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THE COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA

A novel by Dave Wolverton (1994, Bantam Spectra)
8 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

A jealous Han Solo spirits Leia away to a planet where they encounter an Imperial warlord and witches wielding the Force -for good and evil.

 

 

2 stars

Read June 25th to July 2nd, 2001 for the second time  
    A juvenile setting that improved once the cast got to where they were going, but full of contrived circumstances and inconsistencies.

I can't believe that I once thought this book was terrific.  After reading the "prequel" trilogy to this, namely the Hunt for Zsinj and culminating in Solo Command, I was expecting to fly into this and cruise through it without any problem.  But I lost interest about two thirds of the way through, which is never a good sign, especially with a Star Wars book.

The first third of the book is actually the worst part of it.  Han Solo returns from his hunt for Zsinj, fully satisfied that he has destroyed the Super Star Destroyer Iron Fist.  But when he and Luke encounter the Iron Fist again at the very end of the book, Han doesn't even blink, but tries to destroy it a second time (and does this with way too much ease).  Frankly, I liked Alston's version better.  The Super Star Destroyer in for repairs would have been the Iron Fist, and Han should have been aghast at the sight.

The first cliché comes when Han encounters a fleet of Hapan battle dragons in orbit of Coruscant, and thinks they are under attack.  With a fleet that size on the move in the middle of New Republic space, would it really be a surprise to Han?  Everybody on Coruscant seemed to know about it, and Han walked into the ceremony just as it started.  No way.  

Worse is his reaction, and the reactions of everybody else when the Queen Mother of Hapes gives her son to Leia to marry.  Leia is stunned, but everyone knows that she must accept, for they need the help of this political alliance.  At one point later, however, Leia is almost assassinated.  Because of Luke, we find out right in the last few pages of the book that the Queen Mother is responsible, but it feels tacked on.  

In fact, the whole beginning, while slow, seemed also rushed!  It felt like the author wanted to get to Dathomir so quickly, that he contrived circumstances to get us there.  And once his creations were introduced, and their battle over, we got to return to the political arena, to tie us some loose ends, but it only took two or three pages to do so, as if he wasn't really interested in finishing the story now that we were back to something that he didn't invent.  For there were several points that never got resolved.  One was the Alderaanian council, and their ambassador.  The question of whether they got a planet or not is unimportant, because it is continued in later storylines.  But they were so set upon Leia marrying Isolder of Hapes that we deserved to see some reaction of her wedding to Han in the last page.  Never mind that the man was a complete waste of time, a caricature, and dull, too!  The wedding was essentially non-existent.  Luke arrives late, and Leia smiles at him while saying her vows.  I wonder, did Isolder ever figure out what their relationship was?  

I don't really want to get into the details of how Han tries to compete with Isolder's love (or should I say lust?), because it is so juvenile that it is beneath the Han Solo that we know and love, and definitely not worthy of the man we saw fighting Zsinj in Solo Command.  Suffice it to say that Han goes too far.  Once he wins a planet in a desperate card game, Leia figures out that he was cheated, and it is not the planet that he thought it was.  She sends him away with the equivalent of a pat on the head and intends to run back into Isolder's arms.  The second cliché.  Of course, the planet ends up being in Zsinj-held territory, where he has an orbital shipyard.  How coincidental.  

I think the worst characterization in the book came from C3P0.  He was used for poor comic relief here, and he and Han seem to be best buddies.  For some reason, C3P0 constantly wants to impress Han, finding out that Han is descended from the King of Corellia, singing stupid songs, trying to get Leia to fall in love with Han, and finally finding out that Han's relative was actually a pretender to the throne, which gets him thrown into a closet by Luke.  I liked the nod in Union to C3P0 being locked in a closet, though I couldn't remember the reference.  Here, it just makes C3P0 look worse, because it is written so poorly, and it is out of character for Luke, too.  C3P0 has no chemistry whatsoever with R2D2, and that's too bad.  One inconsistency in the book concerns the need for R2D2s sensors, which are not needed, because they find help from an outcast.  They don't even bring R2 into the prison to look for the parts they said they needed him for!

The whole setup screamed "contrived" to me, loudly.  And that's too bad, because once we got to Dathomir, the story improved dramatically.  The Force has not been handled well by Star Wars authors, who seem to think that they must include a Force element, but don't know quite what to make of this mysterious energy field.  This author seems to have the best grip on it, I think.  Even though he is off track (by Phantom Menace standards), what he makes his characters do, how they react, and what they are capable of doing, seemed to really make sense, and was believable.  

Dathomir is home to a race of humans strong in the Force -but only the women.  Most are of the light side, but some have turned to the dark, and are called Nightsisters.  Though I don't believe it, even the Emperor is said to have been afraid of this planet, and they apparently repulsed even Yoda and a group of Jedi trying to retrieve a starship Jedi academy.  But it is also said that the Nightsisters have not been around for a long time -how could they have repulsed Yoda, as mentioned in the last few pages?  The original Force-sensitive settler was an outcast Jedi, turned to the Dark Side.  Why would all of her descendents be sworn to the Light, then, and be cast out when they use the Dark Side?  And why do their faces burst a vessel when they use the Dark Side?  Casting out a Dark Force user doesn't make sense.  Can she not then do more evil, set up an empire of her own?  Enslave people?  Ah, well.  Back to the story.

Because everybody is so afraid of the "witches", no ships are allowed to land, in case the witches take it over and are able to spread through the galaxy.  So Han's ship is shot down, and he makes a crash landing using the hull of a destroyed frigate.  When they are captured by the witches, Han is assumed to be Leia's slave.  Luke and Isolder find their way to Dathomir using the Force (Isolder to kidnap Leia back from Han), and so arrive earlier than Isolder's fleet, which has to take the cautious round-about route.  When they are shot down, Luke uses the Force to land their ships and passengers safely, and unpowered.  Why he doesn't use this kind of power later, when they want to load and unload heavy generator coolant in barrels that then burst because they hit the ground, is beyond me.  

Luke is a strange one.  He easily defeats Tenenial Djo when she tries to capture him as her husband, but on her second try, he doesn't even sense that she will make the attempt.  But after a day of trudging with hands bound, he shows her how easily he can escape.  Later, when he encounters the leader of the Nightsisters, Gethzerion, he uses his blaster instead of his lightsaber, which would have surely killed her.  Plot convenience, if I ever saw one.  

Looking back at this review, I can't help thinking that the book wasn't really bad, even though most of my comments are negative ones.  I really did enjoy the middle part, considerably.  The walk through the prison was informative, especially in light of Luke's attitude towards avoiding conflict.  After they retrieve the parts they need, from a conveniently operational freighter (operational for non-space use, that is), the Nightsisters attack.  Teneniel Djo is wounded, but they make it out thanks to Luke's power with the Force, and Han igniting the thrusters to burn the witches just in time.  They bail out into a lake (Zsinj's forces destroy all ships attempting to leave the planet, since they could harbour the witches), where C3P0, R2D2 and Chewie pick them up with their rancors.  So Zsinj's forces think that they have killed Han Solo and destroyed his ship, but later Zsinj somehow thinks Han is alive.  Inconsistent, and not the first time!

The trip back to the mountains is uneventful, except that the battle threatens to start before they get to their destination.  Gethzerion attacks the clan, looking to capture the Millennium Falcon.  The battle doesn't go well for our heroes, though they hold their own for a long time.  Luke and the rancors take out several scout walkers, which was really neat, and buy the group more time to fix the Falcon.  Just when they are close to doing that, the Nightsisters break into the makeshift garage.  Once again, Han and Leia light up the thrusters and take off.  For some reason, Isolder ran out of the Falcon instead of running into it, ensuring that he is nearly killed.  And Teneniel tells the others that she feels useless with the Falcon repairs, where her Force skills could have been immensely useful simply in levitating the generators or filling the coolant.  

As they take off, Zsinj deploys his Nightcloak, seeing that the planet has gotten way out of control.  The surface will slowly freeze, and everybody and everything will die.  He offers a trade to Gethzerion, though, in that she could exchange Han Solo for her life.  So she sends Han a vision of her shooting all of the people at the prison, who are mostly political prisoners, enemies of the Emperor, and Han turns himself in.  He threatens to blow her up, be she has dismantled his detonator with the Force well before he could use it.  And the above scene is where the book started to go down in interest again. 

Luke was nearly killed by Gethzerion, but he senses the life all around him, and takes what he needs to live.  He then rests and eventually pilots the Falcon, using nothing but the Force to pull precision maneuvers and make precision shots at the enemy.  He chases Gethzerion up into orbit, after she gets her hands on a shuttle (and kills poor General Melvar, who got much better treatment in Alston's X-Wing trilogy), until Zsinj's forces blow her up.  Luke then destroys enough Nightcloak satellites until it short circuits (never mind the trite and inaccurate dialog telling us that "he said it's like a chain, so if we can break one link, it will fall apart").

As I mentioned earlier, Zsinj's ship (and Zsinj along with it) are destroyed in a completely unbelievable manner, the heroes are congratulated by the good witches, and Han and Leia get married.  Luke also gets the records from the starship wreck that used to be an academy as a gift , and Isolder marries Teneniel Djo after finding out that his mother was responsible for murdering his true love and his brother, and attempting to murder Leia.  But all of that felt tacked on.

I had a lot of mixed feelings, all the way through.  The middle of the book rose occasionally above the meager story, and much of it was pure fun, the way a Star Wars story is supposed to be.  But when this book came out, only three or four other Star Wars books existed from the new era, and I'm sure it was a refreshing tale.  But with so much competition now, the story does not measure up to the other stories out there.  I wish the author had cut out a lot of the beginning, and perhaps make Isolder the jealous one by having Leia go with Han willingly from the start, instead of kidnapping her with that Hapan "gun of command".  If he had cut more from the beginning, we could have had a real conclusion.  

Although there were lots of things that I would have changed, the book is still worth reading.  It introduces what becomes a very important society into our midst, as Kirana Ti will join Luke's Jedi Academy in Jedi Search, and Tenel Ka will be heir to Isolder and Teneniel in Heirs of the Force.  I just wish the author had written the story better.

 

 

2 stars

Also read August 14th to 21st, 1995  
   

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