Originally published at: http://www.rancorslovetoread.com/2008/12/andrews-review-of-courtship-of-princess.html
3/5 Rancors — Dave Wolverton's The Courtship of Princess Leiawas one of the first books published by Bantam Spectra after the resounding success of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy in the early 1990's. As such, it has the exciting, adventurous, and sometimes plain wacky feeling that a lot of the early books had (especially before the advent of the prequel films and the onslaught of stories about Jedi, Sith, and clone troopers). It is an enjoyable romp of a story with some very puzzling characterizations.
The setting is four years after the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. Princess Leia and Han Solo have been involved over this period but are still not in a fully committed relationship. Han has spent the prior five months commanding a task force hunting Warlord Zsinj and his Super Star Destroyer Iron Fist: the tale of his search is ably documented by Aaron Allston in the fifth through seventh novels of the superb X-wing series. Leia has been attempting to kickstart diplomatic relations between the New Republic and the secretive Hapan Cluster, an alliance of sixty-three wealthy and powerful planets.
The plot of The Courtship of Princess Leia hinges on an unexpected marriage proposal from Hapan heir-to-the-throne Prince Isolder, son of the mighty Ta'a Chume. The manner in which Wolverton handles this storyline bothered me quite a bit. I can accept that Leia might consider a political marriage to serve the New Republic's interests. What I can't accept as readily is how quickly she buries her feelings for Han and starts swooning over Isolder. Sure, it could be "realistic" — relationships turn on a dime in real life all the time — but still, the romantic in me prefers envisioning a less turbulent Han/Leia relationship after the ending of Return of the Jedi.
Regardless, this storyline moves forward with Han kidnapping Leia to win her heart back and dragging her off to the obscure planet of Dathomir. Much to Han's surprise, Dathomir turns out to be Zsinj's base of operations and chaos ensues, with our heroes getting stuck on the planet and running afoul of Force-wielding witches called Nightsisters. Dathomir itself is a well-realized setting. Wolverton has many scenes that conjure evocative images, such as rancors playing in a river at dusk, windswept plains with a giant crashed starship, and the forbidding mountain fortress of Dathomirian Tenenial Djo and her people. His use of rancors throughout the book is a particular high point, fleshing out one of the most remarkable designs of the films into creatures with intelligence and culture of their own.
The book tends to veer into rather goofy humor at points. Notably, there is a storyline about Han supposedly being the "King of Corellia" which feels wildly out of place and falls flat. A place where the silliness did work is a short song C-3PO composes about Han; it's ridiculous but I can actually easily picture 3PO belting it out. I'll also concede that some modern Star Wars has become so grim and bleak that it is a refreshing change to at least have some things not be treated so seriously.
The seventh X-wing novel, Solo Command, ends with a solicitation to read this book to get the conclusion of the Han Solo/Warlord Zsinj story. While it's true that their battle does conclude here, don't read this book expecting much focus on that conflict. Zsinj is more like a cameo than a substantial character and the majority of the plot has little to do with him directly. I found this disappointing, but it's also a bit of an unfair critique, as this book was written before the X-wing series and wasn't meant to be a follow-up or grand conclusion.
Other nice touches in the story are the portrayal of Luke, who was much more in line with his film self than Han and Leia. There's a tiny glimpse of Yoda's history relating to the wrecked ship Chu'unthor. The Hapans are an intriguing culture and a cornerstone of the Expanded Universe stories to come. Isolder is not the one-dimensional character he first seems likely to be, and Teneniel makes a nice foil travelling with him and Luke on Dathomir.
The Courtship of Princess Leia is a fun and breezy read, introducing some key concepts to the larger Star Wars universe. While I'd quibble with the entire Han/Leia/Isolder setup, I'm happy with the resolution. Wolverton does a solid job of authoring a memorable Star Wars story in what is becoming an increasingly crowded universe.
Originally published at: http://www.rancorslovetoread.com/2009/03/davids-review-of-jedi-academy-trilogy.html
3/5 Rancors — Mr. Wolverton's book continues the pursuit of Warlord Zsinj but ties the tale in with Han's courtship of Leia and Leia's apparent admiration for another suitor. At the beginning of the book, General Solo returns from a five-month campaign against Zsinj and believes that he has won a major victory. Arriving at Coruscant he is startled to find dozens of saucer-shaped Battle Dragons from the Hapan fleet. The Hapan Consortium is an extremely powerful, wealthy, and mysterious political entity that would be a valuable ally to the New Republic. Leia had paid a diplomatic visit to the Hapans several months earlier to explore the possibility of joining forces. Now the Hapans have come to Coruscant to give the terms they would insist upon in a joint effort. The only problem that arises is that Leia is expected to marry Isolder, the Queen Mother's son and heir.
From this point the book moves on to Han's kidnapping of Leia, their journey to the planet of Dathomir, their difficulties with the legendary Witches of Dathomir, and the discovery that Warlord Zsinj's ship Iron Fist is actually undergoing repairs in an orbital stardock above the planet. Fortunately, Luke Skywalker also shows up on Dathomir to help our heroes. The book ends well and has some great battle scenes.
However, Mr. Wolverton's problem lies in his depiction of Leia as a lovesick damsel who has suddenly decided to spurn the advances of her previous true love, Han Solo. Almost uniformly throughout the Star Wars saga Leia is an extremely strong and capable woman. Now all of a sudden she has reversed her feelings completely and has fallen for the Hapan prince. The whole sequence just falls flat. I didn't believe it for a minute.
On the other hand, the book has some great characters and scenes, especially the Nightsisters, i.e., the witches. They are memorable and would be a welcome addition to future books. Also, we learn a lot more about one of my favorites, the rancor. On the planet of Dathomir the rancors have flourished and developed a place of their own. There is a lot more to the rancors than simply serving as a killing machine for Jabba the Hutt.
Read the book and enjoy it. Just skip through the romance novel scenes of Leia trying to decide who she really loves.
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