After the original Star Wars trilogy’s 1983 conclusion, fans had to wait three decades to see the canonical, on-screen extension of Leia, Han and Luke’s story. But as the credits rolled on last year’s Episode VII, The Force Awakens, information concerning the decades between the Empire’s fall and the First Order’s rise was never divulged. What had drawn Han and Leia apart? What about C-3PO’s weird red arm? How had Luke developed such a menacing glare?
Outside of the films, various mediums have filled in some of the blanks. The 2015 comic series Shattered Empire explored the lives of the Damerons (the parents of TFA’s resistance pilot extraordinaire, Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac), while Chuck Wendig’s novel Aftermath showcased the post-Endor Battle lives of Rebel mainstay Wedge Antilles and newcomer Norra Wexley, setting the stage for the First Order to rise. At their best, The Force Awakens’ lead-up stories lovingly rehashed the Empire’s downfall (see writer Claudia Gray’s excellent, original trilogy-spanning YA book, Lost Stars). At their worst, the entries provided head-scratching pieces of fiction that never quite sat right with Star Wars fans.
Now that The Force Awakens has been released on Blu-ray, it appears to be an appropriate time to tackle the backstory of one of TFA’s majorly unexplored players: Princess Leia Organa. Bloodline, a new Star Wars novel from writer Claudia Gray, highlights the years after The Return of the Jedi’s conclusion, diving head-first into Leia’s own emotional turmoil. At the mercy of her ever-growing political responsibilities, Leia’s separated from her son and, frequently, her husband. In the midst of a political process that often feels fruitless, Bloodline opens on Leia grappling with a hope that audiences already understand to be fruitless: escaping from politics. Oh, and she’s still dealing with that whole, “Darth Vader is my father” thing.
With Bloodline, fans will watch the growing foundation of the First Order, as well as Leia’s own Resistance—which makes this a fitting tale for Gray to tell. Like Lost Stars, Bloodline shows the birth of a terrifying new regime through characters who are neither pure-Dark Side or pure Light, making Star Wars’ future conflicts all the richer for it.
Gray answered a few of Paste’s questions via email, which you can read below. Bloodline is out now via Del Rey Books.
Paste: As a reader and a writer, what things do you believe are important to bring to Star Wars in terms of overall enrichment and immersion? What purpose do you think books such as Bloodline fulfill in the greater picture?
Claudia Gray: We get to find out more about so many elements of Leia’s life: Her senatorial career, her marriage to Han, what she felt and feels about Alderaan, how she wins loyalty from people, even some of her thoughts about Ben. I adored exploring that in the book, and I think SW fans love digging into details like this, especially the quieter, more personal stuff that’s less likely to be a featured element of one of the movies.
Paste: In a universe like this one, do you think there’s such a thing as too much immersion?
Gray: If you at any point forget that Wookiees aren’t real, it’s time to come up for air. Other than that, I say go for it.
Paste: Bloodline tackles not only a terrifying time for the Republic, but also for Leia’s emotional state. She’s dealing with her own origin, a point that wasn’t really explored in The Return of the Jedi or The Force Awakens. Can you tell us about the preparation you did to get into Leia’s state of mind? Did anything surprise you in the process?
Gray: Honestly, I’ve been asking myself how it would feel to be Princess Leia since I was seven years old. So I was already prepared! One element that did surprise me was how natural it felt to show her working with junior officers, to demonstrate how she wins their trust and loyalty. Really, we see only flickers of this in the movies, but even the little bit we got was enough for that element of her character to be very clear.
Paste: So much of Bloodline’s political landscape mirrors a lot of what we’re seeing in the U.S., with a political system locked in a stand-still. Can you talk a little bit about how current events influenced Bloodline’s story?
Gray: As little as possible! Seriously, I didn’t want the New Republic’s politics to map too closely onto our own—it should feel enough like our reality to seem plausible, but different enough to belong in that other galaxy and time. And I wanted to make it clear that you can’t just call one of the Galactic Senate’s parties the Democrats or the Republicans; they both have right and left wings. The divide between them isn’t the same as the ones we’re grappling with.
Paste: Through both Bloodline and Lost Stars, you went to great lengths to blur the lines between the Light side and the Dark, the Rebellion and the Empire. Star Wars is traditionally a good vs. evil tale with few grey shades between, so can you tell us about designing characters who don’t neatly fit in a good/evil stereotype?
Star Wars is very black and white, and honestly, I like it that way. But fantastical settings like that work best when the characters within them feel real. Real people have conflicts and make mistakes and get it wrong, sometimes. And a lot of what looks very simple to us might be much more confusing if you were there, caught up in the larger events, and not one of the central figures who can see the whole picture. When you imagine what the view might be like for those people, the world seems a lot more complicated.
Paste: What’s next for you?
Gray: Right now I’m working on my next two YA sci-fi novels—A Million Worlds With You, which comes out in November, and Defy the Stars, which will kick off a new series in spring 2017.