(No Major Spoilers)
Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray connects possibly the most threads and sows the most seeds of any Star Wars book in the new canon so far. Set around Leia’s 16th birthday – about 3 years before A New Hope – the story takes us through the trials of Leia’s journey to adulthood. These include literal trials required for her to be invested as the official heir to the crown of Alderaan, as well as those more figuratively related to her discovery of and entry into the Rebellion.
Gray succeeds in bringing forth a Y.A. novel that is well-written and easy to read, all without talking down to the reader. It’s also very familiar feeling. If you’ve read her first official foray into Star Wars, Lost Stars, you’ll find some similar characters types and an epic, far-reaching yet personal feel. The books also share limited perspective, planet-hopping, and even an Imperial ball.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan is more encompassing of Leia’s early life than I expected, answering many questions you might have had about Leia’s life before A New Hope and several you didn’t realize you should ask. For me, the most intriguing parts were Leia’s relationship with her parents and her people as well as her figuring out the ways of the Imperial Senate’s Apprentice Legislature. These elements especially speak to the theme of selfishness vs. selflessness that’s part of the fabric of Star Wars storytelling. It’s also refreshing to see a relatively happy, functional, and loving family in Star Wars. The fact that a mother-daughter relationship gets featured is the cherry on top.
Overall the story reveals a lot of the foundation of why Leia acts the way she does and what she’s able to achieve in everything from her film introduction onward. As part of the Journey to The Last Jedi campaign, the book gives us at least two connections to the new movie via a planet and a person. The person turned out to be my favorite character in the whole novel, and not just because she’s essentially the Luna Lovegood of the group. It’ll be interesting to see what other information the book holds once The Last Jedi is out.
The tie-ins go beyond A New Hope and The Last Jedi, though. I discerned connections to eight saga movies, Rogue One, two TV shows, and six recent novels. I wouldn’t be surprised if I dug around a bit more and that count went up. This left me with some mixed feelings. On one hand, you don’t have to be aware of all the connections to understand and appreciate the core story. This is great in keeping it accessible. But if you do recognize all the references, it can get a bit overwhelming – processing and emotionally. There’s even a chapter that had me debating how much wish-fulfillment/fanservice is a good thing. And while I appreciate all the thought and care put into the connections for this story, it left me with a case of small-galaxy syndrome.
On the whole Leia, Princess of Alderaan accomplishes a lot in its 409 pages. Readers get to see the foundations and complications of the early Rebellion. It takes an intriguing look at the mindset and duties of leaders and gives us smart lessons that will serve Leia so well later on. It develops character and motivation while giving more meaning to details and moments associated with Leia in the movies. But between all the references pulling me out of the immediate story and the overall sense of foreboding that comes from knowing Leia’s future, I found myself wishing I’d enjoyed reading it all more.
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