Book Review: The Courtship of Princess Leia
I’m returning to the Star Wars Extended Universe with the first appearance of the Witches of Dathomir.
Author: Dave Wolverton
Publication Date: April 1994
Prior to the arrival of Grand Admiral Thrawn, The New Republic has taken Coruscant and is currently fighting various Imperial Warlords, including Warlord Zsinj. Han Solo has been commanding the efforts against Zsinj, which has kept him separated from Princess Leia. He returns to Coruscant after his latest campaign just in time for the arrival of a fleet from the Hapes Cluster. Leia and Mon Mothma have been engaging in diplomatic overtures with the Hapean government for quite some time, without success.
However, Leia and Mon Mothma are surprised (and Han is horrified) to learn that the Hapans will ally with the New Republic… if Leia (being nobility) will marry the Crown prince of the Hapes Cluster – Prince Isolder. Leia is no stranger to the concept of political marriages, and when she learns that Isolder is kind, charming, courageous, and dashingly handsome, she’s willing to consider the offer. Han is even further horrified by this and, after he wins the planet Dathomir in a game of Sabacc, uses a Hapan Gun of Command to briefly mind-whammy Leia and get her on the Falcon, bound for Dathomir, so he can try to woo her away from Isolder and the turmoil of court.
Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker has been looking for Jedi records, and his research has lead him to information about a wrecked Jedi training vessel on Dathomir. Luke goes to check it out, but not before stopping back on Coruscant, running into Isolder, and with the two of them deciding to chase after Leia and Han.
Both groups discover to their surprise that the planet, which is barely on any records and which doesn’t have spaceflight, is home to one of Zsinj’s shipyards, and the surface is under interdiction. Both groups are shot down, and end up having to team-up to survive, and in particular have to join forces with the Witches of Dathomir, women on the planet who have their own force tradition, and who have trained rancor (which are native to the planet) to serve them.
Our heroes also learn why the planet is interdicted: Nightsisters – Witches who have turned to the dark side of the force and seek to control the galaxy, and who have taken control of the Emperor’s former political prison which was placed on the planet. Zsinj, not being stupid, doesn’t want to let them off the planet, and has placed it under interdiction, and blown up all the ships at the prison.
Our heroes end up having to break into the prison – the base of the Nightsisters – stealing the spare parts they need to fix the Falcon, fending off the Nightsisters while fixing the Falcon, and then ultimately destroying Zsinj. Through all of this, Leia rediscovers her feelings for Han. Meanwhile, Isolder falls for Teneniel Djo, one of the Witches, and they end up courting each other and agreeing to marry over the course of the book.
At the conclusion, Zsinj is defeated, Han and Leia agree to marry, Isolder’s mother admits that she had his brother and his last fiancee murdered – and had planned to have Leia murdered because she was a pacifist (what?) who believes in democracy, even though she’s a high-ranking official in the New Republic government that could potentially lead to a war.
- We’re introduced to Dathomir and it’s society.
- We encounter the homeworld of the Rancor – in the West End Games RPG, it was assumed that the Rancor was unique. Here we see more of them and learn that they’re very intelligent.
- We get more fully into an alternate Force-using tradition.
- We get into how the Jedi order worked during the Old Republic (or at least part of it) – there was a main temple on Coruscant, lead by a Grand Master (implied to be Master Yoda), until it was sacked by the Imperials. With this structure, the Jedi seem like a mix of the Shaolin combined with the Knights Templar (complete with being destroyed by a central authority followed by a wave of propaganda about how totally evil they were you guys).
- We’re introduced to another Imperial superweapon – the Nightcloak – a series of satellites that can surround a planet and generate a field that would block out all sunlight, killing all life on the planet.
- We’re introduced to the Hapan Cluster, a semi-independent monarchy that existed as a semi-vassal state under the Empire, with their own borders and under their own control, but which cooperated with the Empire, including turning over Jedi which wished to hide in their borders.
- Force use does not always merit respect – the Empress of the Hapes Cluster condescendingly refers to force users as “spoon-benders”.
Luke Skywalker: Is still looking for documentation in Jedi training methods, and has found the motherload in this book. His force attunement means that he can sense almost all life. We also see that he’s learned how to go into a healing trance in this book.
Leia Organa: Accepts Han’s marriage proposal (albeit after being kidnapped). In spite of having strangled Jabba the Hutt to death, and after having killed a small army’s worth of Imperial Stormtroopers, has a reputation as a pacifist because she is Alderaanian nobility.
Han Solo: Is related to a pretender and usurper to the throne of Corellia. Proposes to Leia after getting them stranded on a planet that Han won in a game of cards and after a battle that nearly gets them both (and then later just Han) killed. Has a bad habit of sending gloats over open comm channels to his opponents (including telling Zsinj to “Kiss his Wookie” – which Chewbacca found hilarious).
Chewbacca: Shares Han’s sense of humor. Can (along with Han) perform very in-depth repairs on the Falcon incredibly fast (overhauling the damaged ship using scrounged Imperial parts in 3 hours).
Prince Isolder: To use a Shoujo anime archetype – he is the Prince. His descriptions basically come with bishounen sparkles. Leia is not his first fiancee, but the only one thus far who has stopped being his fiancee in a non-terminal manner.
C-3PO: Is capable of decrypting Imperial codes by listening to a coded signal, and with sufficient time (just a few hours).
Luke comes across a lightsaber in a dead Jedi’s home with an “opalescent” blade. This is the first time we’ve come across a blade that could (theoretcially) change color.
The Courtship of Princess Leia, is kind of a rough read. It’s trying to be an adventure romance story (like The Jewel of the Nile), but the writing for Leia feels off. She’s nobility, but she’s enough of an active figure that I can’t help but think that Leia’s default response to someone proposing a political marriage, especially under these particular circumstances, would be a reflexive “Fuck off!” (or the Star Wars equivalent thereof).
Additionally, I can’t buy Han and Leia falling out of love (or nearly out of love) with each other at this point, especially after all they went through in the movies. At where they are in The Force Awakens, I understand. There, they’ve had a family and a son, and then he went and joined the Empire after killing a bunch of people and now they have to cope with it. Here, they’ve just been separate for a few months.
Similarly, Han’s macho taunting and gloating feel a bit more like the concerns that people might have had with Han Solo in the prequel film being a little too Star Lord. The call-back for it at the end of the book, when Han fires concussion missiles point-blank into the bridge of the Iron Fist, is somewhat cringe-worthy, though honestly I can’t see Han not saying something under those circumstances – and the callback makes sense within the context of the book, but I’d rather that instead of doing a callback, he said something else as a one-liner.
Honestly, the best written romance in the book isn’t Han and Leia, it’s Isolder and Teneniel. They’re the ones who have to work through the rules their societies have over how people who care about each other interact with each other, to properly convey their feelings. That said, The Courtship of Teneniel Djo doesn’t really sell books.