Review: The Courtship of Princess Leia
by Dave Wolverton
Yes, welcome to my semi-traditional summertime hiatus of sorts. It’s just after the challenge I just find I have very little to write about. Also, somehow, since quitting at UU and only working at OCLC, I’ve had less blog time. Maybe because I’ve been catching up on non-exhaustion and also am not spending 3 hours a night with enforced nothing to do but blog. Anyway, I promise I’ll try to shake off the slump. Have a book review!
Something I have always loved about this book is its title, a tribute to the 1858 narrative poem The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Ever since I first knew this book existed, I was charmed by that.
I read Courtship in February 1998, borrowed from my Star Wars friend at electricity class — the class where the guy cooked hot dogs using electricity and told stories about how a downed power cable would do the same thing to you. Good stuff. Still, on the whole, it’s never been one of my super favorite Star Wars books, just because I’m deeply anti romance and never thought Han and Leia should end up together. This book actually exemplifies why to an astonishing degree.
One last personal note before getting into the review — I once left Dave Wolverton a comment on some fan message board, it was about the Jedi Apprentice series and not Courtship, but he actually emailed me back twice and just in general seemed like the sweetest guy. That definitely colored me favorably toward reviewing this nicely!
The plot — The young republic is fighting for control of the galaxy against imperial factions and warlords. It’s been four years since the victory at Endor, but the Roman republic wasn’t forged in a day, either. Han Solo has been gone for months running warlords around, and all he can think about is his girl Leia.
As the movies established, Han is very much the girl in the relationship, in that he wants to have a relationship, while masculine Leia would marry politics if she could and kind of tolerates having a boyfriend so long as he does all the work. She is nowhere near as interested in his return as Han is in returning, which is driven home by the first thing that happens upon the war heroes’ arrival: they are completely eclipsed by the appearance of the Hapean fleet.
Hapes is a closed off and monumentally wealthy system ruled by a matriarchal monarchy. The leaders of the Republic recognize instantly the huge benefit such allies would be, especially Leia, who handles the negotiations personally as the only member of the Republican government with a royal title and enough status to treat with the Hapean Queen.
Even though Hapes has the upper hand — they are offering the Republic everything they could dream of — they seem to be courting the Republic instead! And what a court. They shower Leia with priceless gifts and save the best for last. With Han looking on, Isodor the Crown Prince of Hapes strides up and offers himself as husband to Leia. If she says no, the Republic loses. If she says yes, then she and Han are over. Except Leia doesn’t even seem to care about Han anymore, and the prince is . . . well . . .
No, seriously, Dave Wolverton could not have described Thor more exactly if he’d had a time machine to jump up to 2012, see the movie, and come back to write his book. Chris Hemsworth is who I was seeing the entire time I read this book.
The really appalling thing is that Leia thinks about it. I think Han should’ve thrown her over right at that point in time, but instead he goes out and wins a planet in a card game before kidnapping Leia to prove that their eight or so years of knowing each other is worth more than the riches of Hapes.
I already dislike Leia immensely, and this book almost makes me hate her outright, but this has nothing to do with the author. Wolverton builds on what already exists — Leia is selfish, in love with politics, and a terrible partner in any romantic relationship. Han should’ve run screaming.
Hapes courts the Republic, the Republic courts Hapes; Isodor courts Leia, Han courts Leia; and there are some others besides that. Luke courts prospective Jedi trainees (oh, yeah, he’s in this book too). And when Han and Leia disappear in warlord territory, he joins up with the Hapean prince to track them to the mysterious planet Dathomir, not knowing that it is ruled by the iron gauntlets of the Dathomiri Force witches. (Who also provide an interesting parallel to the Hapean government, both despotic matriarchies.)
I like this book just fine, even though it’s not one of my favorites, and I’m pleased to call it canon as it explains a gap in Han and Leia’s relationship, how they go from “I love you” in ROTJ to twins five years later in the Thrawn trilogy. Wolverton has an intelligent grasp on the main trio, really fleshes out the secondary characters, and also presents an imaginative universe with little sugary traces of comic book classics. (I can’t possibly be imagining that Thor connection. There’s superhero touches to some of the Hapean gifts, too, like the Gun of Command and the Tree of Wisdom.)