Claudia Gray has done it again. In her latest Star Wars book, ‘Leia, Princess of Alderaan,’ Gray depicts a 16-year-old Leia Organa on the eve of her “Day of Demand”, a day which will kickstart her journey to the throne. Leia must complete three challenges: those of the Mind, Body, and Heart, which will simultaneously prove her worthy of the crown to both herself and her future subjects. What starts off as a series of rebellious acts against her newly-distant parents turns into a true transformation for Leia; a transformation that sets her on the path towards leading an entirely different kind of rebellion.
Spoilers ahead from here on out, so if you’d like to stop reading now, just know that this book kicks ASS and you should read it immediately.
Claudia Gray: The Queen of Character
Gray already had a reputation for outstanding Star Wars books prior to ‘Leia.’ She penned ‘Lost Stars,’ often celebrated as one of the best Star Wars books ever written, and ‘Bloodlines,’ which was an instant favorite for Leia fans. Gray continues to excel in her latest, where readers meet a much younger Leia and find out what she was doing just prior to ‘Rogue One’ and ‘A New Hope.’
Teenage Leia has already stuck her claws firmly in attack mode towards anyone who underestimates her, which gets her into trouble when she doesn’t fully understand the fight she’s picking in the first place. She knows some of what the Empire is about, and resents her parents for what she thinks is their inaction towards the obvious evil of Palpatine, Tarkin and the rest.
Some of the joy of ‘Leia’ is the dramatic irony: we, as readers, know that Bail and Breha are anything but passive Imperial subjects. If they’re off doing something other than tending to their daughter, it’s for a reason. Some of the joy also is in watching Leia peel back the curtain and find out just how involved her parents already are—and how good they’be been at hiding it from everyone, including their own daughter.
And yet some more of the joy lies in seeing Leia and Mon Motha interact. Leia picks up some habits and life lessons from the young general. Some habits are learned through admiration, others through discipline. But the seeds of their future alliance are planted and begin to grow within the book.
Leia also makes new friends in her “pathfinding class”, a requirement as she prepares for The Challenge of the Body. She learns that first impressions may be misleading, especially in a group of people both literally and philosophically just finding their footing.
Will It Spoil ‘The Last Jedi?’
The short answer is “no”.
On what she thinks is a simple exploratory trip to Crait along with her pilot Leia discovers a rebellion has already taken root—and her father is at the helm. Of course, being Leia, she wants to jump in feet first, but Bail refuses, insisting she remain ignorant of the rebellion in order to protect her from torture or worse at the hands of the Empire.
For those drawn to the book for clues to ‘The Last Jedi,’ that’s just about it. The description of Crait matches the strange planet from our teaser trailer—and the importance of the planet to the rebellion is finally revealed. Laura Dern’s character from ‘The Last Jedi’ also makes many appearances. Amily Holdo is another member of Leia’s pathfinding class, but at such a young and malleable stage in her life, she changes from the first to last page. We know she’ll be a friend and ally to Leia, as she is in the book, but how she will serve and use her particular skill sets? Those answers are yet to be seen.
The “clues”, as far as I can discern, sort of end there, leaving plenty of questions unanswered. Yes, we see many familiar faces around Leia and her new group of pathfinding friends. And of course, Bail and Breha feature rather heavily in this book. However, very little is revealed about the Jedi order. References are made frequently to the Clone Wars, but Bail won’t reveal any details about them. And while Leia most definitely taps into the force a few times, she isn’t sure exactly how she does it and has other, more pressing mysteries to investigate.
The YA Factor
Gray is a YA writer when she isn’t penning Star Wars canon, which puts her at a great advantage when writing younger characters. Leia is at once curious, petulant, exploratory, stubborn, forgiving…the list goes on. She works with her father to distribute justice on a planet that prides itself on peaceful methods. She falls in love—reluctantly at first and then with her whole heart. But the romance is not just a tacked on plot from a genre checklist. Leia falls for a boy also from Alderaan, Kier Domadi. While they agree on many topics, and their devotion to one another is tested in multiple life or death situations, ultimately their fundamental differences force Leia to make a choice about her involvement in the rebellion.
The “Empire/Anti-Empire” dichotomy is familiar for those of us that have read ‘Lost Stars,’ however, here the stakes seem somewhat higher. This may be because of ‘Rogue One,’ where we know that not everyone building the Death Star was under Palpatine’s thumb. Or maybe it’s because we know Princess Leia is destined to become General Leia, and we’re witnessing the moment that she is set on that track. Regardless of the reason, the scene is handled seamlessly with the rest of Leia’s “coming of age” tale.
There are certainly moments in the book when I could imagine Gray chuckling to herself at her desk (a politician does a double-take when Leia visits the current Queen on Naboo; her mother laments that her first crush is so “suitable”—every girl needs a scoundrel in her life…), but they are loving winks in the reader’s direction, and are spaced out enough that they don’t become distracting.
And Then… The Finale
By the end of ‘Leia,’ her relationship with her parents has entirely transformed. In fact, Leia’s relationship with the entire world around her has changed. She has formed a new alliance with a prickly race of water-dwellers, made friends with people she never thought she could trust, and begun to look at the Empire through the eyes of a Rebel, instead of a helpless teen.
The very last sentence of ‘Leia,’ if you haven’t already started crying during the read, will destroy you. I won’t repeat that sentence here, because even now I’m a little choked up, and I’m not sure it carries the same weight without everything that comes before.
But trust me on this—if for absolutely no other reason, read Leia for that final, heartbreaking string of words. Not only does it tie a bow on Leia’s childhood for good, but informs so much of her decision-making through episodes IV, V and VI. If you aren’t at least a little upset by it, you might want to get your feelings checked by a doctor.