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Kyle’s Review: Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray (SPOILERS)

Leia by Claudia Gray cover

The Journey To Star Wars: The Last Jedi is well underway. Hope you all had a great Force Friday. If you are feeling a little hungover from your Porg spending spree, might I suggest you turn to one of the Star Wars gifts that keeps on giving: an excellent novel about Princess Leia Organa. I’ve been pretty excited about this and author Claudia Gray did not disappoint. This review is going to get into spoiler territory, but I’ll keep the first few paragraphs as spoiler-free as I can. If you are having trepidation about clicking through, I totally understand. This novel is terrific and you should definitely get it on your bookshelf. Everyone else clicking through, I’ll see you on the other side and am excited to tell you what I thought of Leia, Princess of Alderaan.

 

 

 

To keep things as broad and non-spoiler as possible, I’ll cut to the chase: If you’re a Leia fan, this novel is an ABSOLUTE, MUST-READ. This is a story that we have never been told about one of the most iconic characters in Star Wars. It’s got political intrigue, mystery, romance, action, and tragedy. To put things in context timeline-wise, I’m guessing we are meeting Leia close to where we saw her in Rebels. Maybe even right before. This is a young woman, in the midst of an uncertain galaxy, trying to figure out the best way to fight for what she knows is right, while trying to protect her people and the ones she loves. The title ‘princess’ will never seem as fitting as when you finish the last page of this book. We are given a firsthand look on what royalty meant to Leia and how her Alderaanian heritage defined her.

 

If you think about it, we first met Leia in the midst of a terrible crisis. She’s speeding away, on a dire mission to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, and then her entire life is turned upside down after her home and her people are destroyed by the Empire. We didn’t meet Bail Organa, Leia’s adoptive father, until the prequels. We never got to see what he and her mother instilled onto Leia, how she became a part of the Rebellion, and what she lost before A New Hope that made her ready to fight so hard against the Empire. If you want a short summary without spoilers, there you have it. I can’t speak highly enough of how well Claudia Gray laid this story out. Not only is it a great Star Wars story, it’s a tribute to a character we should all look up to. I loved this book and I’m willing to bet most Star Wars fans would too.

 

From this point forward, I’m going to breakdown some plot specifics, and it’s going to go into spoiler territory. As this novel is part of the Journey To The Last Jedi literature, I will also note how some things in the novel will tie into The Last Jedi, so if you are trying to go into the theater this December with a clean slate, you may want to avoid the rest of this review as well. Don’t worry, they don’t reveal Rey’s parents or where Snoke came from, but there are some interesting connections to what we may see in The Last Jedi.

 

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

 

Still here?  Welcome back.  Let’s continue…

 

Alderaan prequels

 

The novel opens sixteen years after Leia was adopted by Bail and Breha Organa. An Alderaanian custom, the Day of Demand, is upon Leia. It is something similar to a debutante’s coming out party, only in a much more ceremonial and serious sense. It is the day when Leia was officially declared heir to the crown of Alderaan. The ceremony is where the heir apparent must announce the challenges they will put forward for themselves. The challenges encompass mind, body, and heart. These challenges will set Leia on a path that will change her view of the universe completely. Up until this point, Leia has seen the Empire as problematic, and doesn’t exactly have a sense of urgency about seeing it be undone.

 

Let’s be clear: Leia is no fan of the Empire. She’s well aware that it is inherently corrupt. At this point, Palpatine is not quite viewed as a dictator in her eyes, but he might as well be, since he pretty much moves the Empire as he sees fit. Leia sees the Imperial Senate as the last check on Palpatine’s rule of the galaxy. If she can work to thwart it’s militaristic ambitions through politics and governmental procedure, she will. The Leia we meet in this story is not about to grab a blaster and start taking out Stormtroopers. This is Leia in the limbo of where youthful optimism meets pragmatism. All of the good instilled by her parents is neatly stacked in her morals, and Leia feels she can do good in a very uncertain galaxy. The seeds of Leia’s disdain for the Empire have very much been sowed by her mother and father. In a perfect galaxy, the Organa’s would have their daughter view the Empire with skepticism, but be a part of the diplomatic solution. Being as there is not diplomatic solution to tyranny, this approach to Leia’s upbringing is what sets the story in motion.

 

 

For the first of her Day of Demand challenges, Leia chooses to tackle the heart. The heart is to be a charitable mission. It’s no secret, at this point, that Empire has sucked many star systems dry. Once great worlds are barren rocks compared to what they once were. Leia chooses to travel to the Wobani system. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s where Jyn Erso was imprisoned at the beginning of Rogue One. Wobani was not how we met it in Rogue One. It was once a prosperous world, but when Leia arrives, she sees it has been essentially stripped of everything useful. The Empire places quota-demands on worlds, and if the populace of the world cannot provide what the Empire deems necessary, they essentially enslave the citizens and take whatever they need however they can. Leia arrives to a crowd of hungry, broken people she thought brining a few rations to would help.

 

After weighing her options, Leia decides to use a legal loophole, and declares a few hundred of the Wobani people part of her crew. Yes, Leia is traversing the galaxy in the Tantive IV, piloted by Captain Antilles, and is eager to use the extra space to take the unfortunate Wobani back to Alderaan as refugees. The legal loophole, by Imperial standards, is a tricky one, and the Empire is not happy at all with Leia’s tricky maneuver. This is the beginning of Leia’s realization that the galaxy’s problems are much bigger than a mercy mission.

 

On the way back from Wobani, the Tantive IV stops at an Imperial hub installed to regulate hyperspace lanes around the galaxy. The station has been attacked and is pretty much reduced to rubble. At this point, there is no Rebel Alliance, at least as far as Leia knows, so she’s not sure who is responsible. Upon her return to Alderaan, Leia’s mother is very upset that her daughter took the risk of taking on Wobani refugees and was present in the aftermath of the attack on the Imperial station. Leia doesn’t understand why, but her mother says that it’s imperative the Empire not grow suspicious of the Organa’s.

 

When we are introduced to the Organa family, Leia has felt her relationship with her parents strained. They have become distant and somewhat secretive. Of course, we readers suspect why they have been, as Bail (and we learn Breha, as well) have been in the early stages of forming the Rebel Alliance. Throughout her upbringing, Leia’s had a very close relationship with her parents, and their strange behavior only compels Leia to investigate what’s going on.

 

Leia continues Day of Demand challenges by taking on a series of difficult orienteering treks. The first is on Alderaan, and Leia is joined by other students of the Apprentice Legislature, the program she is a part of to work her way into becoming a full-fledged senator for Alderaan. This is the first time we meet the man who will be Leia’s first love, Kier Domadi. Kier is also a native of Alderaan and he comes from the Alderaanian aristocracy, but he shares Leia’s desire to help those who are oppressed by the Empire. Their relationship is one much different than the romance with Han. Leia does not deny she is attracted to him and by the time they get around to having a relationship, it is a very natural thing. There’s no tension and Leia falls very much in love with Keir.

 

 

The second name of interest is Amilyn Holdo of Gatalenta. When we meet this character in The Last Jedi, she will be Vice Admiral Holdo of the Resistance. Holdo’s role in most of Leia, Princess of Alderaan is peripheral, up until the climax, when she saves Leia’s life. Holdo comes across through most of the novel as very eccentric, sporting bizarre outfits and a variety of hair colors. Each time Leia encounters Holdo her appearance is different. Gatalenta is a world similar to Alderaan, so she and Leia identify as two people of privilege wanting to do good in the galaxy. By the end of the novel, Leia and Holdo have been through a lot, and it makes sense that she would be a close ally of Leia. My guess is that when we meet Vice Admiral Holdo in The Last Jedi, we’ll learn that she’s a veteran of the Rebel Alliance and has been with the Resistance from the beginning. Holdo and Leia forge a strong bond by the end of the novel, and I suspect it will only be stronger in the struggle of the Resistance against the First Order.

 

Despite the physical obstacles presented to Leia via her orienteering expeditions, she is still bothered by her parent’s obvious secrets. She begins to investigate the hyperplanes that intersected the station that had been attacked. That leads her to a desolate world called Crait, where Leia eventually goes.

 

 

When her ship crash lands on Crait after escaping a mysterious tractor beam, we learn a bit more about the terrain. The red soil is pretty much a given at this point, but we learn the salt encrusted surface is very difficult to move on. That, coupled with the heat and fierce wind. Crait is not a destination world and according to what Leia discovered leading up to the her journey there, has never had a settlement. As Rian Johnson revealed, Crait’s distinction is that it was home to one of the first bases of the Rebel Alliance. It makes sense why Leia would steer the Resistance here to regroup in The Last Jedi.

 

Leia not only finds the rebel base, she finds her father on Crait. It’s not a happy reunion. Bail explains that he and Breha have done everything they can to keep Leia away from the rebellion. They know there is a risk the Empire will catch them and they want Leia to have deniability. Bail sends Leia back to Alderaan and imparts on her that she cannot pursue anymore knowledge about the rebellion. It’s for her own protection, as well as the greater good.  The revelation that her parents were part of an attack on the Empire stuns Leia, but it also awakens something within her. Leia learns there is a fight and she wants in.

 

The Apprentice Legislature program is where Leia puts her focus, taking her to Coruscant, amid the high society of the planet. In the recent Star Wars novels, we readers have been given a good look at the vast Imperial military complex. What we experience through Leia’s eyes is the Imperial Senate still believing it serves a purpose when it seems that everyone knows Palpatine calls all of the shots. It’s as if the politicians don’t want to admit they are powerless. The hypocrisy of politicians is not so much on display as it was in the prequels or other Star Wars stories. I would say we more or less witness the futility good willing senators exist in, and the only ones who know it are the ones we meet further down the line in the Rebel Alliance. Through the Apprentice Legislature, Leia makes the acquaintance of one infamous Imperial, Grand Moff Tarkin.

 

 

Yes, it seems there’s always room for a little more Tarkin. I know this is a spoiler-review, but I really would feel wrong about spoiling the interactions between Leia and Tarkin. Those moments were some of my favorite in the book. Let’s just say they both do a good job sizing each other up, while still maintaining the facade of civility. Everyone in this story is terrified of Tarkin, but Leia gets a good read on him, and despite her fear, learns how to navigate the choppy waters of the Grand Moff. Claudia Gray did a fantastic job writing these scenes. These interactions feed the dynamic between them in A New Hope perfectly. Make no mistake, Tarkin is still a terrifying figure in this story, but Leia does not back down for a second when confronted by him.

 

 

If you were hoping for more familiar faces, Mon Mothma shows up several times throughout the story. She and the Organa’s are very close and she recognizes how badly Leia wants to be a part of the burgeoning rebellion, but she respects Bail and Breha’s wishes to keep Leia out of it. These senators, operating in the shadows, are beyond petrified of being discovered. Mon Mothma often shows up as the calm voice, but she is also the person that brings Leia into the rebellion, and it is only out of necessity.

 

In the final climax of the book, Leia discovers through a meeting with Tarkin, that the Empire is on to the Rebel Alliance. She learns the Empire is preparing to investigate a system where the Alliance is making it’s first big military build-up. Leia and Holdo, dispatched by Mon Mothma, travel to the system to warn Bail and the others the Empire is on their way. The Rebel ships are all able to escape the system. Just as Leia and Holdo prepare to leave themselves, Leia’s love Kier shows up, as he followed her out of concern.

 

Kier is killed in an explosion from a self-destruct the Rebels left to cover their tracks. I don’t mean to make his death sound trite, it just seemed inevitable as soon as she fell for him. Kier’s death is crushing for Leia and she doubts that she will ever love again. There’s a lot of youth in that, as we all remember the devastation of losing our first love. Leia saw her’s senselessly taken. A young man that showed so much promise, who was with her and wanted to be a part of the rebellion, was lost.

 

By the end of the novel, Leia is declared heir to the crown of Alderaan. Throughout the story, everything in Leia’s life was so convoluted. She was frightened and uncertain about the choice her parents made to take up arms against the Empire. Her place to best serve her people, while trying to help others in need around the galaxy, is unclear. The path Leia takes to become the leader we know her as is very clear. Leia will oppose the Empire. She will fight. Her parents dilemma of protecting her has also become clear, as they know the galaxy is no longer in a place where anyone has the luxury of innocence. Leia Organa must fight.

 

 

Despite Palpatine being mentioned several times in the novel, he never makes an appearance. One thing I thought interesting is that it seems most people are uncertain of his appearance. Any broadcasts of him are digitally altered to make him appear less scarred, and his grotesque appearance is only whispered about. Tarkin really is the only heavy-hitting Imperial we encounter in this story. Though he’s not named, Director Krennic makes a cameo (trust me…there’s no one else Gray could have been describing in this scene).

 

No Darth Vader. He’s not even mentioned once, which surprised me. I was a little disappointed, as I hoped there would provide some background on their relationship before the Dark Lord captures the Tantive IV. As complex as their relationship becomes, I understand that it could possibly warrant a novel all it’s own. Leia is well aware that she is adopted.

 

panaka TPM

 

One of the more haunting moments in the book is when Leia travels to Naboo and meets Moff Panaka, formerly Captain Panaka from The Phantom Menace. It seems since his days of being the head of Naboo’s royal security, the former captain has moved up in the galaxy. The moment he lays his eyes on Leia, he knows who she is. It’s one of the more chilling moments in the book. In Marvel’s Darth Vader comic series, one of the arcs is Vader dispatching Doctor Aphra to Naboo to find out if the twins Padme carried survived her death. From Panaka’s reaction, it appears he has heard this rumor too, and meeting Leia confirms it. Panaka became a close ally of Palpatine after The Phantom Menace, hence his promotion to Moff of Naboo. Panaka alludes to him needing to contact Palpatine after his meeting with Leia, especially when he finds out her exact age and that she’d just had a birthday. Luckily, Panaka is killed in an attack by Saw Gerrera’s partisans just after Leia leaves.

 

Saw Gerrara and the partisans are mentioned several times in the book, but none of them actually make an appearance. They are once again more of a problem for Mon Mothma and the senators trying to gather systems quietly to their cause while Saw carries out violent attacks.

 

Claudia Gray continues to give us a look into the complex person Leia Organa is. This novel compliments her previous novel about Leia, Bloodline, perfectly. We are certainly meeting her at two very different points in her life, but Leia is always the same. Leia is a hero for a galaxy that didn’t know how to defend itself from evil. She shepherded a scoundrel, farm boy from Tatooine, and a wookie through the Death Star. From this novel, we see the first steps that made her realize there will always be good people who need a leader. I applaud Claudia Gray for not only undertaking what must have been an intimidating project, but for doing it with so much care and respect to the character.

 

Only a few people know what end The Last Jedi has in store for the Leia Organa. We know that it will be the last time we see Leia on screen and it will be her final story in the Star Wars saga, at least as far as the timeline of the Sequel Trilogy. There has never been a better time for fans to read about the first chapter of her fight against evil. As I reached the last paragraph of this book, I felt like I knew Leia better, but at the same time, there is still more I want to know.

 

 

8 OUT OF 10 STARS

 

 

Kyle Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. When he’s not running trails, he’s reading and writing.

 

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