Today I spent my morning with Princess Leia: Royal Rebel, part of the Scholastic Star Wars Backstories series. Aimed at fans in grades 3-7, it was a quick read: only 128 pages including a glossary and index, and many of those filled with captioned illustrations. Although imperfect in some aspects, it was a cute book and worth the little time it took to devour it.
The book is presented as an in-universe biography of the famous Princess and General and includes an illustrated section on her most famous “friends, family, and foes.” The in-universe timeline for the book is interesting, in that it mentions the events of The Force Awakens, therefore presuming that the key events of the film (the destruction of Hosnian Prime, the death of Han Solo, the discovery of Rey and her Force-sensitive nature) have already occurred. Knowing what we do about Episode VIII following so quickly on the heels of The Force Awakens, it took a little fudging in the suspension of disbelief department for me to get past that.
The introduction is done in first-person by General Leia Organa herself and dovetails nicely onto events in Moving Target–wherein an archival droid is pestering her for a memoir. “I’d much rather be doing things than talking about things I’ve already done,” Leia bemoans in the opening paragraph. And the General’s reticence on matters of her life comes in handy later in the volume.
The body of the book itself is basically a Leia-centric retelling of everything we know about Star Wars. With an at-a-glance chronology that begins with Padme and Anakin meeting, we get a summary walk through the saga focusing on where Leia was and what she was up to at any given time (including her appearances in Moving Target, the Princess Leia comic books, and Star Wars Rebels). There are notable gaps in information available about the years between events of Return of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. “These records,” the imaginary biographer posits, “may have been lost when the First Order destroyed the system of Hosnian Prime.” It is also alluded to that perhaps little is known because after the war the Princess kept her private life…well…private. It’s a useful device for allowing this book to bridge the gap in the saga without giving anything away.
The book’s black-and-white illustrations range from adorable to interesting and include a picture of Han and Leia with tiny baby Ben as well as a map of Echo Base on Hoth and schematics of both the Millennium Falcon and the Tantive IV. There are mini-bios scattered throughout the pages, complete with well-done illustrations and interesting tidbits that the fans this book is aimed at will appreciate knowing.
And although this book makes no grand revelations, it does offer enjoyable tidbits about Leia’s saga-adjacent life. We learn that Breha Organa was not only “the perfect queen for one of the most important planets in the galaxy” but also a skilled hand-to-hand fighter–a fact that even Leia didn’t know. We learn that Leia’s meeting Tarkin aboard the Death Star was not their first encounter, that she’d met him once before at a diplomatic dinner and she hadn’t much cared for him then, either. And we even find out that young Princess Leia took dancing lessons (cue the mental picture of an adorable seven year-old with two buns scowling in consternation at how pink and fluffy her recital costume is). We also see, for the first time in print, the name “Ben Solo.” The surname of Han and Leia’s only son has been in question for some time among the hardest-core Star Wars fans and, for now at least, this book seems to settle it.
There are a few areas of concern in Royal Rebel. At one point the timeline comes into direct conflict with the Princess Leia comics, which left me scratching my head–because I was able to verify the conflict in a matter of moments and wondered why the author and editor hadn’t done the same and made the correction. But I decided to chalk it up to an error on the part of the in-universe biographer and less-than-perfect wartime records kept by the Rebel Alliance and moved on. Details are sketchy in places, and not everything feels like it fits.
Although the biggest concern I have about this book is this: if you’re considering buying it for someone within the age range for which it’s intended, you should know that Leia’s time aboard the Death Star is covered, and the word “torture” is used more than once. Usually, I would applaud this decision. I have often bemoaned titles in the Star Wars universe that gloss over Leia’s experiences in Imperial custody to make her mistreatment at the hands of her captors seem palatable. But in a book aimed at middle readers, I find this choice peculiar. Even The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy, a decidedly longer and more involved book aimed at a similar demographic, only goes into detail about a truth serum. Depending on the age and emotional maturity of the intended recipient, and how comfortable the adults around them will be discussing such a serious and possibly upsetting topic, that bit may be a deal breaker for some.
For all of its foibles and slightly problematic elements, Princess Leia: Royal Rebel was an enjoyable way to spend my morning. The illustrations are dear, the story is familiar, and anyone who calls Han Solo “rascally” gets brownie points from me. I wouldn’t say that every Leia fan needs this book (like they do Bloodline and Moving Target) but the pictures alone were enough to make me want it. I think most Leia fans will agree that it’s worth having this one on the shelf.