Why You Have to Read Leia, Princess of Alderaan Before Seeing The Last Jedi
Leia, Princess of Alderaan ascends to queenhood.
Politics is wearing your best poker face. 16-year-old Princess Leia Organa of planet Alderaan learns this the hard way when she stiffly applauds the Empire’s motions toward yet another despotic act.
Carrie Fisher’s General Leia in The Force Awakens is a weary but still optimistic leader in her quest to restore galactic order. The young Princess Leia of Leia, Princess of Alderaan is just as hopeful and exhausted. As she observes in her adoptive parents’ aged countenance, the chaos of the world will whiten her own hair.
Author Claudia Gray has considerable craft in fashioning a complicated but comprehensible political boiling pot in the Star Wars realm. Leia serves as a spiritual successor and chronological predecessor to Gray’s Bloodline, which bridged the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and uncannily mirrored the beats of the 2016 U.S. election. As a secure marriage of political thriller and coming-of-age tale, Leia serves as a reprisal of Gray’s coverage of Leia’s political life, this time tapping into her teen time as a politician-in-training at the Apprentice Legislature.
Leia opens in theatrics, as she goes through the script and choreography of her Day of Demand, exchanging dialogue and promises to her Queen mother, Breha Organa. Although the seat of monarchy requires a birthright (it’s an interesting twist in Leia’s case, for adoption welcomed her into a royal lineage), the Alderaan protocol scrutinizes the proof of ability. Leia must complete the Trials of the Body, Mind, and Heart to be declared a rightful heir. But as she proceeds, she uncovers her family’s involvement in the burgeoning Rebellion. Leia’s parents are determined to restrain Leia from nearing the crossfire of possible war, though they negotiate Leia’s royal activism with cautious pragmatism, regulating her diplomatic activities. But Leia has to measure out restraint with her fervor to do right by the galaxy.
Gray portrays Leia’s precocious and conscientious mindset with plausible age-appropriate vulnerabilities: She’s a Princess who juggles her primal need for her parents’ approval while understanding their royal duties. Most crucially, Gray has Leia grapple with cognitive dissonance: Although raised with a “justice at any cost” mentality, Leia has to reconcile the pragmatic notion that achieving peace will mean shedding blood and is unsure whether warfare in rebellion is a good idea.
To provide a contrast to Leia’s grimy outdoor missions, Gray finds intimacy in the domesticity of Leia’s regal interiors, down to the corridors and passages where Leia eavesdrops on her parents’ banquet for intel. Living up to the “Organa” name, Leia’s parents Bail and Breha feel organically like a family, full of procedural poise but also well balanced with ceremonial and the casual mannerisms alike. Breha Organa is also granted overdue reverence, redeeming her from the “sidelined (dead) maternal figure” status of Star Wars by illuminating her accomplishments as a mother and queen.
From rites of passage to parental obstruction, Gray applies the archetypical beats of the coming-of-age novel while freshening them with solid intrigue and believability. With one exception: I was iffy on the first-love romance between Leia and Alderaan Kier, a fellow Apprentice with a devotion to Alderaan. It’s not bereft of emotional beats and amusing interplay, though it is a tiresome heteronormative trope to have a boy-girl romance passed off as her “just being a normal girl, not a politician nor princess” phase of girlhood. Fortunately, as Leia’s story moves toward its climax, Gray diverts from the Kier-Leia dynamic in favor of the girl friendship between Leia and Apprentice Amilyn Holdo, and the outcome of Leia’s romance meets an end that invokes introspection for her cause.
Speaking of Amilyn, Leia’s kooky friend is to surface onscreen in The Last Jedi, portrayed by Laura Dern. The teenage Amilyn of the page is a scene-stealer, evocative of Luna Lovegood eccentricity. Leia initially believes Amilyn is too ditzy to have substantial involvement in political affairs, but in the senate chamber, Amilyn has a more explicit push for justice that offends Imperials. The adult Amilyn’s methods may clash with General Leia’s in the movie.
Gray pulls additional pathos from a well-calculated callback to the Prequel Trilogy era during Leia’s mission to Naboo. When Leia dons the wardrobe of Naboo royalty, it sparks a near-breakdown from Quarsh Panaka, a Prequel cast member. He sees not a Princess, but Queen Padme Amidala.
The call-forwards to Leia’s (undeclared) queenhood hit the hardest, tugging at the reader’s apprehension of Alderaan’s inevitable annihilation in A New Hope. Leia’s adventures, both clandestine and publicized to her kingdom, culminate in her spiritual coronation for the Alderaan throne.
But the Alderaan queen was not preparing her young Princess to just save Alderaan, but the entire galaxy. Leia, Princess of Alderaan reminds the reader that Alderaan, Bail, and Breha live on in the steadfast and silver-haired General Leia of The Last Jedi.
(featured image: Disney Lucasfilm Press)
Carol is a queer Vietnamese-Houstonian Earthling surviving under the fickle weather of New York while buried in her Nonfiction MFA homework like Hermione Granger and her Hogwarts studies. When not angsting over her first poetry manuscript or a pilot screenplay about space samurais, Carol is cooking her own Chinese food instead of buying take-outs and dreaming of winning Hamilton lotto tickets.
She chronicles the quirks of New York living, runs writing and scripting services, and lends her voice to Birth Movies Death, Film School Rejects, and The Script Lab. She’s also lurking in the shadows waiting for you to follow her on Twitter or Tumblr and read her Star Wars fanfiction.
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