It’s a bit bittersweet today. On the one hand, I get to dive into one of my absolute favourite canon Star Wars novels. But on the other hand, this is the last Claudia Gray book until the High Republic comes out in the new year.
Of all the Star Wars books I’m covering here, this is the only print book that I’ve actually listened to fully in audiobook format. The first two Thrawn books, I half-listened, half-read depending on my work schedule. But this one was worth taking the time for.
I used to commute to work with my dad, and needing something to listen to in the car we first listened to Dooku: Jedi Lost, and once that proved a success, I suggested this one. He loves both sci-fi and Star Wars, but hasn’t ever read any of the old or new EU books. And even he LOVED this one. Still talks about it sometimes. So what is there to love about it? Honestly? Everything. Here is Bloodline, by Claudia Gray.
*Also Content Warning for brief mentions of torture/Slave Leia if either of those make you uncomfortable (found in list items 1 and 5)*
Worth noting that my absolute favourite thing about this book is Leia herself. But I won’t list it, because she’s the main character and that’s cheating.
Set shortly before the events of The Force Awakens, the New Republic is in chaos (shocking, who even saw that coming?). The Senate has turned extremely partisan, and is virtually incapable of doing anything but argue.
Needless to say, Leia is extremely over it, and decides to retire to spend more time with Han, who is off coaching starship race teams. An emissary from Ryloth arrives in the Senate, asking for an investigation into criminal activity in the planet’s region, as it’s effecting their day to day operations.
Leia decides an on-the-ground mission is just the note to go out on and volunteers to investigate. In an effort to keep things bipartisan (and not allow one party to have all the glory), Ransolm Casterfo, a Senator from the opposition volunteers to accompany her.
Because this is Star Wars, things are never as simple as they seem. Leia and Casterfo not only uncover a huge, well-connected criminal enterprise, but they also find themselves tossed around in the turmoil of election campaigns, as the Senate decides to elect a First Senator to lead the government, with Leia’s party choosing her as their candidate.
Through it all, Leia also continually finds herself haunted by shadows from her past, particularly the looming shadow of Darth Vader.
5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. The OT through Leia’s eyes
Though Leia is present for the bulk of the Original Trilogy movies, we never really get to see how she feels about the things that happen to and around her.
It’s always “Who’s Leia?” “Where’s Leia?” and never “How’s Leia?”
I have never not been annoyed that a few hours after watching her home, her family, her whole planet blow up before her eyes, Leia has to sit and comfort a boy moping because the old guy he’s known for all of 10 minutes just died.
And you know what, Luke, I like Obi Wan too. But a little perspective please.
The book shows us that Leia did take time to mourn the loss of her home, that the grief still comes on really strongly even years later, and that Han is always there for her when it does.
This book also sees one of the best rebrandings in the Star Wars universe, and that is the rebranding of “Slave Leia” into “Huttslayer Leia”. When Leia and her team are investigating the new swell of criminal activity, their investigation brings them face to face with Rinrivin Di, the crime lord that they suspect is behind it all. He manages to get Leia alone and shows her his most prized possession: a recording of a young Leia strangling Jabba the Hutt to death. Because Rinrivin Di’s people suffered greatly at the hands of the Hutts, they were delighted to see Jabba taken out, and hold Leia in great esteem for being the one to do it.
There are a lot of reasons I love this so much. I love it because this idea of Leia killing the being who dared hold her captive is how Carrie Fisher framed that plot point. I love it because it injects agency into a thing that has long been fetishized for the wrong reasons. I love that it has taken on a life of its own outside of the book. Costuming groups refer to this outfit as “Huttslayer Leia”. I’ve got this badass sticker on my laptop, created as part of the promotional campaign for the “Looking for Leia” docuseries (art by @miss.lys on Instagram):
Leia was such an instrumental part of those first movies, and it’s great to read a book that puts the focus on her and that shows how instrumental those stories were to her too.
2. The politics of the New Republic
All through the Aftermath books, I talked about how the New Republic is setting itself up for failure, and that the whole thing is definitely going to implode?
So guess what happens here?
In the years since the government was established, two political parties popped up in the Senate, and become more divided by the day.
On one side, there are the Populists, of which Leia is one. The Populists are opposed to central government, wanting each world to govern themselves, their reasoning being that one central leader is a slippery slope to a Palpatine-like dictatorship. The problem here is that with no central guidance, no world or system gets adequate enough assistance for their problems.
On the other side, there are the the Centrists, who are in favour of all systems being governed by a central body. Though this approach does allow for a more decisive approach to dealing with the problems of the galaxy, this party is also the one that attracts people who think the Empire wasn’t so bad after all, and overall has a more elitist membership.
You can see why this is a problem.
Though Leia and Casterfo do manage a civil, even friendly working relationship for a time. This all comes crumbling down when Lady Carise Sindian, a noblewoman obsessed with titles in a galaxy that couldn’t care less, who has a huge chip on her shoulder where Leia is concerned, reveals to Casterfo that Leia is the daughter of Darth Vader.
It also turns out that Carise is financially backing the criminal element Leia and Casterfo were looking for, this criminal element being a group of warriors who will eventually become the First Order.
Leia ends the book by walking away from the Senate and forming a Resistance group for the inevitable conflict on the horizon. This plot point was the single more informative thing about the whole book. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why a resistance was necessary when it seemed the New Republic was still in power. More importantly, it seemed like the First Order only seized power after the destruction of the Hosnian System. So if they weren’t in charge, who are the Resistance resisting?
Now I know.
3. Han and Leia
No author writing for the current canon writes Leia the way Claudia Gray does.
Gray hits on every facet there is. Her Leia is always at once a sage diplomat, a person who takes absolutely no bullshit and won’t waste time telling you as much, and someone who is often overwhelmed with a lot of personal and professional difficulty and feels it all keenly.
This knack for writing Leia extends to how she writes Leia and Han as a couple. So far we’ve also seen them together in the Aftermath books and in Last Shot.
In Last Shot we don’t see a whole lot of them together, but it is an effective set up for what we see here. It’s the two of them trying to make their marriage work while pursuing their individual interests and also trying to raise their son in the new world they’re creating.
Not much to say about the Aftermath books here except that even though I liked seeing them both in the book, I never got the feeling that they were married because they wanted be.
Here, they actually seem to love each other, and want to spend time together, and realizing that their various responsibilities keep them apart for lengthy periods of time is a point of sadness for them.
The way Leia describes Han is also really sweet. She says that he thrives when mentoring others, and that this is how he shows affection. It was what he did for Luke when they first met, and it’s what he does for the young racing pilots he coaches now. Through Leia’s eyes, he is also a rock-solid emotional support for when the grief of all she’s lost becomes too much to bear.
Han and Leia were never a couple I “shipped”, they just always were. I’ve never not liked them together, and with the added depth to their relationship here, I see that that like was justified.
4. Napkin Bombing
There’s nothing I love more than a good Star Wars conspiracy theory.
Before we get there, the Napkin Bombing is an incident that occurs halfway through this book and really ramps up the drama and conflict. Someone sets off a bomb that blows up half the Senate building, but miraculously doesn’t kill anyone.
The reason no one dies is because of a napkin, which provides the incident with its namesake.
Leia heads to a breakfast meeting in the Senate building, and on her plate is a napkin with the word “Run” written on it. This is just odd enough, because no one in this universe actually physically writes, that it catches Leia’s attention and she calls for a total evacuation of the building. In the aftermath, both parties suspect the other of foul play, and the conspiracy theories run wild. The bombing, it turns out, was planned by Carise Sindian and the Amaxine warriors, the milita group she is funding.
What we never find out though, is who wrote the note.
And this is where the conspiracy comes in, because the Napkin Bombing is a plot point suggested to Claudia Grey by none other than Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi. Apparently he also floated some ideas for how the political system works, but this is far more interesting to me because the whole thing hinges on a handwritten note, and The Last Jedi is the movie where we learn that Ben Solo is the rare person in the galaxy who actually writes by hand (it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it thing). I have nothing constructive to add here beyond “what does it meeeeeean?”
(Probably nothing honestly)
5. Leia and Vader
I’m going to make one thing very clear. As far as I’m concerned, while Luke is definitely the son of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, Leia Organa’s father is 100% Bail Organa.
That’s how she sees it. That’s the man who raised her. That’s all there is to it.
BUT. Because Anakin/Darth Vader is her biological father, the implications of that come into play in this book in a way that is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
A couple of times, Leia mentions that Luke told her how in his final moments, Vader had redeemed himself and become Anakin once more. She says that this gave Luke peace and closure, and while she’s happy for him, she can’t bring herself to feel the same way.
Yeah, no kidding.
Because while Luke can go forth, confident in the knowledge that his father saved him from death, sacrificing himself in the process, Leia’s one and only encounter with the man was when he spent countless hours torturing her, listening to her beg for mercy, before forcing her to watch the destruction of her planet. So no, she isn’t going to forgive him just like that, nor should she.
Not only that, but other than telling Han, Leia never revealed this bit on information to anyone. Again, she was right to do that, it doesn’t matter to them anyway. She doesn’t even tell Ben (which, hoo boy, I would love to see how that conversation played out when he found out). The revelation that she is related to Darth Vader absolutely dominates the last third or so of the book, and I loved seeing the emotional weight the plot was given.
Like in the above, where we get to reevaluate some events and relationships from the Original Trilogy through her eyes, this is a key connection that looms over her life, and I’m glad we get to see her deal with her feelings about it head on. While she does eventually have some empathy for why Anakin may have turned in the first place, she is definitely more hesitant about embracing his redemption.
6. Greer and Joph’s Side Quests
This is not to say that these parts of the book, where Joph and Greer head out on their own to gather information for Leia aren’t important to the story, or important in developing their relationship as characters.
My only issue with them is that the political conflict and overall mystery were so engaging, and I was enjoying seeing Leia thrive in her environment so much, that any time spent away from that part of the story was bound to have me wishing we could hurry back.
But let’s be honest, my least favourite part of a Claudia Gray book is still miles ahead of my “favourite” part of a book I disliked.
In a flashback, Han and Leia talk about having grandchildren one day, and how Leia is looking forward to it, but Han jokes and says he’s “never getting that old”, and this is fine, I totally wanted to cry today.
I know it’s just for a prerecorded message but Bail Organa is back y’all *happy tears*
Bail’s message is preceded by an Alderaanian lullaby called “Mirrorbright”. I can’t remember if there was a tune in the book or not, so I decided to hum it to the tune of “Once Upon a December” from Anastasia, and it actually works (mostly).
Ransolm Casterfo has the best name.
In another little nod to seeing the OT through Leia’s eyes, she mentions that Ransolm has the same accent Tarkin had, the one she mocked when she was brought on board the Death Star. I’m pretty sure Carrie Fisher said her line delivery came out like that because she was nervous, and it’s really cute that it was given similar reasoning in-universe.
OK, I’m just going to say it, then I’ll drop it. I know a lot of people liked Jedi Leia in The Rise of Skywalker. It didn’t even bother me much because I figured Leia’s a smart lady, and she knows if she has the capability to do something, then why not learn it and have that tool in her arsenal. Case in point: using the Force to pull herself back onboard the ship in The Last Jedi. But in this book she explicitly tells someone, when asked if she ever trained as a Jedi, that she hadn’t. I know the movies come first, and the books contradict each other in little ways sometimes, but this is a HUGE part of her character and I can’t help but feel that writers trying to wrap up a saga this massive would have been well-served by reading the current crop of stories first.