A New Hope borrowed heavily from the pulp science fiction serials of the 1940s, most notably the various runs of Flash Gordon. The films didn’t stay entrenched in that milieu for long, with The Empire Strikes Back presenting a more refined, if darker, look at that galaxy far, far away and the subsequent films striving to establish Star Wars’ identity on its own. Princess Leia, the five-issue miniseries from Marvel Comics, returns Star Wars to its roots as an homage to Flash Gordon.
The five-issue mini-series was written by Mark Waid, with pencils and inks done by Terry & Rachel Dodson, and colors handled by Jordie Bellaire. The art is whimsical yet somehow precise. The Dodsons bring a remarkable charm and clarity to the book that won me over quickly, though it is not without its faults. The art sometimes was a bit too cartoonish for my tastes and some of the aliens (Besalisks, in particular, were awkwardly drawn). Bellaire’s colors are bright and cheerful, with plenty of contrast and texture.
The story of Princess Leia follows the titular character on a journey to rescue the fellow survivors of Alderaan in the days following the Battle of Yavin. Along the way she encounters old friends, new enemies, and often the two are flipped by the end of the chapter. We see the facets of Leia that were never much explored in the films. She’s more vulnerable in the comic than she ever was on screen.
The first issue establishes the principal characters: Leia and Evaan. We know Leia from the films but she is fleshed out here. She is a consummate rebel, unwilling to sit by and let others fight for her when injustice continues in the galaxy. Evaan is a fellow Alderaanian pilot and initially sharply critical of and simultaneously very deferential to Princess Leia. As a royalist, Evaan believed in the governmental structure of Alderaan even if she is critical of Leia’s stoicism in the wake of Alderaan’s destruction. Thus we have an odd couple out for an adventure across the stars, on a mission to rescue the surviving Alderaanians before the Empire can hunt them down. Accompanying them is the ever-faithful Artoo Detoo.
The second issue is split between flashbacks of Leia’s childhood and her mission on Naboo. Waid balances Leia’s mission to rescue a cloister of musicians with the lessons on governance and politics she learned as a child. He shows us how Leia’s brashness was a childhood trait that carries her forward in the present. Bail Organa tried to temper that brashness. He was a kind and gentle father. And, importantly, we see Leia encounter a frieze of Queen Amidala on Naboo with perhaps some hints of Leia’s Force sensitivity. Notice how Amidala is beautiful and sad in the frame below, how Leia describes the feelings and images she has of her real mother in Return of the Jedi. Interesting. The mission isn’t without its hitches but Leia and Evaan pull it off in the end, spiriting away the musicians from their cloister aboard a shiny, new starship.
Issue three introduces complications to the mission to rescue Alderaanian survivors. First, the survivors on Sullust have a siege mentality and don’t want to be saved, despite their inability to protect themselves. Second, and more worrying, is the presence of a spy in the group’s midst. Leia spends the issue in confrontation with her own people. I believe this is the issue where Evaan finally comes to respect Leia as a person and not just the crown. It’s a moment of doing the right thing and protecting everyone when it would be so much easier to just rescue herself where Evaan realizes Leia is a worthy leader.
In issue four we are treated to the meeting between Nien Nunb (Sullustan co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon during the Battle of Endor) and Princess Leia. Nunb is an established smuggler and engineers an escape (off-camera, in true pulp fashion) of the Alderaanians from Sullust. Leia sets her recently rescued paranoid countrymen to ferreting out the traitor and dispatches some envoys to yet another Alderaanian commune on Espirion, known for its military strength. When the traitor is revealed, though, we learn something important about Alderaanian culture. The ‘traitor’ is a young musician who has been speaking with her sister, apparently in Imperial service or custody. Leia does not punish either but instead, with compassion, promises to see the sister free of the Imperial clutches. It’s a touching moment and one that shows the black and white of Star Wars storytelling. Alderaan represents the best in the Star Wars universe. It is what we should all hope to be some day.
In the end of issue four, the diplomatic mission to the Alderaanian commune is a failure – one of the envoys insults the hosts with her bigoted disgust at their half-breed heritage – and Leia arranges to give herself up for the traitor’s sister. All seems lost.
Our fifth and final issue is a doozy. Leia, ever the devious schemer and consummate planner, arranged with Nien Nunb to have herself rescued. She then flees toward the Alderaanian commune, expecting a powerful military to shield her refugees. Upon arrival she finds her plan in tatters and prepares to make a last stand against Imperial forces chasing her. Evan finally opens up to the princess as a friend and confidant rather than servant. As Leia broadcasts her final missive to the gathered refugee ships, Artoo secretly beams the message to the leaders of Espirion. Leia’s words reiterate the core of Alderaanian culture, a culture of understanding and creativity. Her words rallied the commune of Espirion to the defense of their brothers and sisters. The Espirion fleet destroyed the Imperial Star Destroyer and saved the Alderaanian people. In the denouement of this last issue Leia abdicates the throne and nominates Evaan for the position of queen before she returns to the Rebel fleet.
I loved Princess Leia. It’s a fantastic story that harkens back to the pulps with its tropes and storytelling. The art is generally fantastic, though a bit dodgy in places. Leia’s speech in the final issue brings tears to my eyes. It’s exactly the kind of optimistic, forward looking hopefulness I want in my Star Wars.
We are not our enemy. We are Alderaan. We answer rage with wisdom. We answer fear with imagination. We answer war with hope.