When Lucasfilm and Del Rey first announced a new Star Wars novel following Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo’s honeymoon aboard the very same luxury starliner that fans can board at Walt Disney World’s immersive Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser experience, it was difficult to approach it with anything but cynicism. There’s also the small matter of a pivotal first love that made me want to object to this rewriting of canon: The Courtship of Princess Leia, the ridiculous but wonderful Star Wars Legends adventure romance that got these crazy kids together. Yet in the skilled hands of author Beth Revis, Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel thoughtfully acknowledges all of the reasons why Han and Leia shouldn’t work as a couple (with some sly nods at its status as a transmedia tie-in) while still making the case for their love and its own existence within the current Star Wars canon.
Opening mid-yub nub celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi, the book (told in romance-trope dual perspective) aptly depicts the push-and-pull nature of their relationship: High on destroying the second Death Star and eradicating Emperor Palpatine’s control over the Empire, Leia and Han steal away for what is presumably their first night together, only to get engaged the next day. Yet she has loved him for a year—the year that he lost due to being frozen in carbonite, though his love for her has not lessened one bit. Unlike the Star Wars Legends books, which gave the couple some breathing room to explore their dynamic while building the New Republic, this new retelling is all about nonstop momentum.
Their subsequent rushed wedding (full of drunken Ewok shenanigans) and honeymoon further illustrate the precarious position they currently inhabit: The war is far from over, but they need to embrace peace, however fleeting. It also supports the fledgling New Republic by showing its figurehead of hope moving forward with excitement for the future… not to mention patronizing the Chandrila Star Line, as the entire galaxy’s economy is reconstructing itself with the loss of Imperial business and the disruption of supply chains across worlds.
It also gives a very meta tour of Disney World’s interactive Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel for potential visitors who might be balking at the hefty price tag for that two-day roleplaying experience. But it’s pleasantly surprising to find that the tie-in isn’t completely soulless, due to Revis’ sly acknowledgment in the book of ulterior motives: Leia and Han wouldn’t have chosen the Halcyon for a lavish getaway, either, but they are beholden to the Rebellion first, as public figures who happen to also be carving out a private joy. If they can mix business with pleasure on this publicity stunt, they’ll do it for the good of the galaxy.
Still, the plot does often feel as if it’s following a rigid itinerary, compared to the much more freewheeling nature of the Star Wars Legends books—or, as they used to be called, the Expanded Universe. Back in 1994, when the prequel films were just a twinkle in George Lucas’ eye, the sci-fi writers of the time seemingly had a lot more freedom to play around in the Star Wars universe. Certainly, they had to adhere to an official continuity timeline and handle the IP just as carefully, but you got the impression that the blueprint was a lot more flexible.
To wit, Dave Wolverton’s The Courtship of Princess Leia goes all-in on romance novel tropes, from the shirtless hero in Prince Isolder competing with a flustered Han for Leia’s hand in marriage, only for the scoundrel to kidnap the princess and whisk her away to Dathomir, a planet he won for her in a sabacc game. When Isolder and Luke catch up with them, Leia, Han, Chewie, and Threepio have gotten embroiled in a war between Force-singing witches and the evil Nightsisters. It’s got couple-swapping of the Midsummer Night’s Dream variety, with two very different but equally badass matriarchal societies and a bonafide HEA (or Happily Ever After). And Threepio singing an original ballad he composed about King Han Solo? Icing.
It’s a delightful hot mess of a book, whereas The Princess and the Scoundrel feels a lot more calculated as a connective story between different corners of the Star Wars franchise. From the Queen of Corellia dining room with its games of holo-sabacc to its impressive bridge, the Halcyon has a lot of specs to impart, which Revis does so wonderfully—no surprise, as her debut sci-fi novel Across the Universe takes place on a generation ship that has been in space for enough decades that it feels comfortably lived-in. Revis puts a lot of care into describing various portions of the ships and which members of which class inhabit them, from reporters looking for a sound bite to Imperial sympathizers who even up in space manage to keep their heads in the metaphorical sand. (It also helps that Revis is familiar with the universe of Star Wars novels, having written Jyn Erso’s adolescent adventures leading up to the events of Rogue One in the 2017 YA novel Star Wars: Rebel Rising.)
Thanks to the existence of the sequel trilogy, we know that Han and Leia ultimately don’t make it. Obviously losing Ben Solo to the Dark Side is the primary reason for their split, but the fractures have always been there: Leia has difficulty putting her own needs over her compulsion to help everyone else as an ambassador and later general, while Han is uncomfortable with the responsibilities of leadership and would rather be adventuring and watching his own back. Despite their bond, both struggle to make space for the other in their lives. Revis cleverly communicates this tension onboard the Halcyon, as Leia is forced to let the entire galaxy follow along with her honeymoon (and, to be fair, courts some of that attention for the sake of attracting new allies), while Han is much more comfortable playing sabacc with real cards in the engine room with the ship’s mechanics. And, to be clear, making his own deals and alliances over cards and just high enough personal stakes. Neither is wrong for the work and relationships they choose to pursue, but both are unaccustomed to compromising their independence.
It’s actually a shame that we don’t spend more time aboard the Halcyon, as Revis has such a knack for showing how even a luxury starliner can feel claustrophobic depending on who’s traveling alongside you. Not just the ship, but also its inhabitants are fascinating: politicians, celebrities, and other wealthy clientele who could afford to be unaffected by the Empire’s defeat, as they had ignored the worst of the Empire’s atrocities during its reign. Unlike the awkward placement of the Canto Bight interludes in The Last Jedi, this class commentary feels a lot more organic. By contrast, Han and Leia’s detour to the ice planet of Madurs feels so much like a planned excursion that I had to double-check it wasn’t part of the Galactic Starcruiser package at Disney World. (It’s not, though I assume mostly because why would you want to try to recreate a wintry world in Florida.)
Rereading Courtship for this review, I discovered that it wasn’t entirely as swoony as I had recalled in my starry-eyed nostalgia. Leia in particular is written as flighty and frustratingly uncertain about her devotion to Han versus her attraction to Isolder. The prince’s romance with Dathomir witch Teneniel Djo, though an excellent pairing in theory, is similarly underdeveloped on the page. But what best comes through is Han’s desperation at ever being good enough for the princess at the heart of the Rebellion, compared to Leia’s genuine terror at realizing that someone could love her enough to give her up for the greater good.
Even though this new book supplants the old in the canon, it’s gratifying to see the thematic connections between the two. In each, Leia mourns anew the destruction of Alderaan, which makes sense considering that she’s considering a huge transition that will be noticeably absent of both her parents and her culture. Both times, a new world brings up those feelings, from Han trying to gift her the planet of Dathomir as a New Alderaan to the slowly-cracking ice moon of Madurs representing another world that Leia fears she will be responsible for destroying. And while Courtship presents a different way to wield the Force, Princess makes the Force seem new by exploring it through Leia’s eyes. Her cautious interest in training with Luke and exploring their bond as twins is countered by her revulsion at being related to Darth Vader and her fear that she will be tempted toward his same rage and need for control.
The Courtship of Princess Leia was fun as hell despite its flaws, but The Princess and the Scoundrel takes more opportunities to really delve into the work required to forge a partnership between two very independent, very public figures. It’s just too bad that those moments of insight often get overshadowed by an on-planet showdown that drags, featuring a shoehorned-in villain who clearly is going to show up in another accompanying Star Wars adventure. If the novel were a bit less beholden to corporate synergy and more allowed to follow its heart, it could be just as legendary.
Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel is available now from Random House Worlds.
Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on Tor.com, NPR Books, Den of Geek, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.