Review – Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

How did The First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire? How did Princess Leia become a General? Why did her accent waver from English to American in Star Wars (1977). All these questions and more are answered in Star Wars: Bloodline, the terrific new Princess Leia novel by Claudia Gray.

The politics of the Star Wars movies have never stood up to much scrutiny. They were scarcely mentioned in the original trilogy, and superficially explored in the prequels. The politics of The Force Awakens are very much down the list of important plot elements.

But in longer form, such as The Clone Wars cartoon, the intrigue of the Senate, the Jedi Council, and the galactic infrastructure have proven to be a rich seam of drama.

Books are another format where this aspect gets a chance to be explored, and in Star Wars: Bloodline author Claudia Gray has crafted a terrific political thriller.

Despite being a childhood Star Wars fan, I never ventured into the world of the extended universe (EU) books. Growing up, I became frustrated that Marvel’s Star Wars comics had no relationship with the larger saga, and I felt the same about the flood of EU novels post-1990’s.

There is now a different approach to tie in books, comics, and TV shows – new stories are now part of Star Wars canon. If it happens in a book, it happened to the characters you see onscreen. So any secrets, background, or relationships revealed in these spin-offs are part of the larger Star Wars saga.

In short, this means is that these stories matter again. So whatever we learn about Leia in this novel – set a couple of decades after Return of the Jedi – happened to the character in The Force Awakens, and beyond.

In Bloodline, Leia is yet to be a General, but is an elected representative (not many princesses you can say that about) – a Galactic Senator. She is tiring of the divisions that have engulfed her time on Hosnian Prime, the new administrative center of the galaxy.

But Senator Leia is a highly revered figure – war hero, princess, and daughter of renowned enemy of the Empire, Bail Organa. But little is spoken about her other father – Darth Vader.

Two main plotlines emerge. Firstly, Leia – seeking a little more adventure – begins to uncover a plot occurring in the outer rim of the galaxy. It may be just local crime lords filling their coffers – but could be something more. There is also the intrigue of the new Galactic Senate, and how Leia emerges as perhaps the only person who can unite the divided house – who are split into opposing Populist and Centrist factions. Think Left vs Right, or small government vs big.

Of the main cast of Star Wars characters, Leia is the really only one to make much of an appearance. Han cameos – but is off-world (we learn he runs a very successful racing team). The book does offer glimpses of Han & Leia as a couple, the kind of pairing I had hoped to see in The Force Awakens. In Bloodline, we find a couple very much in love after many decades together – seemingly longing for an extended retirement together

Of the other main characters, Ben is away training at Uncle Luke’s School for Gifted Jedi (or whatever it’s called), but Threepio is a constant presence by Leia’s side. She is also supported by various new characters such as Leia’s assistant Greer, Joph an enthusiastic young X-Wing flier, Korry a 16-year-old intern, and most prominently ambitious rival senator Ransolm Casterfo – from the opposite side of the senate and a collector of Imperial memorabilia. His clipped tones and flamboyant wardrobe a bring to mind Tom Hiddleston (‘Loki’) – the author has admitted as much herself.

This is Leia as we have never seen her before in the movies – the protagonist: a leader of great intelligence, experience, and authority. That’s nothing against Carrie Fisher, but how her character has been written previously for the screen. Here she is at the heart of a story that no other character could have driven.

I don’t know what fans of previous Star Wars Legends/EU books will make of this, but for me this was a terrific Leia story. There was a recent Princess Leia Marvel comic, that despite being written by Mark Waid, was ultimately disappointing.

This book is a much more satisfying tale, allowing us to experience her keen political mind as well as the many other aspects of her character such as her charm, compassion, and temper.

There are many revelations that inform our understanding of The Force Awakens, and there are plenty of easter eggs that the keen eyed reader will spot. Even more tantalisingly, Lucasfilm have stated that “some of the story ideas and elements in this novel came straight from Rian Johnson (writer/director of Star Wars: Episode 8)”. After reading the book, I am excited to discover which of the many fascinating threads of this story will play out in Episode VIII.

Star Wars: Bloodline contains parallels with both modern and historical political upheaval. If that sounds a bit serious, let’s not forget, that one of George Lucas’s inspirations for Star Wars was the Vietnam War – where an economically and technologically superior power (America) was unable to overcome the Vietcong.

The pace and content of this book will not be for everyone. There are no lightsaber duels, very few dogfights, and only a couple of out and out action scenes. This is a mature, character driven, political thriller – and I hope for many more Star Wars books like it.

And the reason why Princess Leia’s accent wavered between posh Brit and Californian American? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray is published by Century (UK) and Del Rey (US). It has a UK RRP of £19.99.

A Review copy of the book was provided free of charge.

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