the Empire take shape. It’s easy to assume Leia was always like she is in A New Hope, defiant to the last, but it’s simply not the case and Gray manages to make that maturation engaging and compelling to read. That her conflicts with her parents and within herself coincide with her first love, Kier Domadi, nets readers an enjoyable trifecta of character building for Leia. Fun fact: both Padmé and Leia found their first loves through their work with the Apprentice Legislature; Like mother, like daughter!
There are some criticisms I have the book, the main one being the overall story lacks any real surprise. Sure, that was to be expected considering we knew where things would go, but some of these events I’ve been wondering about for awhile now unfold almost exactly as one could predict. There are little moments throughout that surprise and delight (I’m looking at you, Chapter 12…more on that below), but overall you know how this one ends before you even open it up. However, the character growth for Leia is enough to cover up this downside, as it stays compelling throughout and contains one of the bigger surprises in the finale. Also, Leia at times can seemingly piece together random, innocuous information or instantly understand the subtext to conversations, like in the few she has with Grand Moff Tarkin, but it took her forever to realize her mother’s many banquets=rebellion meetings. In the end, these problems are easy to overlook compared to the overall greatness that is LPoA.
UPDATE 12/17/17: Now that The Last Jedi is out (you can read my review here), without spoiling anything, I can say Holdo’s role was buoyed by her appearance here and seeing Leia and Amilyn interact, while minor, was very sweet.
Here are a few other things:
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a surprising, though in the end thankfully minor controversy with the book. Florian of German fansite Jedi-Bibliothek brought to many fans’ attentions that a line spoken by Leia was actually a Nazi slogan, and respectfully asked for an explanation regarding its inclusion in the novel. Claudia Gray was quick to respond that in the end, “My error was one of ignorance, and I’m incredibly sorry.” Had he not pointed it out, I would have (and seemingly most fellow Americans) never realized the saying’s history, so I leave it up to you, dear reader, on whether you want to learn what the phrase in question was by clicking on the link I provided. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the phrase going forward, especially for the paperback reprint/updates on the Kindle editions. UPDATE 9/20/17: The Kindle edition, at the very least, has been updated with a new, inoffensive quote that fits perfectly in place of the previous other. I imagine this what future reprints of the novel will have as well.
- I don’t want to go into too much detail here, and while it’s not the most important part of the book nor my favorite, its still left me reeling: Chapter 12. Maybe your reaction to it won’t be the same, but it shook me up with excitement because the events within were so innocuous but the ramifications were clear: the entirety of the Original Trilogy could’ve been undone in an instant. This is all from a chance meeting with a Prequel Trilogy character we all assuredly have forgotten about (even as a fan of the Prequels, they had flown under the radar until now) and I enjoyed the deliciousness of the moment and how easily it could be used as a set-up for an AU fanfiction story; Which I won’t write mind you, but I’m seriously tempted. Overall, the chapter was perhaps the best of the surprises within, though there weren’t terribly many.
- Leia mentions events from The Clone Wars episode “Senate Murders” as a way to impress Kier about Bail’s many exciting stories from the past. Now that was a nice little connection!
- It seems Rian Johnson, writer/director of The Last Jedi, was really excited for this novel. Could it have been due to how it introduces us to Amilyn Holdo?
- Even though we spent a great deal with Breha, it’s still not enough compared to all of Bail’s appearances and overall Breha feels to have had a greater role in bringing up Leia than he so hopefully more spotlight on her in the future.
- Loved the interactions with two famous, recognizable droids. Also, was that a cameo of who I think it is on page 366?!!???
- The final line of this book is a stinger.
While I might still hold Bloodline as the better of Claudia Gray’s novel (if only by a little), Leia: Princess of Alderaan is no slouch and is worth a read alone if you’ve enjoyed Gray’s work before, while its compelling character study of the titular princess will keep you turning pages and coming back to read it for quite some time.
+ Gray’s spot-on Leia
+ Connections to Gray-verse, The Last Jedi
+ Excitingly fills in part of young Leia’s life
+ Spending more time with the Organas, specifically Breha, and Alderaan
+ Special shout-out to the AU implications of Chapter 12
– Overall story lacks surprise
JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI:
The Last Jedi (movie)
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt | Aftermath: Empire’s End
Battlefront: Twilight Company | Battlefront II: Inferno Squad
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
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
Guardians of the Whills