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Star Wars fans know that, by the time of The Force Awakens, Princess Leia has become General Leia Organa, the leader of the Resistance. But what led her to quit the New Republic government and fight the First Order without its support? And what does the galaxy know about her dark family history?
Star Wars: Bloodline, a new novel by Claudia Gray, answers these and other burning questions that fans have been stewing over since The Force Awakens‘s release. Bloodline, published on May 3 by Random House, explores Leia’s frustrations with the stagnant New Republic Senate and her discovery of a major new threat developing in the far reaches of the galaxy.
Like all new material in the Star Wars universe, the book is fully canon, and Gray and her editors received input from Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, making this a perfect tide-me-over until the next film premieres in December 2017.
The Daily Dot spoke to Gray about the political parallels in this election-year space-fantasy novel, the way fighting a rebellion shaped Leia’s personality, and what it’s like to be one of the last surviving members of a fight that up-and-coming politicians barely remember.
Warning: Minor spoilers for Bloodline follow. It’s best if you read the book first.
What was your reaction when you discovered that you’d get to explore the origins of the First Order? Did they instantly connect with you when you saw The Force Awakens, and how had you been thinking about them from that moment forward?
Well, the First Order was still a very nebulous concept when I started working on Bloodline, a few months before TFA came out. But I got to understand some of it through my work on the book, and it was tremendously interesting to see it play out on the screen.
How did you prepare to write the political speeches in this book? Did you draw on any real-world references for tone, rhetorical flourishes, and so forth?
No, not directly. Honestly, what I pulled from the most for those speeches was my experience working in legal marketing. Marketing and politics are not as far apart as we would like them to be.
Did you draw inspiration from real-world politicians for any aspects of your main characters, whether it’s their public speaking style or just how they’d react to a crisis? Politics, unlike space battles, seems like an area where you can make it feel very realistic.
Not really. I didn’t want our politics to map too neatly onto the politics of the Star Wars universe. For one, I think that mars the escapist quality most of us enjoy in Star Wars. But even more importantly, their issues shouldn’t be just like our issues. They’re dealing with very different history, very different needs, and on a far larger scale.
That said, of course some similarities are just human nature, so some reactions are—if not modeled on anything in the real world—something I think would be realistic. I only had one real-life political parallel in the book, which I’ll touch on later.
How much did the 2016 election factor into your description of events and dynamics in this book? I couldn’t help but notice that, in comparing the First Senator candidate fields for the two factions, you had the aristocratic Centrist Lady Carise observe that the Populists had only one viable candidate, while the Centrists had “a wealth of potential candidates.” There are echoes of Hillary versus the 17 Republicans in there.
Seriously, I didn’t want to have anything from this election carry over into Bloodline. I mean, my word, I already don’t know how I’m going to make it to November, and I strongly doubt I’m the only one sick unto death of the process. If we can’t take a break from the election with Star Wars, when can we ever?
The way you describe the weak, decentralized Republic on page 16—with its early governing successes being the result of Mon Mothma’s singular personality and not an enduring structure—reminds me of the Articles of Confederation that nearly ruined the young United States before the adoption of the Constitution. Were you trying to draw a parallel between the failures of the U.S. under the Articles and the failures of the Republic under its decentralized structure?
Not consciously. However, a few people have pointed out that there are some parallels between the political scene in Bloodline and in early American history. It’s interesting, because in the middle of the writing process, I was able to go see Hamilton on Broadway. So I’m wondering how much of that might have mixed in!
Let’s talk specifically about Leia. I love your description of her on page 9: “That was what happened when someone grew up on the run, under siege, always expecting capture or death at any moment. Paranoia became the only way of seeing the world, unable to ever be fully set aside.” In what ways did you want the reader to see this paranoia play out in how Leia behaves?
Well, I don’t think Leia lets her paranoia govern her completely. She clearly has the ability to trust others, both in her personal and political lives. But it made sense to me that Leia’s experiences during the war against the Empire would always, always inform her thoughts and actions. She’s never going to be complacent. She’s never going to get lazy. She’s forever on the lookout for danger—and sadly, in Bloodline, that danger finally materializes again.
You note on page 51 that “for all Leia’s diplomatic experience, all her years and wisdom, she’d never been good at curbing her temper.” I thought about Mon Mothma and how, in Lost Stars, she was preternaturally calm even when Thane Kyrell was behaving rather unorthodoxically. That calm was part of Mon Mothma’s legend; obviously it profoundly affected Thane. Viewed in that light—through that prism of leadership and charisma—do you think Leia’s temper is a weakness, or does it serve her as a strength in a different context?
Leia’s temper can be her weakness or her strength, depending on the situation. In Bloodline, there are times when her temper leads her to lash out at someone who doesn’t deserve it, or shakes her up during an important speech. But there are also times when her anger serves as her fuel. And if you cross a line with her? Oh, wow, are you going to know it. So this is someone who knows how to set and enforce her boundaries.
On page 29, Leia explains that her use of what we would call a British accent on the Death Star was her way of mocking Grand Moff Tarkin’s aristocratic voice. Was that something you came up with or did Lucasfilm want that to be the explanation for something that has puzzled fans for decades?
I came up with that! If she’d talk to Tarkin about his “foul stench,” she’d definitely make fun of how he speaks, too! It’s the one thing from the book I hope someone will eventually tell Carrie Fisher about.
Perhaps my favorite line in the book is on page 57: “Leia’s dark eyes continued to stare past the rest of them, toward a horizon only she could see.” As we wrap up, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how Leia’s status as the only person who foresaw the coming storm isolated her and affected her personality. Her ability to see beyond the transitory quiet, to sense some deep restlessness, reminded me a bit of Yoda during the lead-up to the Clone Wars.
Leia begins the novel very isolated in many ways. Luke and Ben are off somewhere; Han’s still her husband and he loves her, but he’s not home very often; most of her political contemporaries have either retired or were killed in the war; she lost her family on Alderaan.
Politically, she has allies who are also friends, and staffers who are loyal, but those don’t replace the people she’s lost. But that solitary nature allows her, maybe, to see the trouble on the horizon more clearly. So I don’t think it’s that her foreknowledge isolates her so much as her isolation gives her the ability to understand this coming danger. And as she begins to take action, her friendships deepen, as does the loyalty of the people next to her. Leia begins the book alone and ends it with a brand-new group of comrades around her.
I thought what you did with Senator Ransolm Casterfo’s transformation from cold nemesis to relatable ally was fantastic, and I found myself wishing for more stories about him. Were you asked to leave his fate open-ended?
Thank you so much! Ransolm Casterfo’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. I chose his fate, and I very much wanted to leave that open-ended. Here’s hoping other fans like him too, because I’d love the chance to write him again.
Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.