I think one of my first experiences of the idea of romantic love might’ve been as a six-year-old, watching Princess Leia Organa cradling a blaster and fighting off Stormtroopers on the Cloud City of Bespin in the Empire Strikes Back.
I sort of fell in love, and sort of vowed to my infant self that one day, somehow, I would have her.
Alas, it was not to be. I did, however, get a five-issue Princess Leia series from Marvel instead; which isn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but it’s something.
However, the truth is that, of the three Star Wars titles that were launched early in the year by Marvel, the Princess Leia title has been the one I’ve most struggled with.
Which is not to say that it’s bad; but it’s a lot less engaging than the Darth Vader series (reviewed here) or the main Star Wars title (reviewed here). I don’t think that’s a reflection on Leia as a character either (how could it be – Leia’s awesome), but more a case of this title feeling very lightweight, even over a limited five-issue run. It’s possible this was also why Leia was only given the five-issue series in the first place, whereas the Vader title is able to continue on.
Set, like all these titles, right after the events of A New Hope, Princess Leia, written by Mark Waid, tries to flesh out this much-loved character for us, filling in the gap between the first Star Wars movie and the events of Empire Stikes Back. Which, on paper, sounds like something that’s going to be fascinating to read; but, despite being engaging in spurts, Princess Leia fails to really deliver on its promise overall.
The best thing about it is the cover art. The cover for Princess Leia #1 is superb; in fact all the Princess Leia covers so far have been outstanding.
I had hoped that this would also translate to spectacular content, but it hasn’t quite proven to be the case. Princess Leia #1 does give us some interesting things. Early on, it gets us into some of Leia’s post-Alderaan psychological state, which is vaguely interesting. #1 also has the classic victory celebration on Yavin revisited, which is fittingly nostalgic.
But dabs of nostalgia and a vague tap-in to Leia’s state of mind doesn’t really do the matter justice.
The character Evaan is also introduced; a royal Loyalist Alderaanian and rebel pilot. The fact that she is initially not overly impressed with Leia is interesting, and the sense that not everyone Alderaanian has a fawning adoration of their Princess (who, let’s remember, isn’t really Alderaanian at all, but the daughter of biological parents from Tatooine and Naboo respectively) provides an interesting new layer to… well, Leia.
The Evaan/Leia relationship that underpins the rest of the series is vaguely nice, but the dynamic isn’t spectacular by Star Wars standards (the Vader/’Aphra’ thing in the Darth Vader title is much more interesting).
The premise being established in #1 was potentially a very rich one; specifically, Leia making it her mission to find and preserve surviving Alderaanians and all she can of Alderaan’s culture, following the planet’s destruction by the Death Star. That’s a great mission, a great place to start a series like this. And it’s also a very natural, logical idea flowing out from the events of A New Hope.
Beyond this first issue, however, it doesn’t really become interesting. What we end up with is a comic that feels intended for a younger readership (which, however, doesn’t make sense, as anyone who has ‘nostalgia’ for the Original Star Wars Trilogy would have to be at least in their early thirties). A real, more mature exploration of Leia’s emotions and psychology following something as extraordinary as the complete annihilation of her planet (and family) would’ve been something great to read; but we don’t really get that.
Honestly, the best thing about it for me has been the cover art. The cover for #2 is even more stunning than #1.
Hell, the cover to #3 looks great too; for some reason these Princess Leia covers just have a really iconic look to them and Terry (and Rachel) Dodson’s illustrations and Jordie Bellaire’s colors really result in something stunning. The variant covers are awesome too (check out the main variant cover for Princess Leia #5 and you might drool). The art in the actual stories themselves is less gob-smacking, more hit-or-miss. #2 has some nice elements for die-hard Star Wars fans, such as the Bail Organa flashback to Leia’s Alderaanian childhood and the ROTS-familiar backdrop.
Leia’s visit to Naboo plays to lots of nostaliga for me, as Episode I all comes rushing back with the familiar Naboo atmosphere and architecture. The familiar sight of Amidala’s old Royal Palace is visible in the background on its hilltop, albeit with a Tie-Fighter visible flying past. We also see a random, incidental Gungan on page 14 – who I’m going to assume isn’t Jar Jar Binks. Leia also sees a representation of Queen Amidala (Padme) and has a moment of connection, the face of the young Queen from decades ago seeming to turn to stare into her eyes; obviously she doesn’t know her biological connection to Padme Amidala at this point in time, but the unspoken sense of connection is a lovely touch.
As nice as little elements like that are, the general thrust of the storytelling falls short. Leia’s old friend ‘Lord Junn’ betrays her presence on the planet, but it’s entirely predictable; which, for the only meaningful plot-twist in the story, is a little poor.
#3 is generally an uninteresting entry, it has to be said. It centers around the inhabitants of an Alderaanian Enclave on Sullust being highly sceptical of Leia and on her having to prove herself to them. We also have the element of an Alderaanian Imperial spy introduced here too, but it imparts no real drama or tension to the story.
Dodson and Bellaire’s cover for #4 is another absolute knock-out, probably the best yet. But again, in truth the covers are the best things about this series.
Nien Nunb’s appearance brings a smile, but the story here crawls along with the same lack of urgency or interest as the previous issue. However, Leia bravely placing herself back into Imperial custody (for the first time since being held on the Death Star in A New Hope) restores a level of interest towards the end and sets things up to be more engaging in the next, concluding issue.
I might be beginning to sound like a broken record by now, but the cover for Princess Leia #5 is a thing of beauty (and the variant is magnificent). But again, there’s not much to Princess Leia #5 either, particularly for a final, concluding issue.
There’s something vaguely nice in the Alderaanians coming together to stand against the Imperial Forces, but by this point I was only reading to the end for the sake of completing the entire story. In reality, from about halfway through #2 onward, I haven’t been all that engaged, and there’s no real pay-off here in #5 either.
Which is a shame, because I can see what the intention was with this five-part story; particularly giving more life and character to Alderaan, a society so crucial in the Star Wars mythology and yet so unexplored in the films.
This series just doesn’t manage to do it in quite engaging or memorable enough a way. And that’s a pity; and actually something of a missed opportunity.
And the overriding thought I come away with is that a five-issue storyline centering on a character as good as Princess Leia should’ve been something a lot more interesting than this.
I will say, however, that if you’re a big visual person when it comes to your comic books, then this series is definitely worth the time – if only for its gorgeous covers and artwork.