Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe is no more. Under the Disney regime, it has been relegated to the “Legends” banner, and the new official canon includes just the movies and TV shows, along with a whole new set of books, comics, etc. But somehow, one of the absolute worst EU books still has an enduring influence on Star Wars canon.
The Courtship of Princess Leia may not have the most outlandish plot twists (I give that to The Corellian Trilogy) or the most absurd tech (the Sun Crusher is a thing that exists), but as a whole, I think it fails the most out of all the old Star Wars books. On every conceivable level. But this book’s terribleness has proved to be shockingly influential.
Spoilers for a twenty-one year-old book follow.
The Courtship of Princess Leia has one of the most serpentine plots of any single book. That’s part of its charm. The other two things I named as worse than this were book trilogies. The Courtship of Princess Leia is one book. It came out after books where Han and Leia had already been married. People had been invested in this relationship for years before it came out, and curious to see how they finally got together. There was so much potential for this book—none of which the book actually met.
It starts with our beloved Han and Leia, who are so busy with galaxy-preserving endeavors that they barely see each other. While Han’s been off, the New Republic is engaged in negotiations with the stupidly rich (and, we will later discover, generally stupid) Hapes Cluster. The New Republic desperately needs what Hapes can give them. And the Hapes delegation presents the New Republic’s chief diplomat—Leia—a number of gifts: jewels, a magic gun... and the hand of their crown prince in marriage.
Yes. Apparently this is a thing that happens in the Star Wars universe. The safety of the New Republic hangs on whether Leia marries a dude. We have to live with the idea that the good guys would be fine with a marriage of convenience for one of their biggest heroes, in exchange for money and weapons. Now, that could almost be excused if the book decided to explore how much of your personal happiness you should sacrifice for the greater good. Here’s how the book describes the results of Leia’s hypothetical marriage to Prince Isolder: “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.”
So A) Hapes is this fucking powerful, and we’ve never heard of it before. Okay. B) taken at face value, that means the next decade of war is because this wedding never happened C) we do not spend as much time on this issue as we should.
Because the freight train of out-of-character hilarity is leaving the station. Prince Isolder is just nice enough—and the need of the New Republic is just high enough—that Leia considers going through with it. And Han?
Han loses his entire shit, and ends up playing cards in a cantina. Where he wins a deed to a small, habitable planet. So Han decides his newly acquired planet will help him prove that he has as much to give as Isolder. And, in a development that makes me embarrassed for Han so much that I’m cringing as I type, he wants to give the planet to the survivors of Alderaan. Too bad the planet, as Leia points out to Han, is in the territory run by Warlord Zsinj, who I am pretty sure was named by someone headdesking into a keyboard while reading the outline to this story.
Hahaha. Except, Prince Isolder insults the Millennium Falcon and offers one of Hapes super-magic-rainbow ships in its place, if Han agrees to give up Leia. The double affront to his two loves leads Han to? Anyone? Yes? You in the back? Did you say “Kidnap Leia and flee to the planet he won, which is in the heart of enemy territory?” Well, that would be pretty fucking stupid, and also exactly what happens.
Pause for a moment and consider that. I’ve been trying to forget that Han and Leia’s marriage was the end-result of this kidnapping since I was nine years old.
Of course they get forced down and attacked by Zsinj at the planet. What would be the point otherwise?
Look at that wedding dress. And, more importantly, look at the pose Isolder is striking.
Meanwhile, I love the book’s other plot as much as I hate the kidnapping plot. And that is because it brings us the partnership of Luke Skywalker and Prince Isolder. He’s a preternaturally serene Jedi Master! And he’s a spoiled prince whose family hates the Jedi as much as Emperor Palpatine! Together, they fail to fight crime! I give you Isolder’s mission statement, from his own mouth: ““I will hunt down General Solo, and I will bring home my bride.” Excuse me. I’m going to set fire to my own hair now.
I need to share with you all my favorite passage in this book. It’s a small moment, but it is just so good:
Storm had also settled quietly to the ground, but nowhere could Isolder see a sign of the repulsorlift mechanism, no generators, no antigravity dishes aimed into the air. He looked all around, then saw something above: Luke Skywalker sitting with his legs crossed, eyes closed in concentration, and arms folded, floating to the ground. Skywalker, Isolder thought. Perhaps that is how his ancestors got their name.
“Skywalker. Perhaps that is how his ancestors got their name.” No one in Star Wars should ever be aware of the absurdity of everyone’s names. It’s a fulltime job. If Isolder met any of the Sith lords, his head would explode.
This is literally child logic. Except Isolder is not a child. He’s a prince. In theory:
“You shouldn’t do this!” Isolder found himself saying. “The universe doesn’t work this way!”
“What do you mean?” Luke asked.
“You’re treating those beasts as equals. You show my mother, the Ta’a Chume of the Hapan empire, the same degree of cordiality as you give a droid!”
“This droid, these beasts,” Luke said, “all have a similar measure of Force within them. If I serve the Force, how can I not respect them, just as I respect Ta’a Chume?”
Isolder shook his head. “Now I see why my mother wanted to kill you, Jedi. You have dangerous ideas.”
“Perhaps they are dangerous to despots,” Luke said, smiling.
I fucking love that this book treats Isolder like he’s five and Luke like he’s sixty. This book takes place eight years after A New Hope. And in that time, Luke has become Dumbledore. It makes me cry with joy.
Okay, one more bit of Luke from Isolder’s perspective:
“I’ll be careful,” Luke said, and he patted his R2 droid lovingly and stared at it, as if gazing through its metal exterior.
Prince Isolder works as a character because he is legitimately just a sheltered simpleton. His mother’s the one who offered him up as a gift, kicking off this bananapants plot. Like, even at nine I laughed at this buffoon. And Luke makes this decision:
This was Luke’s chance to practice, to teach someone to follow the light side of the Force, without the pressure of having to worry about whether the student would become another Vader.
I would pay a lot of money to watch Isolder even try evil on for size. He’d probably trip over his new black cloak and die.
Now, you’d think that Han kidnapping Leia and having to evade a warlord and Luke and Isolder trying to find them—while Isolder’s mother also tries to kill Luke—would be enough. NOT IN THIS BOOK.
No, because now we get to the part that is actually relevant. The planet Han won is not just surrounded by a warlord. Oh no. It is also inhabited by space Amazons. They have rudimentary Force powers, which is magic, so they’re Witches. Also, they ride rancors—which is the type of beast that Luke fought in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi.
And because this is that kind of science fiction story, the Witches of Dathomir treat all the males as basically slaves. Of course Luke and Isolder get captured by one who really wants to have Luke’s super-Force-powered babies. She actually ends up “in love” (it’s in scare quotes, because this is as well-developed as everything else in this book) with Isolder. Which I do actually love, since Isolder’s mother has ruled with an iron fist, so read into that attraction what you will.
Dathomir also has a tribe of Dark Side witches—the Nightsisters—because you cannot have the Force without eeeeeevil users.
Zsinj offers the Nightsisters a shuttle to get off the planet, if they’ll get him Han. And if they don’t, he’s going to freeze the planet to death with a “Nightcloak.” Blah, blah, blah, Han and Leia get to the Falcon, Zsinj dies, and Han and Leia get married.
Here’s the thing—this book, as hilarious as it is, is actually really influential on Star Wars, to this day. Everyone else working on Star Wars material would have been well within their rights to never refer to this book again. They couldn’t contradict it, but they could have just sort of moved on and ignored it. That’s not what happened.
Aaron Allston decided to take on the task of making Zsinj a believable threat in the Wraith Squadron books. Isolder’s daughter is a very important character in later books. And then there’s Dathomir.
When Disney reset Star Wars canon, only the movies and TV shows stayed. And guess what showed up in The Clone Wars? That’s right—Dathomir and the Nightsisters. One of major villains of that show was Asajj Ventress, an assassin who started out as a Nightsister. The show visits Dathomir a number of times, and reveals that Darth Maul originated there, too. So while the book that originated the planet and its Force witches is no longer canon, its creations still are.
This isn’t unprecedented. For example, the galactic capital Coruscant was invented and named by Timothy Zahn, and later showed up in The Phantom Menace when George Lucas’ earlier drafts hadn’t included it at all. Of course, Coruscant comes from the books that people mourn losing from canon most of all. Dathomir comes from a book that I’m kind of good with erasing from official Star Wars lore.
Granted, without The Courtship of Princess Leia, we do lose C-3PO’s epic song about Han Solo, which goes thusly:
He’s got his own planet,
Although it’s kind of wild.
Wookiees love him.
Women love him.
He’s got a winning smile!
Though he may seem cool and cocky,
He’s more sensitive than he seems,
What a man! Solo.
He’s every princess’s dream!
This book is a masterpiece.