When people ask me if I’m “Into Star Wars”, I say, “Yes, absolutely”. But when I say “Star Wars”, I mean, “Star Wars: A New Hope”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “Return of the Jedi”. I saw the first two prequels but am convinced they were a hallucination brought on by bad popcorn. I’ve never seen the Clone Wars. And I’ve never read a Star Wars novel. But for you, dear bitches, I braved the novelization world to review The Courtship of Princess Leia. I figured a novel about Han and Leia’s romance would either be the best thing since hyperdrive or the worst thing since Jabba the Hut’s personal appearance. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. This novel wasn’t irredeemable. It had good action sequences, a fast pace, and a few hilarious moments. But, as a romance novel, it was a big fail, because the most critical component – believable, well-developed, exciting romance – was absent.
To be honest, I’m grading this novel pretty harshly, mostly because it dangled so much potential in front of me and then whisked it away. At the start of the book, Han and Leia are both exhausted and overwhelmed. They are mourning the losses brought on by war and facing the realities of the struggles yet to come. Han has just returned from five months in combat, and Leia is preparing for a major diplomatic mission in another star cluster. They have a very brief time to try to reconnect. But, before they can do more than say, “Hi”, Leia receives a marriage proposal from Prince Isolder from the Hapes Consortium. This marriage would greatly strengthen the Alliance, and Isolder is quite a hottie. What will Leia do?
Well, I’ll tell you what Leia will do. Leia will be greatly charmed by Isolder (as who wouldn’t). Leia will then follow the men of the book around as they initiate all the action. Han, who has never been a paragon of maturity, will have hissy fits not unlike those of a thirteen-year-old girl. Luke will utter calm, wise words of wisdom and peace whenever he isn’t busy turning his enemies into barbeque. Chewie rips off arms, Artoo chirps, and Threepio is surprisingly awesome. Readers get a lot of adventure, but not a searing examination of the costs of war, or the difficult realities facing a couple who experience long separations and conflicting demands on their time and energies. Nor will the ethical implications of Leia’s choice have any but the most superficial treatment. Initially, it looks like this story will deal with the question of how much one can put one’s own personal happiness ahead of the well-being of others. A character explains the benefit of the marriage to Isolder in this way, “With the wealth of Hapes to help fund the war, Leia could overthrow the last remnants of the Empire quickly, saving billions of lives in the process”. Hear that, people? Not dozens, not millions, but billions of lives. What difference does it make whether Isolder is cute or repulsive? What difference does it make whether Han is the love of Leia’s life? Why are they fighting for her affections? This is a royal, political marriage, like many others, and normally affections would be beside the point. If the author is going to set such high stakes, those stakes should be seriously debated. That would make a compelling story about two kids who fell in love in wartime, and now have to make things work as adults with major challenges in their lives.
We don’t get that story, but we do get a fun romp, albeit not one that makes a lot of sense. I’ll let Han explain what happens once he realizes that Leia may very well leave him for Isolder:
“Well, see, it happened this way: I won a planet in a card game and really wanted to see it badly. Meanwhile, the woman I love was planning to run off with another man, so I convinced her to take a short trip with me. Only when we got here, I found the skies full of warships that shot me down – because no one bothered to tell me the planet was interdicted – and after we crashed, a bunch of witches decided to start a war over who gets the wreckage of my ship. So I’ll tell you, Luke, I’ve had a really bad week so far. Now, to top it off, I suppose you’re going to lecture me, or arrest me, or beat me up. So tell me, how is your week going?”
That plot summary is pretty complete, except where Han says, “convinced”, read, “kidnapped”. There are also various side plots involving extraneous characters who appear to be fully, um, compatible, despite originating from different planets. Sadly, the romance aspect really falls short. In a good romance novel, the relationship between the couples grows before our eyes, and the moment when they realize they love each other and decide to be together is a satisfying conclusion to that growth. The mood of the novel may be light and comic, or ridden with angst, but the happy ending has to be earned. We have to believe (at least, I have to believe) that this couple is in love, respects each other, balances each other, and is committed to each other. Sadly, without being too specific with the spoilers, it seems like the only reason romances in The Courtship of Princess Leia come to fruition is that the author is running out of pages and has to wrap things up. In one case, two characters go from showing no significant romantic interest in each other to professing undying love in the space of one page. I don’t mean that we know they liked each other all along, but they were blind to their true feelings, etc, etc. I mean the book was almost over and no one else was eligible, so the author gave these characters total reversals so they could be an item.
On the upside, the characterizations in the novel aren’t bad. Han and Leia bicker just as they did in “A New Hope” and “Empire”. There is some truly clunky dialogue, but some good lines too. The action zips right along, there are plenty of explosions, and one remarkable scene in which Luke experiences the Force on new levels (Not THOSE levels. Jeez, I can’t take you guys anywhere!). Above all, there is a song from Threepio. Yes, a song. Bitches, I’m not saying you should read this book, but I do think you should buy it, just to send a thank you donation to the author for coming up with this:
“He’s got his own planet
Although it’s kind of wild.
Wookies love him.
Women love him.
He’s got a winning smile!
Though he may seem cool and cocky,
He’s more sensitive than he seems,
What a man! Solo!
He’s every princess’s dream!”
In closing, let me just say that nowhere will you find a more devoted Leia/Han shipper than myself. Han Solo was my first crush, and Princess Leia was my first female role model. Having invested all this energy in the two of them since the age of eight, I’m a little picky. In fact, I can tell you the exact moment when the Star Wars franchise jumped the shark. It’s in “Return of the Jedi”. Han is staring out the window, and instead of smacking him upside the head and making a sarcastic comment, Leia gently embraces him and says, adoringly, “Hey…you awake?” My God, people. They’ve shared great sex, not full frontal lobotomies. Can no one write for this couple anymore? Their fans deserve bickering! We deserve passion! We deserve the joy of watching them work as a team – her levelheadedness balancing his impulsiveness, his bravado balancing her emotional caution, and their two strong natures ensuring that no one gets pushed around. Since this book consists of people randomly running around and then pretending that some sort of emotional journey took place, I’m giving it a C. However, in fairness, Threepio’s little ditty by itself deserves an A. Beware readers, the book looks promising, but “IT’S A TRAP!”