Ascent and Acceptance: Family Dynamics in Leia: Princess of Alderaan

Claudia Gray’s newest Star Wars offering: Leia: Princess of Alderaan opens on Leia Organa’s sixteenth Name Day. With the Rhindon Sword in her hand, she approaches the throne and declares her intention to assume the throne. This is the ceremony that has been performed by Alderaan’s monarchs for millennia. She pledges to take on challenges of the body, mind, and heart to prove her fitness as a ruler to the sitting sovereign.

But for teenage Leia Organa, fitness to rule is hardly a concern. For Leia, the ceremony and its attendant challenges are a chance to grow closer to her parents—from whom she never meant to become distant. Her humanitarian work, first term in the Apprentice Legislature, and plans for the ascent of Appenza Peak are much more in the service of her personal agenda than any royal one.

This book broke my heart for Leia so many times but the accidentally fractured relationship between the princess and the parents who clearly adore her so much was the most gut-wrenching. Everything she does throughout the story is motivated by a desire for her parents’ love and approval. The sadness incurred every time she fails to impress had me in tears from the very first chapter.

Because we know Star Wars, it’s easy to understand what is going on in the Organa household that has the adults excluding the teenage princess. But Claudia Gray keeps us in Leia’s head for the entirety of the book, so it’s easy to be caught up in the emotions of a young girl who desperately misses her mom and dad and only wants to prove herself as someone worthy of their time and attention. It’s a reminder that, although already a seasoned political mind (she’s been involved in galactic politics for two years by this point in her story), and a fierce, firm believer in justice, Leia is still a child. She has childish reactions and makes childish mistakes.

But she is a child on the verge of adulthood, hence the Day of Demand ceremony. As she begins to suspect stirrings of rebellion in Palpatine’s Empire, and as she begins to piece together the role of House Organa in the whole operation, we see some of her childishness fall away. As she’s brought further into the fledgling Rebel Alliance— by Mon Mothma, by her mother, and in some cases thanks to her own powers of deductive reasoning, we see her becoming the Leia we know and love from A New Hope.

Leia is told by a friend, late in the book, “…the last stage of life before adulthood always involves conflict between parent and offspring.” It makes sense to Leia, but she is still hurt by her parents’ refusal to allow her into the confidence of their resistance against Palpatine. As it’s no spoiler to say that she eventually does make her way into the Alliance, I will say that the depiction of Leia’s relationship with both Mon Mothma and to her mother, Breha, were bright spots in this book. Her faith in Mon Mothma, even in the face of sadness and frustration toward her own parents, is treated with care and with sensitivity.

We, of course know from the start that the Organas were only distancing themselves from their daughter to try and spare her the wrath of the Empire were their insurrection to be discovered. By the end of the story Leia herself is at peace with that, as well as with her new place among rebels. She’s done some good for the galaxy, but it’s not her acts that bring her back into her parents’ embrace. Rather, it’s the open lines of communication that grew from these events that show the Organas how hurt their daughter was by being excluded from their company.

At the end of the book, there’s a second ceremony. Leia once again hefts the Rhindon Sword. She is confirmed as having risen to the challenges set before her in the earlier ceremony, and is formally invested as heir to the throne of Alderaan. She is taking her place beside her parents in trying to assure a better future for the galaxy than the one the Empire has on offer.

“These past many months, Leia had wished and hoped that things between her and her parents would go back to the way they used to be. Finally, she understood that would never happen, because neither she nor her parents were the people they’d been before, they had to grow into the family they would become—one united to face the challenges ahead.”

Above all, for me Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a family story, a coming-of-age story, and a story of becoming. We see both the rise of the Rebel Alliance and the first steps into a larger world being taken by the princess who would one day come to lead and inspire them. The dynamics of parents trying to shield their child from the harsh realties of brutal adulthood, seen through the eyes of an adored and capable teenage princess, ring true.

Stories of parents and children, although unique, are universal and this one does not disappoint. Anyone who has ever longed for a parent’s approval or pushed themselves farther than they thought possible hoping to win their mom’s smile or their dad’s congratulations will find themselves in Leia’s experiences. Teen Leia is relatable, fallible, and loveable. As are her parents.

And that’s the great beauty of this book. Highly recommended.