Leia: A fascinating look at a teenaged Princess Leia

Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsLeia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsLeia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

The thing about STAR WARS tie-in books is that they can never contradict what happens in the films, which means they also can’t have stakes that are particularly high. The big galaxy-shaping events have to be saved for the big screen.

So it makes sense that a lot of them come across as “filler” or “prequel” stories, which add details and background to things we already know have happened. In the case of Leia: Princess of Alderaan, we learn a bit more about Princess Leia in the year she turned sixteen: the trials she must pass to become future queen, her induction into the Rebellion, and her first love. None of it is hugely crucial, but it’s always nice to spend a little more time with your favourite characters.

To be formally named heir to the throne of Alderaan, Leia must prove herself in the areas of body, mind and heart, which means completing a range of survival courses and relief missions. Already Emperor Palpatine holds sway over the galaxy, and though her childhood has been awash in pro-Empire propaganda, she can see the suffering and injustice that it’s causing.

So she secretly decides to start fighting against it, even as her parents Bail and Breha Organa caution her not to. But they’re acting strangely too — spending more time throwing dinner parties than paying attention to their only child.

It’s among the other students in the Apprentice Legislature that Leia finds potential allies, like the gentle Kier Domadi and quirky Amilyn Holdo (yes, the same one that will appear in The Last Jedi, played by Laura Dern) but this is Leia at the beginning of her career as a rebel fighter, and I appreciated that Claudia Gray wasn’t afraid to depict Leia making mistakes — some of them pretty serious.

We see her hone her problem-solving skills and her “queenly facade”, her passion for helping others and her devotion to her home planet. That said, this last one creates something of a continuity problem with A New Hope considering Leia’s relationship with her home and her parents is so lovingly rendered that her complete non-reaction when it’s all destroyed by the Death Star in the original trilogy is even more jarring.

Leia: Princess of Alderaan was published prior to the release of The Last Jedi and the cover promises to contain clues as to the film’s content, though in actuality it doesn’t really contain much beyond introducing us to Amilyn Holdo and a short visit to the planet Crait. It also looks back into the prequel era, with an appearance by Captain Panaka, who has an interesting reaction to meeting Leia for the first time (clearly she resembles her birth mother).

Mon Motha and Tarkin are also present and accounted for, as well as two familiar droids belonging to the Organa family…

And of course, we see her falling in love for the first time — with a boy who isn’t Han Solo. It’s only fair considering Han got a first love with Emilia Clarke’s Qi-Ra in Solo, and I liked that Kier is depicted as almost the total opposite of the scoundrel Leia will eventually marry.

Ultimately Claudia Gray can’t do too much with the material, as that would run the risk of disrupting plans for any potential future films (and I can imagine how difficult it is for so many different authors to keep track of such a sprawling extended universe) but Leia: Princess of Alderaan is an intriguing and poignant look at an iconic heroine’s upbringing.

Published in 2017. Explore the beginning of Leia’s participation in the Rebellion and the origin of her friendship with Amilyn Holdo from The Last Jedi! Sixteen-year-old Princess Leia Organa faces the most challenging task of her life so far: proving herself in the areas of body, mind, and heart to be formally named heir to the throne of Alderaan. She’s taking rigorous survival courses, practicing politics, and spearheading relief missions to worlds under Imperial control. But Leia has worries beyond her claim to the crown. Her parents, Breha and Bail, aren’t acting like themselves lately; they are distant and preoccupied, seemingly more concerned with throwing dinner parties for their allies in the Senate than they are with their own daughter. Determined to uncover her parents’ secrets, Leia starts down an increasingly dangerous path that puts her right under the watchful eye of the Empire. And when Leia discovers what her parents and their allies are planning behind closed doors, she finds herself facing what seems like an impossible choice: dedicate herself to the people of Alderaan (including the man she loves) or to the galaxy at large, which is in desperate need of a rebel hero…

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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