Today, as part of Force Friday, the book Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi Leia, Princess of Alderaan, arrives in both print and digital. Written by New York Times best-selling author Claudia Gray, Leia, Princess of Alderaan tells the never-before-told story of how young Leia Organa comes to join the rebellion against the evil Empire.
In honor of the book’s release, Claudia has been gracious enough to write a guest post for Forces of Geek.
The Challenges and Joys of Writing Princess Leia
By Claudia Gray
I suppose there are better-known fictional people than Princess Leia. But not many.
Try to think of characters whose stories are more famous than hers, and the names that come to mind are heroes of myth, not fiction: King Arthur and Guinevere, maybe, or Odysseus and Penelope. She’s as iconic as Wonder Woman or Harry Potter, probably more. Go to Nairobi, Tokyo, Krakow or Buenos Aires and hold two buns on either side of your head, and people will know exactly who you’re referring to. Probably more people would recognize Princess Leia on sight than just about any other heroine from the beginning of cinema.
Even people who wouldn’t call Leia their favorite character in Star Wars adore her—and despite having spent decades in online fandom, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone post about disliking her. A dizzyingly high percentage of the world’s population could recite a few of her most famous lines on command. So everybody knows how Princess Leia is supposed to sound. Everybody has seen her in action.
And that’s the principal challenge of writing the character: Everyone knows her.
This means that if you write a book about her and get it wrong…everybody is going to know. Those decades in online fandom have taught me that the writer will also get called on it. For years. Possibly forever.
Though, really, when I wrote Leia for the first time in BLOODLINE, my biggest worry wasn’t someone else thinking I’d messed up her characterization. Instead I was afraid of either not living up to my own personal Princess Leia hero worship, or living up to it too well. How do you portray someone larger than life in almost every way, incredibly courageous, someone who’s held the fate of the galaxy in her hands—and still make her feel three-dimensional, flawed and real? She can’t seem dull and pedestrian, but she can’t be idealized, either. It’s a tightrope to walk
But walking that tightrope—that’s also the joy of it.
Writing Princess Leia means imagining myself in her shoes, trying to think the way she might think, acting as boldly as she acts. (To be honest, I’ve done that ever since I first saw Episode IV as a seven-year-old. But this was leveling up.) Now I get to create adventures and struggles for her on one of the largest, grandest canvases there is, George Lucas’ vision of a galaxy far, far away. Other characters I’ve loved, like Han Solo and Chewbacca, show up from time to time. Every daydream I’ve ever had about Star Wars, every death-defying scenario I acted out with the action figures and the old Millennium Falcon playset—they all helped lead me here, and they all inform the stories I tell today.
The other great joy of writing Princess Leia is hearing from the fans. They love her as much as I do, sometimes even more. They had those action figures too (or are currently hunting for mint-condition in-box on eBay). They’re deeply invested in seeing that she’s written right. So when they tweet me or write through my website to say, yes, that’s the Leia I know…it’s more than good reader feedback. It’s as if the reader and I share a very close friend, and we’re glad to hear she’s doing well. Not everyone will agree on every single point of characterization—fans will always defend their own vision. I know this because I’m a fangirl too! But that’s just part of playing in the world’s most famous sandbox. For the most part, the readers who’ve reached out to me have recognized the Leia they see in BLOODLINE, which is the best feedback of all.
Of course there are other challenges. (Writing Leia sometimes means writing C-3PO, who I find tricky.) There are other joys. (Yes, I get to come up with elaborate hairstyles and even some fancy dresses. My long-ago Princess Leia doll was a smidge too big for Barbie clothes, which meant I could never dress her up properly—until now!) But in the end, it all centers on my love for Princess Leia. I have to get it right, but I get to share the love.
Claudia Gray is the author of Star Wars: Bloodline and Defy the Stars, as well as the Firebird series, the Evernight series and the Spellcaster series. She has worked as a lawyer, a journalist, a disc jockery, and a particularly ineffective waitress. Her lifelong interests include old houses, classic movies, vintage style, and history. She lives in New Orleans.
Find her at claudiagray.com, facebook.com/authorclaudiagray, and @claudiagray.