Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Courtship of Princess Leia

Today, a friend from college who is also an exotic erotica writer (think werewolves, not exotic lands), sent me this book review of The Courtship of Princess Leia.  It is one of the early books from the extended universe (either you know what I mean by that or don't.  If you don't, don't worry.)  It is so terrible that it put me off all of the rest of the extended universe books for years.

Anyway, she sent the review with the note, "There is significant overlap among women who read romance and science fiction." No kidding!  It's geek heaven over there; they make Splinter of the Mind's Eye references.

Here's the excerpt I want to discuss, as the smartbitches website is tagged for content:*
Initially, it looks like this story will deal with the question of how much one can put one’s own personal happiness ahead of the well-being of others.  A character explains the benefit of the marriage to Isolder in this way, “With the wealth of Hapes to help fund the war, Leia could overthrow the last remnants of the Empire quickly, saving billions of lives in the process”.  Hear that, people?  Not dozens, not millions, but billions of lives.  What difference does it make whether Isolder is cute or repulsive?  What difference does it make whether Han is the love of Leia’s life?  Why are they fighting for her affections?  This is a royal, political marriage, like many others, and normally affections would be beside the point.  If the author is going to set such high stakes, those stakes should be seriously debated.  That would make a compelling story about two kids who fell in love in wartime, and now have to make things work as adults with major challenges in their lives.
This is an excellent point about a political marriage. The book's disconnect with reality (yes, I see the irony), this use of what would be real conflicts as mere plot devices is a problem in most of the EU books, and modern storytelling in general.  They use events and facts as catalysts for starting a story without considering the rules they set for the story.

The political marriage issue is not the only disconnect in TCPL.  What always bothered me about this book was that it was set 4 years after the fall of the Empire.  Han is the rogue with a heart of gold who starts his walk to redemption when he decides to go rescue Luke over the first Death Star.  Leia is the duty bound princess who was forced to watch her entire planet destroyed, whose only grip to sanity is the unwavering determination to destroy the Empire that did it.  After all the loss, all the horrors of war, all the loneliness they've been through, they waited 4 years before getting married?  Really?  I thought these issues drove Han and Leia's relationship in the original trilogy.  Both of them had reason to isolate their hearts from loss, Leia by embracing everybody as a whole and Han by shunning every individual.  But they couldn't keep out each other.  That is what was so inspiring to Han and Leia shippers, that even though the didn't want love, they couldn't resist it. (Compare, Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince.  Molly Weasley complains about Bill's quick marriage to Fleur, saying something along the lines of they are just getting married because everything is so uncertain in the world with Voldemort's return to power.  She says that during the First Wizzarding War people were getting married all over the place, too, grabbing what little bit of happiness they could. That makes sense.)

 If CoPL had plied these waters, perhaps with a twist that Leia saw a marriage to Isolder as safer for her heart since she didn't love him, well now we've got a good foundation for romantic tension.  (Tantootine Ghost, a much better EU book, hit this theme though in reference to Leia not wanting to have Anakin Skywalker's grandchildren.) You could tie it in with Luke's increasing solitude and explore how the Skywalkers are coming to terms, or not, with who they are.  I see lots of potential.

But as the smartbitches noted, Leia just blew off her, now extensive, history with Han and considered the proposal without much discussion of why, not even explaining the overwhelming good this political marriage could bring.  It was all plot device.  The writers needed something for romantic tension since they set the story 5 years after Han and Leia actually fell for each other, so they unceremoniously threw in another suitor who's attractive and rich.

I think the writer did this because he was trying to connect Leia and Han to the modern romance, so that women would get it.  Of course Han and Leia would date for years on end.  Wouldn't the modern woman freak out if they got married right after the Battle of Endor?  (That was in the early drafts of Return of the Jedi.)  The stories in the Timothy Zahn novels get better but still make this mistake.  One of the threads in those works has Leia worrying about being a working mother and about Uncle Luke not helping out with the kids.  Zhan and his editors assume that for modern women to relate to Leia, they need her to be like them.

This is insulting pandering, but sadly excusable given the debates among many modern women.   (For example, modern women often equate their struggles as comparable to the struggles of the poor.)  So of course when faced with a crumbling Republic, war breaking out, an increasingly isolated Jedi who is too scared to train anyone, baddies attempting to kidnap your children for their Force abilities...and Leia is worried about Luke helping with the kids more?  It makes no sense.

In case you are wondering, the best extended universe book is Death Star.   When I started to come out of the early motherhood fog, it was Death Star that I first read.  The place Star Wars holds in my life...shame about the prequels.  (See link in third 'graph.)

I'd like to say that I'm a recovering geek, and that this will be the last post like this, but who am I kidding?  I've got a long draft in the works the lack of character consistency/believability in screenplays like the prequels, the Twilight movies, and sadly Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.

*This post probably won't help with my little surprise audience issue, either. Not the readers I was expecting, but hey...

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