It’s no secret that I’m a huge Star Wars geek, and thus it was practically inevitable that I would read this book. Almost as inevitable that I would like it. I’m easy that way. Even so, this is a high-quality Star Wars book, and a must-read if you want more of an insight into Leia’s character. As part of the lead-in to The Last Jedi, it also drops some hints about characters and locations that we would later see onscreen–most notably the abandoned Rebel base on Crait and the character of Amilyn Holdo. Is it essential for that purpose? Not really. We barely see Crait in the book, and the differences between sixteen-year-old Holdo and the character she would grow to become onscreen are very stark (which isn’t to say that this isn’t relevant to the events of that film – more on that below). It was fun to get a glimpse of a younger, less-sure version of Leia, however, and there are several moments that really add to the characterization of both her and her parents. As part of discussing this book, there will be spoilers for The Last Jedi. Sorry, but that’s unavoidable. Go see it already!
We meet Leia as she turns sixteen, formally taking up her role as crown princess of the planet Alderaan. In order to take up that role, she has to perform three challenges – one for her mind, one for her body, and one for her heart. This proves to be harder than she thought, however, as the galaxy is becoming an increasingly scary place. Her challenge of the mind is to serve in the apprentice legislature on Coruscant, vital training for taking up her father’s role as Senator, but it soon becomes clear that the tasks the Empire funnel their way will have dire consequences for innocents across the galaxy. Her challenge of the mind is to fund philanthropic mercy missions to those in need, but those in need are often those being oppressed by the Empire, and the Empire doesn’t take kindly to her meddling in their business. With her parents increasingly busy and distracted with affairs they refuse to discuss with her, Leia feels alone and lost. Her challenge of the body proves a welcome distraction from these weightier issues, however, as she trains with a group of fellow delegates her own age to climb the mountain overlooking the palace. Leia particularly becomes friends with Amilyn Holdo, a somewhat loopy young woman obsessed with astrology and death, and Kier Domadi, a shy but handsome fellow resident of Alderaan who wants to be a historian. Will Leia be able to navigate the intricacies of Imperial politics without either destroying the lives of innocents or being accused of treason? Will she somehow manage to restore her close relationship with her distracted parents? Will she find love? Read on to find out!
This was, in a word, excellent. Claudia Gray has a lock on Leia’s character, as revealed both here and in her previous Star Wars novel, Bloodline. Anyone who is interested in getting a better look at Leia’s formative years should look no further. We get an early look at the icy calm that falls into when things go badly (turning her icy calm following the destruction of Alderaan into character development, not a fault in the script for the original film), explanation of Vader’s comment about mercy missions, and the beginning of her animosity with Tarkin. Also explored is the early days of the Rebel Alliance, with Bail and Breha Organa, Mon Mothma, and others all striving to shape the policy that will define their movement. This is a transitional period between the collection of senators we see meeting in Revenge of the Sith and the nascent Alliance featured in Rebels and Rogue One.
Will this appeal to folks who aren’t fans of Star Wars? Frankly, no. The book relies on you knowing what has come before in several scenes, and what will come later in others. You need a solid grounding in the movies, at least the prequels and A New Hope, and Bail Organa’s character will have more depth if you’ve seen The Clone Wars as well. Plus, the whole fact that this is somewhat laying the groundwork for The Last Jedi. There’s foreshadowing and dramatic irony galore, from the heartbreakingly ironic final line of the book (I won’t spoil it) to a moment that calls back to the end of The Phantom Menace to nearly give a side character a heart attack for reasons that are a complete mystery to Leia but are quite clear to anyone willing to connect a couple dots. Holdo largely exists here to backstop her character and help explain why Leia trusts her so much in The Last Jedi, but she also has a central role in some of the events of this tale. Unlike the icily serene presence she will grow into, however, here Holdo’s characterization is basically Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series – loopy, obsessed with things like astrology and mortality, and dressed in the most ridiculous manner possible. New character Kier Domadi, on the other hand, is introduced here to contrast Leia’s eventual romance with Han Solo. Domadi is the “anti-Han,” polite, refined, humble, and respectful. The only thing they have in common is that they would die for Leia with no hesitation. Given that he appears nowhere else, I’ll let you guess how that romance turns out. Bottom line: this isn’t going to reveal any secrets you can’t live without, but it will help you better understand the characters and events of later stories.
CONTENT: Mild innuendo – there’s some kissing, maybe an implication that things go further, but this is a YA novel. It’s not at all explicit. Mild violence, never gratuitous, though occasionally heart-wrenching emotionally. PG-grade profanity.