Everybody remembers their first love, and in the latest Star Wars novel — Leia: Princess of Alderaan, by Claudia Gray — we finally have the chance to meet Princess Leia's.
Claudia Gray is a skilled author, and no stranger to writing Leia; she penned the Leia-focused novel Bloodline, in the run-up to The Force Awakens. Now though, in the aftermath of Carrie Fisher's death, Gray has a chance to pay tribute to an iconic actress and character as she reveals Leia's hidden backstory.
A First Romance
Leia: Princess of Alderaan opens on the day that Leia begins her ascent to the throne of Alderaan, embracing a series of challenges on the ceremonial 'Day of Demand.' One of these challenges is to begin her diplomatic career; Leia joins the Imperial Apprentice Legislature to train for Senate membership. And it's as an apprentice that Leia meets a fellow Alderaani, and begins her first beautiful relationship.
Kier Domadi was a citizen of Alderaan, a handsome young man who found Leia captivating. He'd grown up with a firm belief in the Royal Family of Alderaan, but after meeting Leia, he learned to see another side of it all. Kier began to understand that the Royal Family had embraced their duty to the people so much that they didn't even think of themselves. In one key scene, Leia risked her own life to save his; her instinctive sense of selfless duty angered him, as he noted she'd never truly understand her own value. Instead, Leia would always assess herself by her performance, by how well she served and what she gave to others.
It was this devotion to Leia as a person that first began to draw the pair together. With her parents growing emotionally distant, Leia found in Kier a man who simply wanted her to be happy. Touched by the young man's commitment to Leia, her parents approved of their relationship — although in one amusing scene, Breha reflected that she rather wished her daughter would live a bit more; maybe even choose to be attracted to some "scoundrel!"
The Heart-Wrenching Twist
As the novel progresses, 16-year-old Leia gradually learns that her parents are playing a key role in creating the Rebel Alliance. In one tremendously effective scene, the Princess traces shipments of goods and money to a secret Rebel fleet, and is staggered to realize that the Galaxy is about to be plunged into war once again — And this time, her parents will be the instigators.
What Leia didn't foresee though was that Kier too would be drawn into this conflict and that his reactions would be very different. Where Bail and Breha Organa believed they had a responsibility to the Galaxy, Kier feared the Empire's retribution would fall upon the planet of Alderaan. The Organas understood that fear, and had indeed wrestled with it for the better part of a year or more, finally concluding that they had to act. But Kier's point was proved when the Empire discovered Senators from the wealthy Rim-world of Christophsis had been conspiring against the Empire. The Senators and their families were arrested; Christophsis's capital city was razed.
Kier's fear of Imperial retribution ultimately led him and Leia down different paths. Realizing that the Empire was aware of the Rebel fleet, Leia sped to her father's side to warn him and ensure that the Rebels escaped. Unfortunately, the panicked Princess also told Kier where she was going. He too headed to the remote Paucris system, but his goal wasn't to warn the Rebels. Instead, Kier attempted to take recordings, aiming to give them to the Empire. His hope was that he'd be able to shut down the Rebellion, while somehow preserving the secrets of the Royal Family.
What Kier hadn't factored in was that the evacuation ended with the destruction of the Rebel shipyards. When that moment came, he was flying too close, and his ship was ravaged. Leia was able to dock, but not in time to save his life. Her last words to Kier, her childhood sweetheart, were a false promise that she would turn his evidence over to the Empire. Instead, she let it burn.
The Shadow Of Kier Looms Over Leia's Life
Claudia Gray's novel is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Fundamentally, of course, Kier was right; the Empire did use Alderaan as an example. Not just of Imperial retribution, but of Imperial power, as the Death Star's superlaser blasted an entire world to rubble. A skilled author, Gray uses her last words to twist the knife.
"My parents, Leia thought. My friends. My world.
These are the things the Empire can never take away."
As rulers of a world, the Royal Family risked everything to set up the Rebel Alliance — including their own people. Kier was right to intuit that the Empire would exact revenge upon the entire planet, but for the Organas, it was a question of what Alderaan truly meant. Was this world really a beacon of freedom and hope? If so, they could not betray their ideals by ignoring the Empire's evil. They had to risk it all.
The book subtly reimagines the Rebel Alliance as Alderaan's legacy, revealing what other novels, like E. K. Johnston's Ahsoka, had already hinted; that the Organas played a foundational role in establishing the Rebellion. There would be no Rebellion without the ideals of Alderaan, and it's impossible not to be moved when you realize that Alderaan's ultimate sacrifice would be the flag around which Bail imagined the Rebels gathering.
In the aftermath of A New Hope, how many times did Kier's words and actions run through Leia's mind? How many times did she cast her mind back to these events, and wonder if her family, her friends, her entire world would still exist if she had chosen differently? In the wake of Alderaan's destruction, a lesser woman would have been broken. Instead, Leia understood the sacrifice that had been made, and committed herself to the Rebellion once again.
The Romance With Han Solo
What's more, Leia: Princess of Alderaan subtly shines a new light on Leia's relationship with Han. Remember all those scenes in The Empire Strikes Back where Han mocks her, calling her "Your Highness," "Your Worshipfulness," and more? The contrast with Kier is remarkable. When Kier referred to Leia as "Your Highness," he did so with genuine respect and reverence for the monarchy. We're given a fresh insight into just why Han's sarcastic quips angered Leia so much; they unknowingly poked at an old wound, one that her conflicted emotions over the smuggler were exposing.
And when Han referred to himself as a "scoundrel," did Leia remember her mother's words? Was she reminded of her mother's wish that she'd find a "scoundrel," have a bit of adventure before settling down? If so, her attraction to Han would have become even more confusing for the Princess, as she remembered her mother's influence, and her emotions became tangled in a fresh surge of grief.
Claudia Gray has proven herself one of the best Star Wars novelists of the current range, and Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a love-letter to Carrie Fisher's iconic character. It's a heartbreaking book, one soaked in emotion, and it's impossible not to be moved as you see Leia take her first faltering steps as an adult. Unlike Leia, we know what's coming; we know the tragedy that will soon consume her entire world. And this book makes the pain of it all far more real.