Last year, author Claudia Gray made an impressive debut in the Star Wars universe with her young adult novel Lost Stars. As part of the Journey to The Force Awakens (TFA) publishing program, the book gave fans a fascinating look at what happened when people who cared about each other ended up on opposite sides of the Galactic Civil War and even offered a glimpse of what took place after Return of the Jedi. Now Gray has returned to the galaxy far, far away in her latest book Bloodline. This time, she focuses on events taking place just a few years before Episode VII involving everyone’s favorite Rebel princess, Leia Organa.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: BLOODLINE
Released last Tuesday, the novel offers some explanation about how the galaxy reached the state fans see it in by The Force Awakens. For more than two decades the New Republic established by the victorious Rebellion has led the galaxy in peace, but the Galactic Senate is starting to fracture as two different political groups within begin to grow farther apart. In the midst of it all, as fans would expect, is Leia, who is a respected senator but one frustrated with the inability of the government to get anything done. Before she resigns and puts an end to her political career, she decides to undertake one last mission; a final adventure that will bring her to start the Resistance that’s already established in the film.
From the main characters to the time period, Bloodline is quite different from Lost Stars, but Gray is still able to draw you into the familiar Star Wars world with ease. She told Blastr in an email interview that her process for writing this book was mostly the same as her process for her first entry into the franchise. However, in addition to having a tighter timeline, in this case she also had to write respecting a film she hadn’t seen yet.
“So [Lucasfilm] Story Group's notes were what I had to steer by—and that worked out, of course, but it wasn't like Lost Stars, where I could always just grab my DVD of The Empire Strikes Back if I needed to clear up a point,” she said.
Unlike Lost Stars, where familiar faces from the original trilogy took a backseat to the stories of brand-new characters, Bloodline gave Gray the chance to write more extensively for some of the galaxy’s major players. A loyal C-3PO has remained by Leia’s side, helping her manage her state office while joining her—if still reluctantly—when she gets into trouble. Han Solo may be apart from his wife as he works in professional racing and she remains in government, but he’s still there for Leia when she needs to talk or needs some daring assistance.
Gray describes what it’s like to have had the chance to write for these iconic characters this time around in one word: awesome.
“Seriously, I don't have a more in-depth answer for that,” she said. “I've loved Leia and Han since I was seven years old. Getting a chance to tell some of their adventures? Mind-blowing on every level. I wish I could go back in time and high-five my baby self.”
With Leia as the primary focus of the novel, Gray does a fantastic job of getting inside her head. It's a task that doesn’t appear to have been very difficult for the author.
“I literally cannot remember a time when I was not asking myself what events in Star Wars were like for Princess Leia,” she said. “The good side of all this is that what looked like ‘goofing off’ or ‘daydreaming’ these many years has all turned out to be valuable career preparation. Haha, study hall monitor. Take THAT.”
Gray gives us further insight into Leia by not pigeonholing the character in her role as senator in the book, despite its political focus. The novel makes it clear that even though Leia has continued to dedicate her life to helping others, there’s much more to her character than the role of senator. Gray had the chance to influence this in the development of the book. She explained that when writing a Star Wars novel authors are usually given a rough concept and then able to make it their own. In the case of Bloodline, her main contribution was related to how originally the premise was for the novel to be a purely political one.
“While Leia is absolutely a politician, that's far from the only role she plays in the ongoing saga—and since this story was meant to set up her founding the Resistance, we needed to see the other sides of her character,” Gray said. “So in the very earliest stages, pre-outline, I wrote editor Shelly Shapiro that my first goal was to get a blaster in Leia's hands as soon as possible. It felt good to get her back into action!”
Gray succeeds in showing readers that Leia is a well-rounded character beyond her role in the Senate. We know Leia is so much more, but we are able to see that clearly in these pages. Leia is a princess and an adventurer, a Rebel and a wife, a senator and a mother, a daughter and a Huttslayer. That last title is a rather new one for Leia compared to the others. The term is first used in the book when Leia meets Nikto cartel leader Rinnrivin Di. Di reveals that one of his prized possessions is a holocube showing Leia killing Jabba the Hutt and tells her that among the Niktos, who hate the Hutts, she is revered as the warrior Huttslayer. Gray didn’t invent this term for the book, though. You might remember it being used by fans during the discussion regarding “slave Leia” merchandise last year and the debate about whether or not Disney should discontinue that merchandise. Gray said including the term in the book 100 percent came from that debate.
“While surfing Tumblr (under my fan name, not my pro-pseudonym), I saw the posts about calling Leia Huttslayer instead of ‘slave Leia.’ This was exactly when I was outlining the section where this part of Leia's history winds up intersecting with the plot of Bloodline,” Gray said. “So when I saw the post going, ‘From now on, she should be called Huttslayer!’ I reblogged it and wrote something like, ‘NOW IT IS LAW.’ Nobody knew that it was me, though. Besides the feminist arguments behind ‘Huttslayer,’ which I agree with, I think the term makes so much sense in-universe. Killing a Hutt with your bare hands? Not easy. Any human who managed to do that would be remembered for it, particularly when the Hutt in question was as powerful and as hated as Jabba.”
It’s another part of Leia’s story whose inclusion in the novel feels fitting as we’re given a deeper dive into the character during a time when she seems to be the only one willing to face the looming threat on the horizon putting in danger the world she fought so hard to create. We not only learn more about Leia and how she ended up where we find her in The Force Awakens, but through her receive welcome tidbits about what else is happening in the galaxy while leaving you eager for more. A few familiar characters from the original trilogy don’t play big roles but make brief appearances or receive brief mentions, showing us their connection remains to Leia. We learn slightly more about Han and Leia’s son, receiving a flashback to a tender moment between the couple when Ben was just a baby and learning that Ben is off training with Luke somewhere in the galaxy during this novel. Fans see that Leia has learned more about her past, about Padmé Amidala, and get a sense of what the truth about her birth father being Darth Vader means to her all these years later. We even meet great new characters like Leia's assistant Greer Sonnel and X-Wing pilot Joph Seastriker, who fans will surely want to see more of after meeting them here.
Gray’s success with her second entry into the Star Wars canon is no surprise considering her background. Before Star Wars Gray was already known for her work on books like the Firebird series and the Evernight series. Entering the world of Star Wars, however, did come with its challenges.
“With my original work, the imaginary universe works the way I think it works, and nobody has ‘moved things around’ without me knowing. But with Star Wars, there's so much out there—and, of course, since this was a pre-TFA novel that had to be written pre-TFA's release, I didn't even exactly know what the obstacles were!” she said. “My editors did a great job of guiding me through it, but still, there were things I couldn't understand fully until I'd seen the movie. Fortunately, we did get to do revisions post-film. Nothing major needed to change, thanks to my editors' hard work, but there were points that needed to be polished or refined.”
Gray successfully met the challenge head on, and the results will have fans looking forward to more from her in the universe. Gray told Blastr that she has discussed some possibilities with Star Wars publishing about future work, and the two are eager to work together again, but for the next few months, she’ll be focusing on original work. In the fall she’ll release the final book in her Firebird trilogy and in spring 2017 she’ll be launching a new sci-fi series with Defy the Stars which she describes as “Interstellar meets Blade Runner."
“It's about the robotic warrior stranded in space and the rebellious colony-world soldier who finds him. She can use him to turn the tide of the war—but how does Noemi react when she begins to realize Abel is more than a mere machine? How does Abel deal with being forced by his programming to obey the person who intends to destroy him? And what do they both do when it becomes obvious that Abel's been designed for some mysterious, vital mission even he doesn't know?” Gray said. “As you can probably tell, I'm pretty psyched about that one. So that series gets more of my time for the immediate future. Hopefully, though, I'll get a chance to return to that galaxy far, far away.”
Until then, though, fans can get their fix with Gray's Bloodline. The exciting Leia-centric novel is a must read for any Star Wars fan.