Welcome to the Multiversity Star Wars Book Club! Based on a conversation in the Multiversity Slack, editors Matt Garcia and Brian Salvatore decided to start up this column, where we will be reading and discussing a Star Wars every month or so. So come, enter the ancient library and join us!
Written by Claudia Gray
Cover by Daniel Bolling Walsh
The never-before-told story of how young Leia Organa comes to join the rebellion against the evil Empire, from best-selling author Claudia Gray.
Brian: Leia Organa is the original trilogy character whose childhood we know the most about, at least in the broad strokes: adopted by Bail Organa, raised on Alderaan both as royalty and a rebel. But aside from those broad strokes, I had never really read or heard much about her life pre-A New Hope. I was delighted when you picked Leia: Princess of Alderaan as our book club pick, as it was a chance to get into Leia’s backstory a little.
Spoiler alert: I loved it. What did you think?
Matt: It’s probably the most fun I had with any of the Star Wars novels thus far and it’s definitely the best thing from Claudia Gray I’ve yet read. I liked that the antagonists weren’t necessarily bad guys and I liked how we gradually see how Leia comes to develop her personality and ambitions.
Plus, Holdo. I love Space Dern.
What part of this book most surprised you? Like, what part of it did you go, Yeah, makes sense that that’s Leia?
Brian: I don’t know if I was surprised by any of it, but the first diplomatic/humanitarian mission she went on was that “Oh, that’s my Leia” moment. Her creative response to helping others, while also rankling bureaucrats, was right out of the Leia playbook.
Throughout the book, there wasn’t really a moment where I felt any major moment was out of character for Leia, or that Gray missed her voice. I’ve said in the past that Han is the hardest voice to nail in Star Wars prose, but Leia can often come off as too harsh/prickly or not assertive enough. Gray had both halves pretty well developed here, and so she was able to explore both her emotional development and her budding political career.
On that note, which aspect did you appreciate more: the emotional growth or the political machinations?
Matt: Oh, most definitely the emotional growth. Leia coming to realize her parents are fallible; how listening to different perspectives and opinions, even if they don’t necessarily align with hers, doesn’t mean she’s sacrificing her ideals; that even the people you think you care about the most have their own motives and ambitions which could be detrimental to everything. She struggles with balancing her obligations to Alderaan and to the greater galaxy and it’s here I think the book has its biggest drive.
I was surprised to see Captain Panaka turn up though. In fact, one of the fun things from it was when she encounters all these people who could potentially identify her as Padme’s daughter but then, you know, something happens.
What part of the book kept your attention most?
Brian: You know, due to my limited viewings of the prequels (no more than 3-4 times each) and my lack of facility for minor character names in them, it just took you calling him ‘captain’ for me to realize who Panaka was. That sheds an entirely new light on that sequence. I really need to consult Wookiepedia immediately after reading each chapter of these books.
I found myself interested in a most aspects of the story, but probably least so in the romance between Kier and Leia. Not that it wasn’t well written or sweet in its own way, but it seemed to be the most disposable of the storylines. Similarly, while the trials and the pathfinding excursion were good opportunities to spend time with Leia and the other teenagers, but I would sometimes find my mind wandering at a description of terrain or something of the sort.
I want to talk about Holdo for a second. I love the character, both here and on screen in The Last Jedi, but I must ask: do they seem like the same person? I know that Holdo has seen some shit in her day, and that might account for her shedding the carefree, absent minded joy that exudes from her here. Even if the match isn’t perfect, the character is easily the most fun in this novel, and she lights up every scene she appears in.Continued below
Matt: I’m inclined to agree. In the novel, she’s sort of the Luna Lovegood of Star Wars, whereas in the film, she’s more of a dignitary, an ambassador. That being said, I can see where there are similarities between the versions, especially how both tend to be unconcerned with anyone pressing at them for information or to get their way. Holds doesn’t act brashly and she doesn’t care how other people react to her. (Also, I think her scene in The Last Jedi May have been my favorite scene in 2017.) I think you see this in the mountain planet scene, where she spends most of the trek in her own mind, only to come through with a solution she’s mulled over from every possible angle.
In the novel, we also see more of Alderaan, especially as Leia knew it. I haven’t made it to The Clone Wars yet, so I don’t know how much of that planet is explored in the show, but what did you think of its depiction in the story and how did it challenge or redefine what we thought about it before?
Side note: I know I’m also a little more up with the prequels than you are.
Brian: I’m only through three seasons of The Clone Wars, and I don’t think we’ve spent more than a few moments on Alderaan. But I think the novel did a lot to establish a planet that, essentially, is described in one sentence in A New Hope. It seems like a utopian planet, even in the midst of a crushing empirical reign.
Of most interest to me were the moments with the Queen and the Senator, both of whom are relatively minor characters, albeit ones with incredible import, in the Star Wars universe. Breha, in particular, has had very little to do in any canon stories, and so to see her not only get a bit of a backstory (the need for artificial organs), but also some tender moments with Leia.
Bail Organa we knew a little from the prequels and Rogue One, but he is a fairly major character in The Clone Wars, especially season three. He’s essentially described as the conscience of the Republic, and one of the finest orators in the Senate. This novel, if anything, doubles down on that, but also shows a man cracking a bit. The pressure of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans and his own peaceful plans show a man a bit in struggle, and yet, when he needs to – like when Tarkin pops by – he can appear as cool as a cucumber.
I particularly liked the Tarkin scene for a few reasons. It showed the depth of Leia’s poker face, it showed the lengths to which the Organas will go to fool Tarkin, and it all happens on the razor’s edge of something truly terrible happening. The scene was filled with tension that keeps building. The eventual release felt quite earned.
Were there any scenes that particularly stood out to you?
Matt: The Naboo sequence is one of the more memorable for me. Gray goes to great lengths to show people reacting to Leia while Leia’s confused. (How much of this stems from being a teenager? Who’s to say?) I also think the ending gambit was well done, especially when her boy toy pops up to ruin everything and we start to see her coming to terms with the greater good versus her own desires.
I also appreciated how Gray continues the current trend of expanding the galaxy beyond blonde-haired blue-eyed farm boy types. So the aliens aren’t there to just fill out the frame. They have personalities and agencies, they have a presence. How do you think it fits in with how Star Wars is going under Disney?
Brian: I was a little afraid given the title of this novel, that Leia’s early life would be shaped into a more standard Disney Princess mold. She has all the component parts: tragic backstory, responsibility to a kingdom, long lost sibling, etc. But I’m glad that they let it be a Leia story first and foremost, and a princess story second.Continued below
I do think it is smart for Disney to continue to court readers of all ages and genders. I’m old enough to remember when Star Wars was a very, very male thing, and now I have a daughter who wants to play Ahsoka whenever she gets a chance. I’m really glad that they seem to be hands off in terms of tone, because I feared that there would be a Disney-ification of Star Wars (an idea I have a knee-jerk reaction against). But in terms of their marketing strategy, this is a really smart move.
What about you?
Matt: I think it’s definitely a book that could only come out of this era and it’s definitely a thing that makes it a point to reach for a more diverse audience. The original trilogy and the prequel trilogy are a product of their times and have a progressive slant toward the politics of the time. While queer representation here is generally delivered in nodding winks or is there-but-not-really-if-you’re-looking-for-it, I think it does well with making the Force and Star Wars, in general, for everybody. And if that’s what the Disney influence on this series is, then I’m all down for it.
Let’s dig into the characters a bit more. Aside from Holdo, did any characters stand out for you?
Matt: I got a kick out of the bratty spoiled rich kid, though. He’s, like, someone you recognize as an asshole but nevertheless possesses this charm that’s hard to look over. What about you? I mean, honestly, Holdo is the best, but who else resonated with you?
Brian: I think all the pathfinding kids had generic, but endearing, qualities. Like you said, you recognize these tropes right away, but it works in this context.
I’m going to go with Breha Organa, if only because she’s been such an underused character in Star Wars thus far. Both Luke and Leia were raised by adoptive parents, and yet, aside from a little Bail, we’ve not really seen what these adult figures gave them through their upbringing. To get a better sense of who Leia’s parents are helps us understand her decisions down the road.
Wrapping up, do you think we’ll get more Leia stories from this three-year period before A New Hope? If so, what would you like to see them focus on?
Matt: I think any more Leia stories from this era wouldn’t stray too far from her learning to be more diplomatic or to be a leader or getting her more involved with the Rebellion. And I don’t necessarily think that’s what we need to see. I liked Bloodline because it gave her some direction as an adult and some frustration at facing all the things she’s lost. Right now, there’s next to nothing in the period between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I think her becoming Boushh and making the plan to infiltrate Jabba’s palace would be far more engaging.
Brian: I guess I wouldn’t mind some stories of Leia interacting more with her parents and the burgeoning rebellion. We don’t know, for instance, if Leia and Saw Gerrera ever interacted. I’d also like to see a buddy cop Mon Monthma/Leia story.
But I also think there’s a lot of territory to be mined from the transition from Princess to General. I haven’t read any other Leia novels in the new canon yet, so that is definitely on my to-read list.
Matt: She’ll always be our Princess.
Join us next month as we dig into a totally different kind of Star Wars novel: the novelization of Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Jason Fry.