Star Wars fans were ecstatic when a trilogy of books penned by author Timothy Zahn were issued back in 1992. The books did not exactly pick up where we last left our heroes, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, etc. Instead, enough time had elapsed that Han and Leia were now married and expecting twins.
How did all this come about? Well, Dale Wolverton attempts to answer that question in the novel The Courtship of Princess Leia. About four years have passed since the second Death Star was destroyed at the end of Return of the Jedi. Leia and Han are lovers, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a commitment beyond that. Part of the reason might be the amount of time they spend apart with Leia doing her diplomatic work, and Han off on military assignments as a highly-regarded General in the New Republic.
All that is threatened when Prince Isolder arrives from the Hapan Cluster, a series of 63 planets ruled by a fascist Queen Mother. This Queen Mother, Ta’a Chume, has long been courted to join the New Republic. She now announces her intentions to do just that, if Leia will marry her son.
Leia knows that there have been times in history when pivotal alliances have come about because of a marriage, and knows what the addition of the Hapan forces mean for the New Republic. As she gets to know the Prince, it doesn’t seem to be such a bad idea, either. He is handsome, strong, smart, and wealthy. More importantly, he is used to deferring to a strong woman.
Han’s comfortable existence without a commitment is suddenly threatened. Desperate to win back the woman he loves, he risks everything to abduct her and bring her to a planet he won in a card game, believing if he can convince her that he can offer her as much as Isolder, she will choose to stay with him over the Prince. Once at the planet, they discover a remote Imperial prison fortress, sealed off long ago from the outside to protect the galaxy from “witches”. With Luke and Isolder only a few days behind them, they must join together to not only get Leia and Han off the planet, but to battle the “evil witches”, dark Jedi who make Darth Vader and the Emperor look fairly tame, as well as an Imperial Warlord who has a personal grudge against Han.
When Han and Leia first showed an attraction to each other in The Empire Strikes Back, most fans could see it as Leia being the woman attracted to the “bad boy”. However, those relationships usually don’t last, so the story of how Han and Leia evolved from that point to the point they were at in Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, Zahn’s first novel, would be an interesting story. Unfortunately, Wolverton’s offering does not seem to really do anything to answer the question of what Leia sees in Han and why she would choose him over the more practical and politically advantageous union with Isolder, especially once she admits that she starts to have feelings for Isolder.
I also felt that Wolverton didn’t have a good feel for the characters as I’d grown to know them through the three films. Luke seems to speak in proverbs and platitudes, sounding more like a Hare Krishna recruit than a Jedi filled with The Force. He also characterizes Leia near the end as a pacifist, which is not the impression I’ve ever had of her all along. Sure, she’d prefer diplomacy over fighting, but when push comes to shove, she’ll pick up the blaster rifle and use it – no questions asked. C3PO also seems a bit out of character as well. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly bothered me about the droid, but I had the feeling that much of what he said and the way he acted was contrived to fit into the storyline, rather than based on how he acted in the films.
I also felt that the evil Warlord, Zsinj, missed the mark. Unlike Thrawn in Zahn’s trilogy where I felt like I knew him and could admire him for his evil genius, Zsinj just seems like a one-dimensional bad guy, with no depth or personality to speak of. The evil Force Witches are much more fascinating, but Wolverton doesn’t even spend too much time on them. Instead, much of their story is told by the good witches. This left me with an anti-climactic feeling when Luke finally battles the leader of the evil witches, Gethzerion, in a scene which is supposed to resemble what would have happened to him if Darth Vader hadn’t interfered with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. Even this scene falls into the cliche where the hero almost dies, and everyone thinks he’s dead, only to have him come back and save the day.
Probably the biggest problem, though, is the relationship between Han and Leia. In a book that is supposed to be about this relationship, it’s something the author should have gotten right. Leia always knew, even in the films, that Han was a mere smuggler and didn’t have any sort of wealth. In fact, the only thing he owned was his ship, the Millennium Falcon. Still, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, she loves him enough to put her own life in jeopardy to rescue him from Jabba. Why, after all of that, plus four years where they’ve been together and Leia’s never held any resentment of Han being a poor commoner (albeit one who’s intelligent enough to be an outstanding General) would Han be convinced that owning his own planet and accumulating riches gambling would impress her?
I don’t remember having this much of a distaste for The Courtship of Princess Leia the first time I read it, but that was a good ten years ago at a time when I was still quite hungry for stories with the Star Wars name on them. With the perspective of some much better novels behind me now, I think this is one people can pass on, although characters from this novel do surface later on. Read only if you absolutely have to!
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