Saturday, May 24, 2014

Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Razor's Edge

 *warning-lengthy rant ahead*

    Princess Leia has not gotten a novel until now.

    This is something which should irritate me and does, but it comes with the realization the Star Wars Expanded Universe is coming to an end anyway so I really shouldn't be overly concerned. Still, I just realized how marginalized Princess Leia Organa (later Solo) has been throughout the course of the Star Wars Expanded universe.

    At the risk of spoiling dozens of novels and retro-history, the storyline of Princess Leia after Return of the Jedi has her marry Han Solo and go on to become President of the Galaxy. Which, you'd think, would not be something that marginalizes you. Unfortunately, it is. Princess Leia was always doing something political and very rarely got to do much of the action which made her famous in the first movie.

    This is no clearer than in the Leia's treatment as a Jedi Knight--or more precisely, her complete inability to become one. As the Daughter of Skywalker, Luke's twin no less, Princess Leia possesses the same godlike potential as her male relatives but never gets handled as a Jedi of note. Yes, she eventually is knighted in the Corellian Trilogy but it's a GED-equivalent where Luke says, "Yeah, you're never going to be as awesome as me but I'm going to give you this pity gold star and a red lightsaber for trying."

    No, seriously, the scene is where Luke says Leia is a Jedi Knight but not one like him who completed his training the proper way. This from a man who studied for three weeks on a swamp world with a muppet. You're telling me Leia couldn't find three weeks to study to be a Jedi Knight in the entire history of her flying around the Falcon to and from the Outer Rim territories? I'm calling nerf poodoo on that.

    The only time Princess Leia was treated as a Jedi Knight in the history of the Star Wars Expanded Universe was in Dark Empire--where she still doesn't get the opportunity to kick Emperor Palpatine's ass but certainly HELPS. I can't put this down entirely to sexism, we have the characters of Mara Jade and Jaina Solo after all, but it seemed the writers coudn't imagine more than one butt-kicking female in the series at a time.

    One of the big missed opportunities was in the fall of Jacen Solo, itself a giant clusterkark, but one conspicuously lacking in Princess Leia attempting to redeem or put down her wayward child. A lightsaber duel was even foreshadowed between them but do we get the steel of a woman who survived her planet's destruction and willing to do the things Luke can't? No, it falls to Jaina Solo to stop her brother--which, bluntly, just confuses me because she's always been more of a pilot than a duelist.

    So, after all this time, what is the first Leia novel about?

    Not that much.

    Yeah, that's the most disappointing aspect of this novel. We have a novel by an author who understands diversity--there's a bunch of Earth ethnicities, women in prominent roles, and even aliens across this book--but who puts our plucky princess in a story which isn't all that interesting. Leia finds some expatriate Alderaanian survivors have turned pirate and decides to recruit them for the Alliance. That's it. Nevermind the odd question as to why they have an Alderaanian patrol vessel they're using for piracy when the planet had no weapons--it's a serviceable enough B-plot. The problem is it's the A-plot.

    Actually, the only plot.

    Leia's marginalization occurred over time and was invisible to fans for the most part because our heroine was still doing stuff. She was never inactive. Even during the Black Fleet Crisis where she's the POTR (President of the Republic), she made inspiring speeches. So it's not like she was shuffled offstage. It's just that Leia stuff was never allowed to be as cool as the Luke and Han stuff. The couple of major villains she destroyed were a Hutt Dark Jedi (don't ask) and Kueller, a Darth Vader wannabe she cheap-shotted. Here, for me, the plot just seems to be not BIG enough for Star Wars.

    The story is entertaining enough but even in a story about the Heroes of Yavin versus pirates, everything seems a little too down-to-Earth. In the words of Casablanca (paraphrased), "The problem of a bunch of Alderaanian survivors don't matter a hill of beans in this Galactic Civil War." Even the villain is surprisingly sedate for someone who has their own gladiator arena of DOOM. It feels more like the build-up to a novel or a B-plot than an independent work. It doesn't even get that much into Leia's head.

    Still, I can't be too hard on this novel. The novel brings into sharp relief that we've desperately needed greater diversity in the "casting" of Star Wars novels as well as Leia-centric fiction. It's well-written and I can't say I disliked any of the characters. I just wish Martha Wells had been more ambitious in the scope of her storytelling. I'd love for her to write one of the hardbacks and give us a really epic sort of Star Wars adventure. I think she'd do an excellent job. She also has a good grasp of not only Leia but Han Solo. The one in this novel is not quite sure why he's sticking with the Rebellion after A New Hope but is pretty sure it has to do with the galaxy's feistiest princess.

    I give this novel a 7 out of 10.

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