General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) in ‘The Force Awakens’ (Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens left so many questions unanswered about what happened between the Ewok’s partying down at the end of Return of the Jedi and Poe Dameron’s mission to Jakku. What happened to the New Republic? How did the remnants of the Empire morph into the First Order? What was Han and Leia’s relationship like? What happened between Ben Solo and Luke Skywalker? While we’re still clueless about the latter question (hey, Episode VIII is only a 18 months away), most of the others are tackled head-on in Bloodline, the new Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray released this week.
We don’t want to ruin the book — sure, everyone knows where the events are heading (we learn more about the origins of the Resistance and First Order), but the fun is learning how we get there. If you want to remain completely spoiler-free, call a timeout, pick up the book, and come back later. Otherwise, read on for some notable takeaways as well as commentary from Gray, who previously wrote the popular YA Star Wars novel Lost Stars.
The story, set just six years before the events of The Force Awakens, focuses on Princess Leia Organa in her role as senator in the New Republic. Leia, who eschewed becoming a Jedi like Luke, is fed up with the squabbling politicians, split into the intractable factions of Populists and Centrists following Mon Mothma’s departure as chancellor. Leia would rather leave behind the government pettiness on Hosnian Prime and go travel the universe with hubby Han Solo. Since the event of Jedi, Han helped out Chewbacca with a sticky situation on the latter’s home world of Kashyyyk. Chewie has remained on his planet with his family, while Mr. Kessel Run has formed his own championship racing team. Although theirs is a long-distance relationship, Han and Leia are still very much in love, and he plays a big part in Bloodline.
Leia and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in ‘The Force Awakens’ (Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm)
Joining Leia on Hosnian Prime is her chief of staff, Greer Sonnel, one of Han’s former racing protégées; teen intern Korr Sella (who appears briefly in The Force Awakens as Hosnian Prime gets vaporized); ace X-wing pilot escort Joph Seastriker; savvy political rival Ransolm Casterfo; and the scheming Lady Carise Sindian. Bloodline namechecks several classic characters (you’ll be happy to know that Lando is alive and well in The Force Awakens era). And the novel also includes some plot elements suggested by Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, though neither Gray nor Lucasfilm is willing to say exactly what those are and whether they pertain to the upcoming sequel.
Korr Sella (played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers) in deleted scene from ‘The Force Awakens’ (Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm)
The book’s title is a direct reference to Leia’s parentage. Between Jedi and the events of Bloodline, Luke and Leia have learned that their mother was Padmé Amidala. But much of the novel focuses on Leia’s two very different dads. Gray, a self-described Leia fanatic, offers a bittersweet moment where Leia receives a lovely holocron message recorded to her by Bail Organa, her adopted father but the man she really considers her paterfamilias. However, the message also reveals the secret of Leia’s true father — something she has kept hidden from everyone but Han and Luke. Even her son, Ben, doesn’t know. Then, her adversaries in the Senate find the holocron and play it to devastating results.
‘Bloodline’ propaganda poster (Image: Del Rey/Random House)
As the political intrigue plays out on Hosnian Prime, Leia also channels her inner Sherlock, trying to piece together the provenance of a shadowy outfit operating on the fringes of the galaxy and to make sure it isn’t a threat to the hard-fought peace.
To close out this week of Star Wars celebrations, Gray gave us some insights into her new work and how it fits into that galaxy far, far away.
You began writing Bloodline before seeing The Force Awakens — how aware were you of the plot while writing this book?
I knew very little of the plot — which was exactly how I wanted it! To be honest, I begged them to tell me nothing about The Force Awakens that I didn’t absolutely have to know to write Bloodline. So all I knew was what happened with Leia and Han, that they had Ben, and what would eventually become of Ben.
Did you wind up changing anything after watching the movie?
Relatively little, actually; more nuances and context than anything major with the plot. That said, I think even those minor changes added a lot to the finished book. I did write in Dr. Kalonia — the Resistance physician who told Chewie how brave he was. I just loved her too much not to drop her in.
Dr. Kalonia (Harriet Walter) tends to Chewie in ‘The Force Awakens’ (Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm)
Back around Force Friday, you told me that you were going to fan-girl out when you finally were able to see Leia back on screen in The Force Awakens. Did you? Any other parts that really moved you?
All of it, Marcus. All. Of. It. What got to me the most was, to my surprise, seeing the Falcon take off to fly once more. But I loved seeing Leia again. Seeing Han. And I got so incredibly involved with the new characters, which I hadn’t anticipated. Although I was very optimistic about The Force Awakens from the get-go, I would never have dreamed I’d walk out of the theater as invested in Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren as I had been in Luke, Leia, and Han. But I did.
Leia is such a towering character in Star Wars and you were able to fill in some key events between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. How did you approach writing such tender moments as Bail Organa’s message or the touching scenes between her and Han?
One of the things we never see more than a hint of in the original trilogy is the incredible price Leia’s had to pay. She lost her family, lost her world. She endured capture and torture. By the time we catch up with her in The Force Awakens, she’s effectively lost her son and is separated from her husband. It felt important, to Bloodline, to acknowledge that price. The only way to do that is by honoring what she had. Her relationship with Han was unconventional in some ways, but they made it work. They loved each other. And the message from Bail Organa was one of the things I enjoyed writing most. It helped me feel like the entire destruction of Alderaan was more real.
Knowing what happens in The Force Awakens, was it important for you to show how strong the relationship between Leia and Han was right up until Ben’s seduction by the dark side?
Yes, definitely. I’ve shipped Han and Leia since 1980, when I was just a kid. In fact, I remember that the novelization of Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut was printed with several completely blank pages in the back, so I cut pictures of the characters out of magazines and Scotch-taped them back there, writing captions of my own. Holy cats, I think I remember some of the Han-Leia caption verbatim: “Members of the Rebel Alliance, opponents in a never-ending battle of wits, and… in love with each other!”
What I’m saying is, I’ve been preparing for this gig for a while.
Claudia Gray (Photo: Melissa Vincent via Del Rey/Random House)
So we have a squabbling, sharply polarized Senate in Bloodline — that sounds vaguely familiar… How much inspiration did you draw from our own dysfunctional government?
As little as possible. After the last few months of this election, I felt like the last thing anyone would want would be more of our own politics, you know? One thing I definitely tried to do was make it clear that both factions, the Populists and the Centrists, have right and left wings. I didn’t want anybody to be able to go, oh, those are Republicans and those are Democrats. It felt like their issues shouldn’t map onto ours too closely.
Any favorite Easter eggs or obscure references you worked into Bloodline?
I am an enormous fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. If you can find every single Fury Road reference I dropped into Bloodline, you deserve a prize, because there are many. [For example, there’s a terrorist group called the Amaxine Warriors and one of their ports is on Daxam IV — which has a backwards “Max” in it.]
Tell us a little about your next Star Wars-themed project? Any plans to revisit the stories of Joph or Greer?
I’m not currently contracted for another Star Wars novel. Although my editors and I both want to work together again before too long, for the next little while, I’m concentrating on my YA novels, with A Million Worlds With You launching in November and a new series starting up in spring 2017 with Defy the Stars.
Pretty much any character in Bloodline is one I’d like to write about again: Joph, Greer, even Lady Carise. But if I could only tell more of one character’s story, it would be Casterfo’s.
Lost Stars might have been the most favorably received of the Journey to the Force Awakens books, and we get a nod to that here with the presence of Yendor [an X-wing pilot and ally of the protagonist Thane]. Can we expect to learn more of Thane and Ciena? Fans really sparked to their story.
In order to tell the rest of Thane and Ciena’s story, we also need to tell the story of what’s happening in that galaxy far, far away right after the Battle of Jakku. So the book has to wait until the right time to tell that part of the history! I hope it won’t be too long.
Bloodline is currently available in print and digital forms from Del Rey; there is also an audiobook version read by January LaVoy from Random House Audio.