Sunday, 26 May 2013

Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia review

Dave Wolverton, I had never heard of you before I picked up Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia but I’m glad you exist and decided to write this ridiculously delightful book. I decided to read this book in my mission to explore the Expanded Universe for three reasons: 1) it’s a standalone book and that’s always nice, 2) my friend has read it, enjoyed it and recommended I read it when I mentioned it to her, and 3) being a fan of Star Wars, how could I walk away from a book with such an awesome title? Seriously, could you have walked away? You’re going to go buy or borrow this book before the end of this review I can guarantee it. Before I talk about why I enjoyed this book so much despite its flaws, and there are quite a few of those, let me go over the story.

The novel begins five months after the events of Return of the Jedi. The former rebels are working tirelessly to establish the New Republic. Han Solo, now a general, has just won a deciding battle against warlord Zsinj who fiercely opposed the New Republic. He meets up with Senator Leia Organa on Coruscant where he finds a fleet of Hapan Battle Dragon ships in the planet’s orbit. We find out from Leia that she visited the planet of Hapes three months ago and requested assistance in defeating warlord Zsinj. It seems the Hapans have just arrived to offer that assistance. This seems a pretty simple day in the lives of Han and Leia post Episode VI. The Hapans travelled to Coruscant to offers gifts to the New Republic in the hopes of being allowed to join. Their strength would be a great contribution to the efforts of defeating the warlords and all other remnants of the Empire. One of the 63 valuable gifts given to Leia is a marriage proposal to the son of the Queen of Hapes. If she accepts, the New Republic gains a powerful ally. If she refuses, her relationship with Han is at an end and the New Republic must face the anger of the Queen of Hapes, who rules over a powerful system of 63 planets.

The setup actually allows for an interesting story. How is Han affected by the proposal? What about Leia. Will her feelings for Han trump her responsibility to the republic? What about Prince Isolder? Why did his mother, Queen of Hapes, select Leia as the suitor for her son (this itself isn’t entirely true as we find out later in the book)? Would there not have been an easier way to gain the New Republic's favour and join the Republic? It's not just the Star Wars fans that are shocked by Wolverton's decision to have an alien prince propose to Leia, the characters are also surprised by this odd course of events. That's the story here.

It’s such a strange little start to the book. Wolverton kicks things off with some politics and diplomacy to quickly throw in a heavy handed romantic storyline. It’s simultaneously interesting, thought provoking and quirky. In the first handful of pages Wolverton shows the reader that this will be a strange Star Wars book. Wolverton has a good grasp on Star Wars politics. The way Leia spoke about the difficulties of finding a new planet where she and other refugees can establish New Alderaan is interesting and well thought out, if a tad simplistic for such a complex and populous universe such as Star Wars. His understanding of Star Wars political structure adds a feeling of verisimilitude to Han and Leia's situation. Then Wolverton makes everything stranger and more exciting by having Han kidnap Leia, bringing her to a relatively unknown planet in the heart of warlord Zsinj’s territory. Soon, the rest of the cast follows suit and a madcap, often ridiculous, story ensues.
A part of me is sad my copy of Courtship doesn't have this cover. It's so awesome.
At this point in the book, it was exactly what I was expecting to read. Courtship was as ridiculous as its title made I seem but it was also more than that. This book accomplishes a great many things and as silly as it is, I also found it to be charming and at time surprisingly thoughtful. When organizing my thoughts about the book, I realized the good far outweighs the silliness and the book’s major faults. Sure, Wolverton’s writing is nothing more than serviceable but he uses it to introduce interesting additions to the Expanded Universe and takes the time to pepper the book with interesting thoughts on cultural relations which adds a bit more depth to what could have been a terrible book.
"Kiss my Wookiee!"
Courtship actually accomplishes quite a few things. At first, the focus of the book seems to be on Leia making her decision to accept Isolder’s proposal but once she’s kidnapped, the book goes off a few different directions. The Battle of Endor may have been won but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in order to put a complete end to the Empire and to establish the New Republic. Furthermore, this New Republic is composed of many different minded individuals. People like Leia and Mon Mothma are more diplomatic and political in nature whereas someone like Han is more militaristically minded (and barely, even so). Other people who played a big role in striking the decisive blow to the Empire, such as Luke, seem more concerned with other matters. He’s focusing on re-establishing the Order of the Jedi while still occasionally lending a hand to other events such as he does in Courtship.

Wolverton also make some important contributions to the Expanded Universe. It ranges from small additions such as the Arallute flower and the Whuffa worms. Arallutes where a trumpet shaped flower native to Alderaan. In their culture if a couple found an Arallute growing in their yard it would signify they were about to have a child. Families of newly webs would plant the flower under the cover of night. It had to be done in complete secrecy because being caught was considered unlucky. The flowers also served a purpose when they died. The flower’s petals would wilt into a ball shape trapping the seeds within and mothers would give the dead flowers to their children who used them as rattles. Whuffa worms are large, up to 250 feet long, worms that exist on Dathomir. Locals would lure the worms out of their holes with a pungent fermented liquid. Once a worm has exited its hole, the locals grab it and forcefully pull it out and kill the worm. Once killed, they hand the worms on trees to let them dry out in the sun. Once dried the leathery skin is used for a multitude of purposes and Wolverton lists theses off throughout the book.

Han has the best relationship advice. 
Wolverton’s biggest contribution to the Expanded Universe is the planet of Dathomir and their inhabitants, the Dathomiri. Essentially, they’re witches. Well no, that’s not entirely accurate. They’re Force-sensitive near-human beings who are descendants of an exiled Jedi. Throughout the centuries their limited teachings in the force has led them to forget the real origins of their magic and how to properly use it. Men are often unable to wield the magic but some do exist. The women are the primary users and they can only do so using words and sometimes song. Their powers in the Force are as limited as their knowledge of it but they rely on it daily and it forms the basis of their society. The Dathomiri are but one of two matriarchal societies that Wolverton develops in Courtship. The other is the Hapans. The Queen of Hapes rules a society that reduces the importance and the role of man. Only the male heir has an important role to play, that of selecting his wife and therefore the next queen. Both societies have their differences, in fact, few similarities exist other than the ruling body being composed of women.

Unsurprisingly, Wolverton also takes time to write about love and relationships and he has some interesting things to say. He realizes that love and relationships are dry complicated subjects and he tries to keep things simple while also adding multi-cultural nuances. For the Dathomiri it's almost a game. The women hunt, capture, buy and steal strong men with which to mother strong daughters. For Isolder love is more political. He considers what he Nd more importantly what his people can gain from his marriage to the woman he selects as his bride. We also learn how Luke, Leia and Han consider love and it all contributes to adding depth I what I had thought was going to be a rather silly book. 

As I started to mentioned earlier, the book also has plenty of silliness such as Han enlisting Threepio’s help in wooing Leia. Threepio does so by writing a song about Han and he sings it for Leia. It’s terrible but like some of the worst songs, it manages to get stuck in Leia’s head. There are other weird moments like Leia complaining about the cost of an inter-galactic video call to Luke. I had always assumed that such technology was free in Star Wars. I bet those roaming chargers were a pain for Leia when Han kidnapped her and brought her to Dathomir. Her plan doesn’t allow for that!

The description of Han eating his meal would fit quite nicely
in a book written by Douglas Adams.
Unfortunately there is also a lot to dislike about The Courtship of Princess Leia. Wolverton’s writing is serviceable for the most part but he also writes some strange and sometimes just awful stuff. Sometimes, particularly in the beginning, he doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of Han and Leia’s characters. They say and do things that just don’t feel true to who they are. He doesn’t do a much better job with Luke who often sounds unnecessarily preachy. For some reason every second person he encounters is sensitive to the Force and he goes on by talking, nearly without end, about the Force and how it relates to all living things and then coaches the person in how they should act in order to have live a better life. It all makes him some like some annoying evangelist and it makes a few scenes difficult to read. Reading and mostly enjoying Courtship has not convinced me to search for more Wolverton books to read but it did encourage me to read more Star Wars books. They’re not all going to be like Choices of One which was dry, boring and unnecessarily long. Unlike Zahn’s book, Courtship offered a quick and fun Star Wars story filled with action, Force wielding and even a few interesting thoughts about science fiction politics. Oh, and there were rancors. Lots and lots of rancors. Wolverton has Han and Leia make references to sharks. Earth doesn't exist in the Star Wars universe. Stop that. 


  1. Ok where can I get a t-shirt that says "Kiss My Wookiee"? Or, "Ride My Rancor"?! This book is totally ridiculous but totally fun. Glad you enjoyed it!!

    1. How did I not think of t-shirts? That's a great idea!! I demand somebody make those t-shirts! Just think of all the places such a shirt would be inappropriate.