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Review: Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan

Cover of Star Wars: Leia, Princess of AlderaanStar Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan Vol. 1
Writers: Haruichi and Claudia Gray
Artist: Haruichi
Yen Press; $13

When we first met Luke Skywalker, he was a know-nothing farm boy on a backwater desert planet, as far removed from the goings-on of the rest of the galaxy as possible. This was important to the narrative of the original Star Wars film, of course, as Luke was the protagonist and point-of-view character who young viewers were meant to project themselves onto, a seemingly ordinary kid who would turn out to be the center of the universe.

Still, it meant that any exploration of his past would be necessarily uninteresting. That is, of course, in sharp contrast to another of the heroic characters from the original film, Princess Leia, who is already in the thick of the war when we first meet her in the film. Now hers seems like a backstory worth exploring.

And that’s what Claudia Gray did in her 2017 YA novel Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan, which was adapted into a manga series by Haruichi. That series has now been translated and repackaged for U.S. consumption by Yen Press, giving Star Wars fans yet another choice when it comes to comics spin-offs, beyond the many offered by Marvel Entertainment and IDW Publishing.

This first volume rather closely adapts the first eight chapters of Gray’s 32-chapter novel, so, if Haruichi keeps the current pace, we should expect three more volumes to follow in the series.

This volume opens with an eight-page montage recounting the most important bits of the prequel trilogy, at least those pertaining to Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace and what became of his twin children, and a bit of scene-setting in terms of where everything is at this point in the saga. These pages are in full color and are mostly large images with minimal narration and snippets of dialogue from the film.

From there, Haruichi zooms in on “a beautiful planet that values peace,” and then on a bright, shining space castle, and then on silver robot hands braiding a young woman’s long brown hair, under narration boxes referring to that young woman with the words “One more… …new hope.”

This young woman is, of course, Princess Leia, as is slowly, dramatically revealed over the course of the next few pages, and this is her sixteenth birthday, a day upon which she has to perform a special ceremony in which she declares what she intends to do in order to earn her title.

The focus of the book is on Leia’s coming of age, as the future leader of the rebellion enters her rebellious teenage years. At this stage in her life, she has a strong sense of right and wrong, and is as willful and determined as the Leia we know from the film franchise, but she’s not yet savvy in politics or interpersonal relationships, and so we see her repeatedly outsmarting herself when she acts righteously but without all of the information she needs to act judiciously.

The Leia of these chapters feels somewhat neglected by her parents, who always seem too busy to pay attention to their daughter. Little  does she realize that the reason they’re so busy and seem to be cutting her out of their lives is that they are engaged in the early stages of the rebellion against the Galactic Empire, and they are trying to keep her in the dark in order to protect her.

The arc of this first volume, which sees Leia beginning her tasks and embarking on her education into leadership by joining a sort of Star Wars equivalent of model U.N. and an outdoor tracking class, follows her realization that her parents are secretly involved in combatting the Empire, ending on a pretty dramatic cliffhanger.

Star Wars comics can be tricky ones to draw, particularly those that feature characters from the films, as the artist must try to figure out how to draw the characters rather than the actors playing the characters. It’s easy to spot failures, as those comics tend to look like the artists have cut-and-pasted images from the films into the panels, and one sees, say, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher instead of Han Solo and Princess Leia.

Haruichi nails it, though, this Leia looking reminiscent of Fisher without being a slavish likeness, and she blends in perfectly well with all of the other characters, all of whom are original to this novel save for Leia’s adopted father Bail Organa, played by Jimmy Smits in the prequel trilogy (Holdo, a character played by Laura Dern in The Last Jedi, appears briefly in this volume, but she’s so much younger than she will be in the film that Haruichi doesn’t seem to worry about making her look like a teenage Dern).

Interestingly, we know a great deal about Leia’s future, having seen it  play out in a half-dozen movies now, but Gray and Haruichi still manage to tell a rather suspenseful story by focusing on new conflicts that pre-date those films. We may know the character quite well, but we don’t know exactly how she got to be that character…at least, not just yet.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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