Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray, Review by Corinne Donnelly
Claudia Gray has made a name for herself as one of the strongest writers contributing to the new Star Wars canon. Lost Stars, Gray’s first foray into the Star Wars universe, tops most “Best of” lists, and Bloodline, set six years prior to the events of The Force Awakens, continues to receive high praise for Gray’s skillful portrayal of the former princess, now general. In Leia, Princess of Alderaan, set three years before A New Hope, Gray travels back many decades to the formation of the Rebel Alliance, witnessed through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Leia.
While much of the plot revolves around Leia’s ascension to the throne, which requires the completion of three challenges (heart, mind, and body), the Rebellion plays an integral role in Leia’s maturation from willful teenager to selfless heir. Two of the strongest scenes in the novel revolve around the imminent dangers of participating in any act of disobedience against the Empire. Since secrecy is tantamount to the fledgling Rebellion’s success, Bail and Breha Organa must proceed with caution, particularly as the leaders of a peaceful planet. Throughout most of the novel, Leia struggles to understand why her parents keep her in the dark, so she sets out on a series of dangerous missions to prove herself.
The familiar characters, places, and events keep the reader invested from the very beginning. Detailed references to the vast Star Wars universe appear often, which gives the novel a greater sense of meaning. The more you know about what is to come for these characters, the higher the stakes. The strong relationships prove most heartbreaking, for we all know that they will be obliterated in a few short years. Gray beautifully shows, not just tells, that Leia comes of age in a tumultuous period of time, and the sacrifices she must make to fight the Empire will only escalate as the years pass by.
A major theme of the novel is the necessity of taking action, even if the action is violent in nature. Gray gives Mon Mothma, the leader and voice of the movement, many powerful lines, including my personal favorite: “There comes a time when refusing to stop violence can no longer be called nonviolence…At some point, morality must be wedded to action, or else it’s no more than mere…vanity.” Leia’s adopted mother, Breha, who has been virtually silent in the Star Wars universe up to this point, is one of the greatest strengths of the novel. She espouses a bold perspective on love and sacrifice, openly choosing to place her beloved planet at risk for a greater good. Leia will eventually adopt a similar stance, which will one day lead to the destruction of her planet, but also the Empire.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan is one of the first of a series of books leading into Star Wars: The Last Jedi. No major spoilers appear throughout (that I’m aware of), but we do meet a young Amilyn Holdo, a new character who will be played by Laura Dern. Leia also travels to Crait, one of the planets featured in the trailer. If you’re hoping to walk into the movie completely blind, I wouldn’t worry too much, as these spoilers seem minor.
Claudia Gray’s newest addition to the Star Wars canon provides a refreshing and intimate look into Leia’s upbringing, as well as the early years of the Rebellion. Star Wars aficionados will appreciate the nods to the movies, and will most likely consider Gray’s clever additions as welcome contributions to an already rich company of characters and planets. If you’re looking for something to read to prepare yourself for the next theatrical release, Leia, Princess of Alderaan will more than satisfy.