“Leia: Princess of Alderaan” book review

As long as Claudia Gray keeps writing Leia, I’ll keep reading.

I was very impressed by Bloodline last year from Gray, which told the story of Leia Organa in a post-ROTJ world that was set six years before TFA, and it was a fascinating and compelling and interesting look at the character.  Gray seemed to totally understand the character and how to write her, and that made the book one of my favorites of the new canon.

As much as I liked Bloodline, I enjoyed Leia: Princess of Alderaan even more.  We’ll get into a summary of the book, some of the really cool easter eggs, and some of the important tie-ins to The Last Jedi, so obviously there are spoilers ahead.

The story introduces us to a 16-year old Leia, taking place 3BBY, getting ready for her Day of Demand, which is when the heir to the throne of Alderaan would claim the right to the throne and name – and later accomplish – three tasks: the challenge of the body, the challenge of the mind, and the challenge of the heart.  These challenges form the framework of the novel, as Leia chooses to climb and reach the peak of Appenza Peak for her challenge of the body; to represent Alderaan in the Apprentice Legislature for her challenge of the mind; and to undertake mercy missions to worlds in need for her challenge of the heart.  These events are interesting and introduce Leia to some key friends, notably including Kier Domadi and Amilyn Holdo.  But what really makes this book stand apart is Leia’s relation to her parents and to the Rebellion.  When we first encounter Leia in this book, her parents do not pay much attention to her anymore, and she cannot figure out why.  The reader knows why (and Gray plays up the benefit of the omniscient observer expertly throughout the book with numerous hints and easter eggs), but 16-year old Leia is not yet involved in the Rebellion.  So this book is incredibly significant in the Star Wars landscape, as it introduces Leia to the Rebellion and gets her involved.  She does plenty of investigating on her own and finds out that her parents are involved in this group of rebels against the Empire, but her parents forbid her from getting involved out of fear of losing her.

The book gives characterization and depth to Bail and Breha Organa, the leaders of Alderaan and the adoptive parents of Leia.  Bail served as the planet’s Viceroy and represented them in the Senate, while Breha ruled as Queen.  They don’t want Leia involved because they want to protect her, but Leia realizes that should the Empire find out that won’t matter.  There is plenty of tension between Leia and her parents in the book, but it becomes more and more understandable as we learn more because we realize that Bail and Breha are dealing with immense pressure and stress and fear for their daughter’s life.  Breha comes around before Bail does, but the first one to truly see the potential in Leia for this rebellion is Mon Mothma, who also receives more characterization in the book and is presented as a strong leader to rally behind.  After one conversation with her, Leia comes away thinking, “Maybe it’s not a flag we’ll rally around.  Maybe it’s a person.”  Leia goes on several mercy missions to provide aid and also attempt to catch her parents’ attention, but not all of these turn out to be as helpful as she wanted or thought.

Leia learns many hard and difficult lessons along the way, but eventually she does begin gaining trust with the rebels, first with Mon Mothma, then with Breha Organa, and then with Bail Organa and the others.  One of the key moments comes at a dinner party featuring rebel Senators that is unexpectedly interrupted by Grand Moff Tarkin, who clearly suspects what they’re doing.  But having to adapt on the fly and without time to think up a plan, Bail, Breha, Mon, and Leia all pick up on cues perfectly and collaborate to put on quite a dramatic show, with Breha accusing Bail of having an affair with Mon and with Leia bursting out in tears at the discussion.  That ultimately convinces Tarkin that this is nothing more than a crazy, drunken dinner party, and he leaves.  But Tarkin still suspects something, and he later calls Leia into his office to meet with him when he name-drops an obscure planet at which the rebel fleet sits.  Leia knows why Tarkin mentioned it, but she plays it cool until she leaves… at which point she frantically contacts Breha and Mon, who send her on a desperate emergency mission to the planet to warn Bail and the rest of the rebels.  Leia and Amilyn arrive in time and save Bail and the rebel ships… but not Kier Domadi. 

The relationship between Leia and Kier is one of the driving plots of the book, as they meet and soon fall in love.  Kier is a charming young man from Alderaan who wants nothing but the best for his planet, so when Leia allows him to know a bit of the knowledge of the rebels he supports her but is fearful for the possible implications for his planet.  He and Leia are in love and share many moments together in the book, and Leia’s parents like him – but Breha does say “I suppose a tiny bit of me hoped that my daughter’s first romance wouldn’t be so… suitable.  Sometimes it does a girl good to fall for a bit of a scoundrel, now and then.”  Tragically, Kier is killed in the explosion of the rebel station as the rebels blow it up to cover their tracks.  Kier was there to retrieve damning evidence of the rebellion in an attempt to save his planet, but his information never reaches the right people as he dies in Leia’s arms.

But perhaps the coldest words of the book are the final ones of the book, when Leia – having passed her three challenges to formally become the heir to the throne – realizes “my parents.  My friends.  My world.  These are the things the Empire can never take away.”

The book is a tremendous look at the Leia we love – a fierce, determined princess who is set on helping people, who won’t back down, and who becomes one of the Rebellion’s greatest heroes.  Before that, however, she had to get her start in the Rebellion, and that’s the story told here – which makes it an incredibly significant one.

There are also a lot of easter eggs in the book that are worth mentioning.  There’s Woboni, the Imperial prison planet that shows up in Rogue One, which apparently used to be covered with plenty of green but that had been desolated by the Empire with pollution and its people mistreated, eventually becoming a prison planet.  There’s an appearance from Director Krennic (albeit unnamed), as an Imperial officer dressed in white shows up on one planet looking for resources for a massive construction project.  And there’s even an appearance from the Millennium Falcon (also unnamed), as Leia apparently tried to catch a ride from Han Solo three years before they ever met (the ship had taken off before Leia could try to get a ride).  There are references to Saw Gerrera and his radical band of rebels too.  The most significant time devoted to an easter egg, however, is an appearance from Quarsh Panaka, who served Padme Amidala as a security captain in The Phantom Menace and who later was named a Moff by the Empire.  Leia encounters him on one of the moons of Naboo on a mercy mission, oblivious to any connection, but Panaka can’t stop staring at her and notices a striking resemblance.  He obliges to Leia’s request much easier than expected, and he continues to prompt discussions – including about her adoption – before finally concluding that he’ll tell the Emperor about her – in other words, Panaka found out that she was the long-lost daughter of Padme.  Before he was able to tell Palpatine, though, he was assassinated by Saw’s rebels.  Afterward, Leia cannot understand why her parents are so concerned that she was in the Naboo system, or why Panaka seemed so intrigued by her.

It’s those kinds of easter eggs that the reader understands but Leia doesn’t, such as why Panaka seemed interested in her, why her parents were upset she had been to Naboo, why it was significant that she tried to catch a ride with a YT model freighter, etc.  Those are the things that help tie the universe together in cool ways, and another is that Leia visits Pamarthe… which we know is the homeworld of Greer Sonnel, too.

One of the other significant things that the book does is introduce us to some key new aspects of The Last Jedi: Amilyn Holdo and the planet Crait.  Holdo is a Vice Admiral who will appear in TLJ played by Laura Dern, but this book is the first time we get any characterization of her.  She is from Gatalenta and is part of the Apprentice Legislature, and she becomes a good friend of Leia’s throughout the book… but is portrayed as quite weird.  Think Star Wars’ Luna Lovegood, for an example.  Holdo eventually learned of Leia’s involvement and the rebellion, and Holdo too thought the Empire was doing wrong.  Leia thought of her as odd – what with her dyed hair and strange traditions and weird personality – but does become a friend of hers, so it will be interesting to see their dynamic together in The Last Jedi.  They’re friends, but there’s also been thirty-plus years of time and a current war that might put a strain on that.  Additionally, the planet Crait makes an appearance in the book, and we know that it will play a key role in TLJ (most likely in the third act).  It would make sense for the Resistance to go there, though, as there was rebel involvement on the planet years earlier, and Leia traveled to the planet to try to figure out what was going on only to find her father.  But we get an idea of the planet itself and the salt that covers the red soil underneath.

As you can tell, there’s a lot to mention about the book.  The plot surrounding Leia’s Day of Demand is fine, but the book really shines in other areas.  Gray once again nails the portrayal of Leia, we see her learning of and slowly getting involved in the Rebellion, we get tremendous characterization of Bail and Breha Organa as well as Mon Mothma, we get a ton of interesting easter eggs that point back to what we already know and point forward to the upcoming film, and much more.  A well-written, engaging, heart-felt, and significant story of Leia Organa first getting involved in the Rebellion?  That’s a story worth reading, and it’s one of my absolute favorites from the new canon so far.

My grade: 9.5/10

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