Before we begin–I’ve been reviewing the new Disney Lucasfilm Press/Del Rey Star Wars novels for about a year now. It’s been a fun assignment, if only because I get to experience all the nuance and subtleties that a well-written book can add to the cinematic stories of Star Wars. During that time, I’ve noticed that there are a few common elements in these books that can make or break them, things that make it feel like Star Wars, or things that take away from it. As such, I’ll be adding to my reviews a graphic that will allow you to see very quickly what I thought about the book. I expand on the scores in the body of the article.
“Is It Star Wars?” will evaluate five areas that contribute to a good entry into the genre: Legacy Characters, New Characters, Adventure versus Political story, Rebels versus Empire, and Lightsabers. The overall score will determine “Is It Star Wars?” with a simple yes or no.
And now onto our regularly scheduled review.
Talk about an overwhelming task. Imagine getting a call from your agent and being told that Lucasfilm and Disney want you to write a story about how Princess Leia came of age. I’m chilling from the flop sweats as I write this. Claudia Gray, author of the successful Firebird series, was probably not so intimidated. Having successfully taken on the job of writing about an older, post-Return of the Jedi Leia in the novel Bloodlines, Gray was well-qualified for her second attempt to expand upon this hugely popular legacy character. She succeeds on all marks, with this latest Journey to The Last Jedi offering being more than just a pre-film cash grab.
Gray’s entry into the new canon of Star Wars presents an eager, capable, yet somewhat naïve warrior who is ready to make her place in the galaxy.
Fitting well into the Young Adult genre of sci-fi, the book presents a 16-year-old Leia as she embarks upon the Day of Demand, a ceremony where a potential heir to the Alderaanian throne must declare their intent to one day ascend to the monarchy. Announcing what she will do to earn this place involves a Challenge of the Heart, Mind and Body—think Eagle Scout but bigger. Never mind that Leia had been adopted; she has prepared herself under the watchful tutelage of her parents, Bail and Breha Organa, who have embraced and loved Leia with all their hearts.
Leia’s relationship to her parents is really the main theme of the story. Do they trust her? Do they love her? Do they respect her decisions? Woven in between are other plotlines common to a YA novel (romantic interests, self-worth, discovering a larger world/galaxy) but they are not played simply as trope. They are used to good purpose as the reader uncovers the events that shaped the independent, talented and determined General Leia from an idealistic child into the beloved Princess.
Is It Star Wars?
Legacy Characters: Of course, we are introduced to the first version of a post-infant Leia in the book (having previously been only a newborn baby in Revenge of the Sith). Leia is a well-developed person by the time we meet her on the Day of Demand, and there is much about her that is already similar to the take-charge princess we meet in New Hope and beyond. However, Gray fully explains and enhances upon these qualities as we journey with Leia while she fulfills her Challenges of the Heart, Mind and Body. We also have ample interaction with Bail & Breha Organa (and learn why she was unable to have children. Though not revealed until the end of the book, it adds depth and peril to Leia’s own choices earlier in the story); Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin creeps his way into Leia’s life; and, Palpatine is mentioned, though not directly involved (we also learn his first name…for the first time? I’m not sure on that one). R2D2 and C3P0 are alluded to during some time on the Tantive IV (a character unto itself), but really only in passing. A strong presence of popular film characters earns this category a 5/5 stars
New Characters: Leia encounters many new friends as she starts training for her Challenges. Joyfully, she realizes that for the first time in her life she is interacting with appropriately aged contemporaries, and this brings out a playful, innocent side of Leia we haven’t seen before. We meet fellow Alderaanian Kier Domadi, a potential love interest for Leia that bears no resemblance to her eventual space boyfriend, Han Solo. He’s complicated but has a generosity and kindness that instantly breaks down Leia’s defenses. Amilyn Holdo, a flaky hippie child with constantly changing hair color earns a place in Leia’s circle of trust. Reminiscent of Luna Lovelace from the Harry Potter novels, she quickly overcomes her labels and proves her worth. Oh, and then there’s Leia’s person droid, WA-2V, or 2V, which adds to the familiar sterotype of a fussy droid. The rest of the characters, while adding to the story and filling those needs, they were kind of one-dimensional, so my score here is 3/5 stars
Feel the Force?
Adventure versus Political: Gray balances out the need to show the politics of the Empire’s crushing grip on the galaxy with the traditional elements of adventure present in the Star Wars. Leia ultimately becomes a senator, and her role of heir to the throne of Alderaan demands that she be well-taught as a politician, but Gray doesn’t sink to the depths of “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems” … blah-blah-blah from Phantom Menace. There are plenty of action sequences where Leia is in peril, and this makes for a great page-turner.
Rebels versus Empire: Yes! The real “take-it-forward to the films” meat of this book is Leia’s progress from teen royalty to key player in the Rebellion. The Imperial threat looms heavily from the beginning, and not only does Leia butt heads with the Empire, but we see her failing, failures that will eventually allow her to aggressively take on her role as leader of the Rebellion.
Lightsabers: No. Definitely no Jedi in this story. They aren’t mentioned or hinted at, nor their iconic weapons. Most of the action is void of a blaster, even. We all know that Leia is the daughter of a greatly powerful Jedi, and Gray does not ignore this, but I was hoping for more links to her sensitivity to the Force. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t hints, because there are.
Is It Star Wars? YES!
Gray totally succeeds in her second book about Leia. I loved reading about Leia’s victories and failures. The YA themes were not too overwhelming for this life-long fan, and the peek into Leia’s thought processes as she experienced challenges were illuminating and satisfying. Definitely pick this book up. It will help ease the two plus months before The Last Jedi, and can only enhance the respect we all feel for our Princess of Alderaan.
Author, podcaster, costumer and maker, Ryan has been enjoying Disney, Marvel and Star Wars since his first years of life and is thrilled to be able to pass that passion along to a new audience on LaughingPlace. Check out his award winning novels “The Pirate Bride” & “The Lost Crew” in bookstore nationwide.