Before the Rebellion of hope had been built, the Organa family had to start somewhere. What happened before Leia received the Death Star plans from the battle of Scarif? How did that same Rebel Alliance come to be, and how did it pull off the impossible task of fighting the Empire? Let’s answer some of those questions with a recap/review of Leia: Princess of Alderaan!
This review is late. It feels like just the other day I was finishing this book, ready to recap it and go see The Last Jedi. But I’ve been busy and put reviews on the backburner a bit, unfortunately. However, just because I’m a busy new homeowner doesn’t mean that many a spare moment aren’t spent thinking about Star Wars!
Leia: Princess of Alderaan comes to us from new but already renown Star Wars author Claudia Gray. The short version? She wrote Lost Stars and it’s amazing, as well as this novel and another great one about Leia called Bloodline. The writer understands Leia better than most writers and tells exciting new stories while remaining faithful to the classic character. Read on for the long version, first without spoilers.
Leia was released as part of the Journey to The Last Jedi campaign of Star Wars canon media, however its story doesn’t cross paths with much of anything in TLJ. We are introduced to Amilyn Holdo, who will become one of her closest friends and trusted allies, but that’s about it as far as these two stories intersecting. Leia is actually much younger in this story, which means that Claudia Gray has written Leia both as an original trilogy era character as well as a sequel trilogy era character in Bloodline.
The novel starts us off with the circumstances that will lead to her actually becoming Princess Leia. She faces a unique set of tasks that Alderaanian royalty must complete to earn their right of succession from their predecessors. Before she’s the true recognized heir to Alderaan, she must not only accomplish but also construct three tests of will for herself. These are the challenges of mind, body, and heart, and they take her on mercy missions, hikes and mountain climbing, and additional responsibilities alongside her father, Bail Organa, in the Imperial senate. The novel is technically a young-adult read, however having these challenges designed by the main character sets it apart from many YA novels for me. Many YA novels focus on feelings of desire for power and responsibility, while Leia is about facing those challenges head-on and claiming those privileges.
Leia’s journey through the novel follows these challenges. She designs mercy missions to aid planets in need (one of them is the planet Wobani from Rogue One actually, which is great) and also takes pathfinding classes to train her body with dangerous hikes and climbs. Meanwhile, many of her classmates from pathfinding class are also involved in the apprentice legislature, meaning they can work to become representatives themselves in the future. (Of course we know how that turns out thanks to A New Hope.) Spending class time together as well as sitting in on senate meetings gives these young characters some perspective, and at their young age already, they must begin weighing heavy decisions. Do they go along with the Empire and live under constant oppression? Or do they do the impossible and try to fight back? This sort of thinking leads Leia on a fourth, secret challenge – discover how the fledgling Rebel Alliance ticks and figure out where their fight will take them next.
Without spoiling anything, I rank Leia: Princess of Alderaan third overall when it comes to Claudia Gray’s novels. Lost Stars is still my favorite, with Bloodline at a close second. The book isn’t any less good per se, but in my opinion moves a little slower than either of her previous novels. Is Claudia Gray still the authority on writing Princess (and General) Leia? Absolutely! This novel has its twists and turns, an enjoyable early romantic interest for Leia, and of course sets up the character of Holdo for TLJ. It’s a fun read, though maybe not essential. It isn’t an action-heavy story and instead focuses on character growth and unraveling secrets, which is great in its own way. For Claudia Gray and Leia fans, there’s plenty to love here. There’s even some references to Gray’s previous works within Star Wars, which show great dedication not only to this universe but also to the craft itself.
So if you’ve read the novel, go ahead and dive in past this big spoiler warning and let’s talk about the fine details!
Leia is an imperfect hero. She has a target on her back throughout the novel, which actually lines up nicely with TLJ. In the film she’s on the run from the First Order, whereas in this novel she’s often in the wrong place at the wrong time, or her inexperience gets the best of her. We’re used to seeing Leia very much in control and able to carefully weigh the risks of impulsive action. Here we see that skill developing itself, so things don’t always go so well for our young princess. Her mercy mission to Wobani is a great example of this duality. Since she’s unable to depart Wobani with any extra refugees onboard her ship, she begins hiring people for anything and everything, making them technically part of the crew and allowed to leave. That’s a classic Leia move, exploiting a loophole in Imperial law to stick it to the commander on duty. But this time it backfires – the Empire was actually beginning to budge and allow more relief efforts to aid Wobani, but since Leia did what she did, the Empire calls off the bargain. This inadvertently escalates the situation on Wobani, leading to the desperate labor camp we catch glimpses of in Rogue One (and also read about in Rebel Rising.) Seeing Leia in this vulnerable, imperfect state is what makes the novel compelling.
Discouraged by this experience, Leia is eager to learn more about the Rebel Alliance. They seem to swoop in, deal with problems head-on and effectively. Little does she know that her prodding into the affairs of the rebels will lead back to her father, Bail Organa. The revelation is huge to her, and for a large portion of the novel she’s actually barely talking to her family due to the argument they’ve had over secrecy regarding the Alliance. It was written in a very grounded and real way despite being much bigger than most family issues one would deal with in normal life. It’s also completely believable that a rebellious teenager would stop talking to her parents because she’s so angry about things being hidden from her when she clearly knows something is up.
Meanwhile, Leia does have two very good friends she can turn to when her challenges go wrong and her family life becomes complicated. Amilyn Holdo, future Vice Admiral of the Resistance fleet, is a quirky young woman who is strikingly intelligent despite being easily-distracted. Though she sometimes irritates Leia, she more often points Leia in the right direction, using her wit to challenge the way Leia sees an issue, and turning it on its head to give her a new perspective. Then there’s Kier Domadi, early love interest and fellow apprentice legislator of Alderaan. Kier is a handsome young man wo is more interested in history and would rather anthropology over politics. Despite his fear of the Empire, he loves his homeworld and wants to keep the Empire out of its affairs. When he becomes aware of the Organa family’s involvement in the planning of the rebellion, he begins collecting data in secret to trade for the safety of Leia, himself, and Alderaan. The characters really make the story, as this isn’t an action-heavy novel.
While I love many of the little Easter eggs in the novel such as recurring planets in Claudia Gray tales and some of the contents of Leia’s keepsake chest (I can’t spoil that one, it’s too good,) one bit of lore struck me as a bit odd. Leia visits Onoam, a moon of Naboo, to contact a Moff who may be able to help her relief efforts. The Moff is none other than former Captain Panaka from The Phantom Menace, and he’s of course reminded of Padme the entire time he sees Leia around his office. Once Leia has the information she needs, she’s barely out his front door when Panaka’s home explodes and he is killed. It’s later revealed to have been a plot by Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, which is a nice tie-in, but did he have to get killed off so quickly? It seemed somewhat random to include the character and all those moments regarding Padme – and we know Leia really can’t know anything about Padme at this time, so not much comes from this detour other than another reference to the brutality of the Partisans. It’s a small nitpick that I don’t mind too much until I over think it, and there’s been enough overthinking since The Last Jedi came out so I’ll let this one be.
The Final Verdict:
Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a novel I would recommend to fans of Claudia Gray’s other Star Wars novels. Like many novels that bear the “Journey to the. . .” marking, they don’t actually sync up much with the films they’re touting beyond featuring some of the same characters and settings. It’s great to keep getting novels set around strong, unshakable female characters from Claudia Gray, and it’s fun to get a backstory with a lot of time spent on Alderaan before its destruction. The novel moves a tad slow at times and isn’t a must-read, but I must say I eager to talk about it again even though it’s been a while since I finished reading it.
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-Supreme Leader David