MINOR SPOILERS ONLY FOR THE BOOK STAR WARS: BLOODLINE, BUT THERE ARE SOME MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS:
In a recent blog post about The Terminator, I cited Ripley from Alien as the first modern film action heroine—and she is the first who was the protagonist. But it’s Star Wars’ Princess Leia, in a supporting role, who’s the true seminal character in modern film.
In spite of the crap George Lucas has had hurled at him from fans over the years—and some of it is totally deserved—he did do something remarkable with Leia. He started with the expected tropes for a princess character—including the hero’s initial task to rescue her from a desperate situation—and proceeded to crush every one of them.
This was particularly clear to me as I read Gray’s book, because during the same period I was also re-watching all six films in the original trilogies for an upcoming blog post about Darth Vader. The juxtaposition of the young Leia and Gray’s portrait of the middle-aged Leia was amazing. She is a character who kicks major ass, no matter her age. Not just because of her skill with a laser blaster, but also because of her complexity, her inner strength, and her ability to own her mistakes.
Star Wars: Bloodline takes place a few years before the action of The Force Awakens. Leia is a Senator in the New Republic and weary of the stagnation caused by the eternal split between her faction, The Populists, who favor planets self-governing themselves, and The Centrists, who want a strong central government. She’s so sick of it, she wants to quit.
As was strongly hinted in The Force Awakens, Han and Leia are married—happily, but with a consciously-chosen long distance relationship. Their son Ben is training as a Jedi with his Uncle Luke, but Leia has trouble contacting them, implying that the events leading to Ben falling under the influence of Snoke have already happened. The fact that this family is thrown across different sections of the galaxy may be one hint as to why Ben became so resentful of his parents.
Another hint is their decision to keep the identity of Ben’s maternal grandfather a secret from him and from most people, which becomes a major plot development in the story.
Leia finds herself unexpectedly allying herself with a Centrist senator named Ransolm Casterfo. Their mutual skepticism evolves into mutual respect and eventually genuine friendship. Leia’s true parentage is used against her by her political enemies and threatens the carefully constructed relationship, which could be key to saving the New Republic.
There are some stunning action sequences in the book, but this is a story centered mostly on politics. While my philosophy is the less exposition, the better, there was a rather large backstory hole in The Force Awakens when it came to what led to the Resistance and the First Order. This book goes a long way to filling in some of those gaps.
It’s also difficult not to see parallels with political situations in our own world. Extremists on both sides are causing what seems an insurmountable gridlock, and Leia does what she can to keep the fragile New Republic intact.
As in her previous superb Star Wars novel, Lost Stars, Gray does a fantastic job of portraying the antagonistic side in the Star Wars universe as populated with complex characters with complex motivations rather than monolithically evil.
Each Star Wars trilogy has been anchored with the struggle by Skywalker men to resist—or embrace—the dark side of The Force. In Bloodline, we finally begin to understand Leia’s struggles, with her true origin, with her decision not to train as a Jedi, with her duty to the galaxy that dates back to her adolescence.
No matter how much Leia kicked butt in the films, she was still overshadowed by Luke and Han. How marvelous to see her emerge as the heroine of her own story.