I am excited to say that this is the very first Star Wars book I’ve ever read: Leia, Princess of Alderaan, by Claudia Gray, and I truly believe this is an excellent one to begin my journey.
Let’s start with what we already know: Leia was the adopted daughter of Queen Breha and Viceroy Bail Organa, is therefore a princess from Alderaan, becomes one of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance, and, we know from A New Hope that Alderaan will unfortunately later be destroyed by the Death Star. However, before this we did not know Leia’s relationship with her adoptive parents, what her upbringing was like on Alderaan, and what trials it took to help her become the headstrong princess we see in the films. Below you’ll find that the book gives a detailed account of the missing pieces we’ve all been waiting to hear about.
Growing up on Alderaan
According to Gray, Leia had a happy childhood growing up on Alderaan with her family. She and her parents had a close relationship, as shown in their family talks, group hugs, and that they constantly told her the story of how they found and adopted her as a baby. Leia also describes knowing every hall of the ‘sprawling labyrinth’ of chambers in the palace, and for fun, exploring them by herself as a child.
Leia’s parents also gave her a droid, WA-2V, who dresses her and does her hair throughout life, that also acts as a kind of nanny she is fond of and argues with. The most common theme however, is that Leia’s parents always taught her about duty to country above all – that her most important task was to serve her people, make the best decisions for them, and keep them safe.
The Day of Demand and Challenges
We see Leia’s first time becoming more mature during her Day of Demand, very early in the story. The Day of Demand requires a potential heir to the throne that is 16 years old to attend a ceremony hosted by the Queen, and demand their right to the crown. They are also required to choose and complete three challenges: of the mind, body, and heart, to prove they are worthy of the crown.
Leia chose to climb Appenza Peak as her challenge of the body (but will first be trained to prepare for this with a Pathfinding Group), to represent Alderaan in the Apprentice Legislature as her challenge of the mind, and to take on missions of charity to planets in need as her challenge of the heart.
It is through these challenges that Leia learns what trials her parents deal with every day, that sometimes you’ll make mistakes and have to fix them or live with the consequences, decides to officially join the rebellion effort (“..if Bail Organa led this movement of rebels, then they were doing the right thing. And she wanted to be a part of it.”), and learns that the peace of the galaxy depends on the alliances you can make and trust.
From her very first humanitarian mission, as her challenge of the heart, Leia is shocked by what she sees – famine, desolation and many people in need of help. Although her parents have dealt with heartbreaking and difficult decisions like this before, Leia to this point had never seen this level of poverty and need, and was moved to do something drastic. This begins her life of manipulating the Empire to help the less fortunate and become a rebel – as here on Wobani she must conceal rescuing Wobani citizens as newly hired crew members for her ship, in order to safely take them to Alderaan without an imperial attack.
Her maturity grows again when she is on Coruscant, for her challenge of the mind, with the Apprentice Legislature, and they are given a task to discuss and make a decision on. However Leia soon realizes that all of the tasks they’re given are not anything the Empire truly needs the legislature’s help with, but rather a deceitful way of using the legislature as the means to an end. For example, having the Apprentice Legislature choose from a selection of four planets which the Empire should build their new academy on. After it is chosen, Leia realizes that the Empire wanted to use this planet all along in order to mine for certain resources and strip the planet down to nothing.
With her challenge of the body, Leia goes with the same members from the Apprentice Legislature who are also in her Pathfinding Group, and has to learn to: be a creative problem-solver to get out of tough places in the wilderness, pay attention to detail in order to avoid getting lost, and to be a team player, using everyone’s individual strengths to achieve a goal. She builds an unexpected alliance with a character that we will see in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi this December – Amilyn Holdo, who she first describes as odd, with acid green hair and strange clothing. However, Amilyn’s carefree nature, interesting cultural customs and funny metaphors win Leia over. Amilyn also proves herself to be a loyal companion when Leia needs help.
During trips with the Pathfinding Group we also see Leia’s first experience falling in love, with a boy also from Alderaan, named Kier Domadi. Kier seems to Leia by his demeanor to be sarcastic towards her, but she discovers he is actually just an introvert, and takes time to become more comfortable having conversations. They build a friendship, as Kier respects her, and sees that she truly cares for helping others (for example when a group member twists their ankle and Leia is the first one to offer to stay with her and wait for help). Things heat up when he offers to teach her better archery skills, and then when she involves him in her ‘secret missions’ and eavesdropping on her parents meetings. We grow to adore Kier because at every turn he is gently encouraging Leia to be all she can be, but even though she has a duty to her country, not to forget that she deserves a life as well and to have fun on occasion. He seems to also be a loyal friend, which is the reason Leia trusts involving him in rebellion matters.
Leia meets her first serious opponent when she is among the Apprentice Legislature on Coruscant, and Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin visits their opening reception. This begins their lifelong feud, as Leia is already not fond of the empire, and because Tarkin has already heard of her trickery of imperial officers on Wobani, and he decides to be cold and try to intimidate her at their first meeting. He even says that Leia is good at seeing weaknesses and exploiting them.
She also has an uncomfortable meeting on Naboo with Moff Quarsh Panaka, when Queen Dalne takes Leia there to meet him and try to gain his help with improving working conditions for the miners of Naboo. Moff Panaka begins to become curious when Leia says she is adopted, and realizes (probably) that Leia is the sister of Luke Skywalker, children of Anakin and Padme and would be of great interest to Grand Moff Tarkin and the Emperor. Panaka then drills Leia with questions until she seems to call him on it, however as soon as Leia and Dalne step out Panaka’s front door, the rebellion bombs the house and it, and Panaka, are gone.
This information of the conversation exchanged thankfully does not reach Grand Moff Tarkin or the Emperor, however Tarkin does believe that the Organa family is involved in the rebellion, and that Leia is as well. He never ceases to drill Leia with questions at every moment he can, making it come across as pleasant conversation, but all the while asking pointed questions and making intense eye contact to try to intimidate her into confessing. Leia proves though that she is a master of keeping cool under pressure, never giving the slightest incriminating word or confessing anything at all – keeping Tarkin intrigued and wanting more information.
Ties to The Last Jedi and Rogue One
To harken back to Leia’s alliances, as mentioned, Amilyn Holdo is one of her new acquaintances that quickly becomes a close friend and will appear in The Last Jedi this December. (Which I’m THRILLED about, especially after reading of her acrobatic skills and funny metaphors!) However that’s not the only time we are given nods to several of the Star Wars films in this book. Gray also mentions that Leia visits the planet of Crait, which is the world covered in salt which underneath has red soil and is shown in The Last Jedi trailers, and mentions the rebellion’s disintegrating partnership with rebel, Saw Gerrera, seen in Rogue One and television show, Star Wars Rebels. Senator and rebel leader, Mon Mothma, along with Bail and Breha Organa all mention to Leia that they cannot trust Saw anymore due to his methods of war becoming too aggressive.
The leaders of the rebellion feel, and are teaching Leia the same, that in order to have success in overthrowing the empire and not become the evil they’re fighting against, their methods of fighting must have honor and rules. They also believe that their attacks must be expertly planned to strike only key points of advantage to the rebellion, and have the least casualties possible. This is where Leia first learns how rebels should fight (as well as from Jedi later, in the films) and how to succeed against the empire with dignity and honor, not deceit and countless casualties.
A Blow to the Heart (SPOILERS AHEAD)
One of the most heartbreaking things to discover in this story is what becomes of Leia’s first love, Kier. As Leia is involved in another secret mission, this time on behalf of the rebellion and with her family’s and Mon Mothma’s support, Kier thinks he is coming to rescue Leia from trouble while she is orbiting Paucris Major, and instead is caught in the explosion of a rebel repair station which has been set to self-destruct.
As a reader, you’re both saddened for Leia at the shock that Kier died in front of her, but also turn out to be somewhat relieved that the information he had about the rebellion won’t be handed to the empire, because Kier gives the memory stick to Leia and asks her to do it. We all know already that at this point in her training, Leia would do anything to protect the rebellion and will be destroying that information. It still doesn’t soften this blow, even though we also know she will end up falling for Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, and even though we know she will be able to destroy incriminating evidence Kier had against the rebel alliance, you feel the pain that Leia must feel losing the first person other than her parents that she was so close to.
Where we leave things
Although Leia has just lost Kier, she realizes that this is part of ruling a world – sometimes you will lose people you care for, but you must pick yourself up and continue the fight to take care of your people (and for her, the rebellion). She must attend her ceremony to declare her right to the throne and that her challenges are completed, and be named by Queen Breha as the ‘crown princess, heir to the throne of Alderaan’. It is however with the final sentence of the book, that author Claudia Gray intentionally hits readers with a chilling sentence, but a sentence (and a book overall) that will forever change the way we view A New Hope: “My parents” Leia thought, “My friends. My world. These are the things the Empire can never take away.”
I highly suggest immediately upon finishing Leia, Princess of Alderaan, that you watch A New Hope again. It is only after reading this story, that you watch the scene of Grand Moff Tarkin destroying Leia’s home planet in front of her, and truly feel and understand the depth of pain that Leia must feel, and her resolve to end the Empire.
Find Christy on Twitter and Instagram as @MorrChristy, writing for fangirlnextdoor.com, and podcasting on the 602 Club podcast (link above)!
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