Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Today, Thea reads her first Star Wars tie-in novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton.
Title: The Courtship of Princess Leia
Author: Dave Wolverton
Genre: Science Fiction/Science Fantasy
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Publication date: First published in 1994
Paperback: 375 Pages
Seeking rich, powerful allies to bring into the Rebel Alliance and a new home planet for the refugees of her native Alderaan, Princess Leia considers a proposal that could tip the balance of power against the evil Empire. The Hapes Consortium of 63 worlds is ruled by the Queen Mother, who wants Leia to marry her son, the dashing and wealthy Prince Isolder. Han Solo has always dreamed of marrying Leia himself, and now he makes a desperate last gamble to win her back. Soon he, Isolder, Luke Skywalker and Artoo will be at the center of an adventure leading to an awesome treasure, a group of Force-trained “witches,” and a showdown with an invincible foe.
Features a bonus section following the novel that includes a primer on the Star Wars expanded universe, and over half a dozen excerpts from some of the most popular Star Wars books of the last thirty years!
Standalone or series: One book of many in the Star Wars expanded universe (falls into the New Republic sequence, 5-25 Years after Star Wars: A New Hope)
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
Why did I read this book: Ever since Netflix started streaming the entire Clone Wars series a couple of weeks ago – plus (finally) an official chronology for the animated series – I have been on a Star Wars binge. (Right now I’m halfway through season 4, and getting ready for a movie marathon once I’m done.) You could say that I’ve been in a Star Wars frame of mind. So, when it came to picking a book for this week’s Old School Wednesday I decided to give an expanded universe book a try because, well, WHY NOT?! I saw The Courtship of Princess Leia and immediately bought it because: Han, Leia, cheesy romantic shenanigans!
And guys. GUYS. I don’t regret this choice an iota. The Courtship of Princess Leia is as amazingly, wonderfully cheeserific – in all of the best ways.
I think I’m going to structure this review a little differently. I’ll start by giving the story a quick review, and then dive into some quotes because, well, it’s the kind of story that needs to be experienced instead of just reviewed.
The basic story is thus: Though the Empire has been defeated, the battles continue as Imperial Warlord Zsinj and his troops fight the New Republic. Princess Leia has appealed to the Hapan Cluster – a prosperous, matriarchal Queendom – for aid in the battle to squash out the remnants of the old Empire. In addition, she has been desperately searching for a new home for her fellow displaced Alderaanians – so when the Hapan Prince Isolder asks for Leia’s hand in marriage (which would make Leia the new Queen-Mother of the Hapan system) she takes the request very seriously. Meanwhile, General Han Solo is devastated by the news (and Leia’s apparent growing affection for the gorgeous Hapan Prince), so he abducts Leia and begs her to give him seven days to win her love. He’s always been a scoundrel and a gambling man, after all, and promises that if Leia isn’t in love with him in seven days, he’ll be out of her life forever. If she does love him, his condition is that they get married.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though, as Han’s romancing scheme ends up with the couple, Chewy, and Threepio shot down on the remote planet Dathomir, where Rancors and fierce witches roam. Luke, who has been spending his time searching for any signs of other Jedi, makes his way to his distressed sister on Dathomir, with an enraged Prince Isolder in tow. What they discover on the planet’s surface is a legacy of Palpatine’s Empire, and a formidable foe who is deeply entrenched in the Dark Side of the Force. Romance is suddenly the last thing on anyone’s mind… or is it?
I thoroughly enjoyed The Courtship of Princess Leia – sure, it’s dated and it’s not without its significant flaws and issues, but overall I felt the characterizations of Leia, Han and Luke were well done (this is to say nothing of the hilarity of C3P0 who, in a rare turn of events, manages to outshine Chewbacca AND R2D2). Two things I want to touch upon before diving into fun quote time: 1. I believed in Leia’s confusion and her feelings for both Han and Isolder. She is a diplomat first and foremost, and her responsibility without any hesitation is to see to the safety and survival of her people – the displaced Alderaanians, who lost their home in A New Hope when the Death Star used it for target practice. Would she be attracted to Prince Isolder, who offers her people wealth, stability, and peace? Of course she would. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s kind and sensitive to her needs, and easy on the eyes, too.) By the same token, Leia and Han have been largely separated for the four or so years following the fall of the Empire, and their work is STILL not done. Even though Emperor Palpatine has been thwarted, there are still many powerful warlords scattered throughout the galaxy, wreaking havoc and occupying much of General Han Solo and Princess Leia’s time. I get the distance between them, and their awkwardness when they finally do have some time to spend together – it makes sense. I felt their characterizations were mostly spot-on (certain dialogue and inner-monologue choices aside) and felt for them as characters individually and as a couple. I mean, the only thing slightly ridiculous about this book is the fact that we all know that Han and Leia end up together. Isolder never had a chance.
And the second thing I want to mention before fun-quote-time: 2. I love the examination of ruthless matriarchal societies, especially getting more screentime with the Witches of Dathomir. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been binge-watching The Clone Wars, and found Count Dooku’s (former) apprentice, Asajj Ventriss a fascinating character – without getting into spoilers, I loved learning about her background as a Dathomir Witch and seeing the Nightsisters in action in Season 3. In The Courtship of Princess Leia, there are two orders of witches on Dathomir – those who follow the Light side of the Force (small clans strewn throughout the mountains), and the Nighsisters who have given in to the Dark side.
I found it very interesting that the two cultures we are exposed to in this book – the Hapan system, and the Dathomirians – are both matriarchal, although very different societies. While we don’t get as much insight into the inner workings of the Hapan royal family (other than the fact that Isolder’s mother and aunts are ruthless leaders who will do whatever it takes to solidify their power), I found the exploration of the Witches of Dathomir and their society very interesting inded. The rationale behind the matriarchal order on Dathomir I thought made sense in that only women on the planet can use the Force, so only these witches would be able to provide safety and succor from Rancor attacks that would have wiped out villages and clans. The males, supplicating themselves to the women, makes sense. (Of course, the fact that the Dathomir witches practice a form of male slavery and can buy or sell their males is not a good thing, but I’m glad that this practice IS challenged and examined by Luke and Isolder.)
One last thing about the Witches of Dathomir – because something must be said about the Nightsisters, aka Asajj Ventriss’s ilk who are SO scary and powerful and amazing in The Clone Wars and in this book. The Nightsisters leader in this New Republic era is a monster named Gethzerion, and she is so ruthless and cunning in the ways of the Dark Side that the Emperor himself was frightened of her, and exiled her instead of using her in his new galaxy order. That’s saying something.
Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s not without its flaws, and I can imagine that many people will HATE it (it seems opinion is split into love it or hate it camps, from a perusal of goodreads and fan reviews). Personally? I loved it. It’s cheesy and ridiculous and greatterrible all at once. I, for one, am very excited to read more deeply into the expanded universe, very soon.
But enough with the chatter! I promised quotes in readalong style, because The Courtship of Princess Leia is SO over the top ridiculous that it must be experienced with one’s own eyes to be truly believed.
Without further ado, here’s how The Courtship of Princess Leia goes down:
General Han Solo returns from his most recent campaign, eager to spend some R&R with his sweetheart, Princess Leia Organa. He thinks to himself:
Han longed to get off the humid Calamarian ship, longed even more for the taste of Leia’s kisses, the caress of her hand on his brow. He’d seen too much darkness lately.
(This is on page 2, mind you, and the point at which I mentally prepared myself for the Cheesy side of the Force.)
Han and Leia’s reunion, however, isn’t quite as blissful as Han hoped and there would be minimal kiss-tasting and brow-caressing, because THE HAPANS SHOW UP. Including sexy Prince Isolder who asks for Leia’s hand in marriage.
Han freaks out a little bit, and thinks that the Hapans must be up to some nefarious secret purpose in offering Leia so much wealth. And then Leia gets mad at Han because he’s being a jealous jerk when she tries to invite him to dinner with herself, Prince Isolder, and some other dignitaries.
“You’re so cute,” Leia said sarcastically. “I came here to invite you to dinner, too, but now I think that maybe, just maybe, I should let you sit up here and gnaw on your own petty jealous fantasies.”
Leia stormed from the control room of the Millennium Falcon, and Han shouted at her back, “Well, fine – I’ll see you at dinner!” He banged a wall with his fist.
At dinner, things get real. While Isolder is putting the smooth moves on Leia (telling her that he fell in love with her when he saw her on her recent trip to Hapes, and begged his mother to allow him to propose to her, and so on and so forth), Han shows up late and when he’s introduced as Leia’s friend and someone who has saved her life a couple of times, Han responds:
“Oh, I guess you could say I’m more than her savior,” Han answered. “We’re lovers, to be precise.”
Ah, there’s the Han we know and love! Always stirring things up. Dinner goes about as smoothly as one might imagine, and following the painful meal, Leia tells Han that she needs some time to herself, to sort out her feelings.
Han chuckled to himself. I think I just need some time to myself for a few days, Leia had said. He’d heard that line before. It’s the one that is always followed a few days later by, “Have a nice life.”
Oh HAN. In order to win Leia back, Han decides that he needs to be able to offer her some measure of wealth and stability, since that’s what Isolder is bringing to the table. So, Han decides to pawn his deed to the Millennium Falcon and buys his way into a super high-stakes card game. He wins a planet – some outer rim planet called Dathomir – and eagerly presents his winnings to Leia. Unfortunately, Leia discovers from the holographic deed that the planet is actually in a territory controlled by Warlord Zsinj. Whoops.
Sensing Han’s distress, Threepio gives Han some love advice, offering one of his favorite poems to recite to Leia, from the Tchuukthai culture. Translated:
“When lightning rushes over the evening plains,
I return to my cold den
with a thula rat in my jaws.
Then, I smell your sweet spoor
smeared on the bones by the cave’s maw.
Then, my head fins begin to tremble
And my tail sways majestically as my mating howl
begins to fill the hollow of the night -“
Han says, fine, Threepio, you’re my diplomatic relations droid in this relationship, and you should help me win back Leia’s affection. Though this is mostly a ploy to get rid of Threepio, the droid is SUPER excited about it and takes the mission seriously:
Threepio made his way out into the streets, wandered down chasms toward one of Coruscant’s central computers that had a reputation as something of a gossip. Such a computer would gladly tell a droid secrets that it would never reveal to a biological life form. So Han needed a diplomatic counselor. This would be a wonderful opportuity for See-Threepio to prove himself! A wonderful opportunity!
And what does Threepio find out from said gossipy computer?! HAN IS A KING, Y’ALL!
“I have been communicating with various computers throughout Courtuscant’s network all morning and I’ve discovered some startling facts that all of you seem to have overlooked – possibly because General Solo has labored intensely to hide them: although the Corellians became a republic nearly three centuries ago, by birthright Han Solo is the King of Corellia!”
(In my head upon reading this: WHAT?! Is this canon? WHAT?! Don’t worry. It’s explained later.)
Meanwhile, Luke is being sufficiently mysterious and Jedi-y, and finally catches up with what’s been happening with his sister. Upon reflection of Leia’s courtship by the brawny, wealthy Prince Isolder, Luke thinks:
Well, Leia was living every woman’s fantasy – attracting the interest of an incredibly rich and handsome prince.
Oh, LUKE. You should know better than this.
But back to Leia and Han and Isolder. (The prince is starting to get creepy, by calling Leia “little one.” Uh, gross.) When it becomes clear to Han that Leia is going to leave with the Prince to visit Hapes – which will eventually lead to her acceptance of his proposal – he takes drastic measures and using a Magical Stun Gun, he abducts Leia against her will and smugglers her aboard the Falcon (in a smuggling compartment). NOT COOL, HAN. NOT COOL AT ALL. At least he understands that this is a desperate gambit, and when Leia awakens she does not take his BS and is righteously enraged. Han begs Leia for a chance – 7 days to win her heart, and then he’ll leave her alone forever or marry her.
Leia is not amused.
The Falcon comes under fire, and they crashland on Dathomir. Here, without a ship and facing unknown monsters, Leia is even more pissed off and goes into survival mode – she IS a fighter, after all, and isn’t a prize to be won. I love her anger, and her will to survive. See this scene:
Leia spun and talked directly in his face. “No! I’m not going to let you sweet talk me. This isn’t a game. This isn’t a fun ride. Our lives are on the line. And right now, whether you love me or what me to marry you, or whether I love Isolder and want to marry him – none of that matters anymore. We’ve got to get out of here. Now!”
While Han and Leia figure things out on the planet, Isolder joins up with Luke to find Leia. The duotrace her to Dathomir through Isolder’s mother (the vicious Queen Ta’a Chume) and her spies. Isolder takes a moment to reflect on the difference between kind gentle Leia and his mother:
Now, Isolder was waiting for his mother to revel in her victory, make some seemingly inconsequential but pointed remark designed to show the superiority of the female intellect over that of a male. The women of Hapes had an old saying: Never let a man become so deluded as to believe that he is the intellectual equal of a woman. It only leads him to evil.
Isolder doesn’t know Leia very well at all. You know who DOES know Leia? Han. He thinks:
Han had seen Leila like this only very few times – always when her life was in danger. He had often thought that with his relaxed attitude, perhaps he enjoyed his life more than she enjoyed hers. But when he saw her fierceness rise to the surface, he realized that she loved life more passionately, more deeply than he could. Perhaps it was her Alderaanian heritage surfacing, her culture’s legendary respect for any life, something Leia was forced to lay aside in her fight against the Empire. But always it surfaced, and Han kept finding that Leia was like that: she hid her feelings deeply, so deeply that Han suspected even she didn’t know what she felt.
Did I mention Threepio is on Dathomir with Leia, Han and Chewy? Valiantly, Threepio tries to win Leia’s heart by talking up Han (in this book, Threepio is the best friend – Luke is actually rubbish at supporting his supposed BFF).
Han tried to think of some way to get Threepio to stop worrying. “You’re a protocol droid, and if you really want to be helpful, you’ll help me figure out how to get Leia to fall in love with me.”
“Ah,” Threepio said, obviously excited by the idea. “Don’t concern yourself, sir, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
“Good, good,” Han said, and he walked up the gangplank as Leia came out with a pack and rifle.
As he turned the corner, he could hear Threepio telling Leia, “My, have you noticed how dashing King Solo looks tonight? He’s incredibly handsome, don’t you think?”
“Oh, shut up,” Leia snarled.
Meanwhile, Luke, Isolder and Artoo land on Dathomir only to discover one of the human inhabitants – a witch named Teneniel. When Teneniel realizes that Luke is an unprecedented male witch, she alights on him as her slave and would-be father of her children. (The witches of Dathomir are matriarchal, and as the warriors who can protect clans from devastating rancor attacks and the like, men supplicate themselves to women and are taken as slave-husbands.) Luke is not happy.
“Wait!” Luke shouted. “You can’t just take men as slaves and mate with them any time you please!”
He also learns after discussion with Teneniel about the Dark Side of the Force, which is strong on Dathomir and weilded by a mysterious group of opposing witches, called the Nightsisters. Luke is scared of the Nightsisters.
Elsewhere, Leia, Han and company also stumble across human inhabitants, and Leia is adopted by the good witches, while Han is stuck with villagers. He gets into an encounter with a worm called a whuffa which can be summarized in this statement: “Why, once Han thought about it, there was no telling what you could do with a whuffa!”
After conference with the witch clan’s leader, Augwynne, Han comes to an agreement to sell the deed to the planet to the sisters in return for 3 things (his ship, riches, and Leia’s hand – they accept the terms but say they can’t give Leia’s hand for her). Things are looking up for the stranded team.
Retiring for the night, Threepio takes diplomatic relations to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL when he performs an original song – with musical accompaniment – in his next attempt to win Leia’s heart for Han:
He’s got his own planet,
Although it’s kind of wild.
Wookies love him.
Women love him.
He’s got a winning smile!
Though he may seem cool and cocky,
He’s more sensitive than he seems,
(Chorus sung in accompaniment with three women who all sound like Leia)
What a man! Solo.
He’s every princess’s dream!
Threepio ended with a flourish of horns and drums and a tap routine, then took a bow to Leia. Leia just stared at him with an expression somewhere between bewilderment and horror.
Apparently, there are 15 verses of that, and I want all of them to be published somewhere online, please.
Elsewhere, Isolder has a confusing encounter with his slaver Teneniel, who is confident and attracted to Isolder. (Isolder doesn’t know how to name the emotions she stirs in him.) Isolder makes it back to her camp with her new slaves, and in front of the clan claims Isolder as her husband slave. Turns out, Teneniel’s clan is the exact same clan where Leia, Han and company are holed up. Everyone is reuinted, and they make plans to ride some rancors.
Han catches Luke up on the sitch.
“Well, see, it happened this way: I won a planet in a card game and really wanted to see it badly. Meanwhile, the woman I love was planning to run off with another man, so I convinced her to take a short trip with me. Only when we got here, I found the skies full of warships that shot me down – because no one bothered to tell me the planet was interdicted – and after we crashed, a bunch of witches decided to start a war over who gets the wreckage of my ship. So I’ll tell you, Luke, I’ve had a really bad week so far. Now, to top it off, I suppose you’re going to lecture me, or arrest me, or beat me up. So tell me, how is your week going?”
Luke decides to take it a little easy on Han.
Things get even more complicated because Luke reveals that he is attracted to Teneniel, but doesn’t want to act on those feelings because “we’re just from such different worlds.” Han’s response to his pal Luke:
“But you’ve got so much in common. You’re both from strange little backwater planets. You both have odd powers. You’re male and she’s female. What more do you need? Believe me, buddy, if I were you, I’d go right up there and ask her if she wants to ride on my rancor.”
(Note, this is taking place while they are trying to figure out seating arrangements on actual Rancors. Double entendre intended, obviously.)
Lots of action ensues, trying to find suitable parts to fix the Falcon and get everyone off the planet. FINALLY, Isolder reveals why he truly has “fallen in love” with Leia – and she starts to understand who he is and what he wants.
But Leia realied that something else made her angry: The fact that she happened to fit all of Isolder’s specifications for a perfect queen mother. He claimed to love her, and he was one of the most attractive men she’d ever seen. But maybe he was one of those people who only let themselves fall in love when they met someone who had the right qualifications. If this were the case, Leia didn’t know how she felt about that.
Then, Han makes a sacrifice play for the team, to save their lives and get them off Dathomir – and Leia realizes the truth:
She watched Han’s back as he walked away, disappearing into the darkness. “Han!” she called.
Han turned, looked at her. She could barely see his face at this distance, dark and insubstantial, almost an apparition. “I like some things about you,” Leia said. “I like the way your pants fit.”
Han smiled. “I know.” He turned and began walking again.
“Han!” Leia called again, and she wanted to say, “I love you,’ but she did not want to hurt him, did not want to say it now, and yet could not bear the thought of leaving it unsaid.
Han turned to her, flashed a weak smile. “I know,” he called softly. “You love me. I’ve always known.” He waved good-bye, and jogged off intot he deeper shadows.
OF COURSE YOU DID, HAN. Stop being such a moron and you two will be so happy!
But then there’s much more action and danger involving the formidable Nightsisters- particularly the horrific Gethzerion, who is so terrifying that the Emperor himself exiled her and was afraid of her ever breaking free of the planet and sowing discord across the galaxy. Gethzerion has amassed power on the planet, has turned a number of the witches to her cause, and when she gets her hands on the unfortunate Han Solo, she does things like this:
Do you know how many bones there are in the human body, General Solo? If you do, just triple the number, and you’ll know how many bones you’ll have when I finish with you.
She proceeds to break Han’s leg and teeth – using THE FORCE. She’s hardcore, people.
More action happens, that I don’t actually want to spoil because it’s quite good, and involves Teneniel and her sisters, as well as Isolder and his mother. Ultimately, the good guys prevail and things are tied up quite nicely as Isolder realizes that he can’t just leave Teneniel behind, that he loves her, and that they two of them should get hitched. Similarly, Leia tells Han that he won the bet, and they get married.
And that, dear friends, is the ballad of The Courtship of Princess Leia.
I only wish I could sing it for you, Threepio style.
Other Thoughts and Resources:
Check out the Wookiepedia entry HERE, which has plenty more detail (including a great cover gallery)
Wnat a different opinion? Check out Carrie S.’s great take over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.
Rating: 6 – Delightful and ridiculous, in a pure guilty pleasure, goodbad fanfic kind of way
Reading Next: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Buy the Book:
(click on the links to purchase)