It did not begin in a galaxy far, far away. Rather, it began in a large, brick-and-mortar book store, in the science fiction aisle. I was probably wandering, scanning the shelves to see random book titles, and looking to see if there were any new Anne McCaffrey books, in the days before you could look it up online. And then, I tripped over a book called The Courtship of Princess Leia, by Dave Wolverton.
I was three years old when Return of the Jedi came to theaters, for the first time, and though I have no recollection of it, I may have actually been taken with my dad to see it. But maybe that’s a rumor. Or, considering I vaguely remember a nightmare about the blue “elephant” that played the piano, maybe I really did see it at that age. Whatever happened, my Star Wars education started early.
No one in my family was an excessive fan, so we never went to anything like Comic-Con, in costume. We didn’t even dress up as Star Wars characters for Halloween, as far as I know. I just grew up watching the movies with my family, just like I watched Indiana Jones, Rocky, Rambo, Crocodile Dundee, and many other movies. Of that collection, I can say that I loved Star Wars the most, even when I was still young enough to be scared by some of the aliens. Who wouldn’t want to watch a real princess get rescued by two handsome princes? Oh, come on, with both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo involved (before you know who’s the brother), there are definitely two “princes”.
Of course, I wished I was as beautiful as Princess Leia, and wished my hair could be long enough to create any of the hair styles she wore. Yes, including the first one. But my hair has never grown fast enough, and I always seemed to get a hair cut before it could get anywhere near long enough.
But my childhood wasn’t spent obsessing over movies, I just enjoyed some of them like anyone else. We taped them onto Beta and VHS tapes, and then watched them when we wanted. Even at that age, though, I was a bookworm, and spent my spare time reading lots of books. I didn’t read constantly, of course, but I still managed to read plenty of classics like The Secret Garden, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Little Princess, The Boxcar Children, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, The Swiss Family Robinson, Daddy-Long-Legs, and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. Of course, I also worked my way through everything by L. M. Montgomery and Beverly Cleary, all the Narnia books, and any number of Newbery Award books.
The years went by, and I was introduced to the fantasty/sci-fi book genre. I dove headfirst into Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon, the Pern books, by Anne McCaffrey. At this point, I had still avoided reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, because I found the Gollum picture on the cover to be creepy, and I had accidentally tried to read the prologue in one of them. I thought they would be hard to read and creepy, despite knowing that my mom and older brother loved them… Yes, I know, I’m just telling you what I thought about it then.
But book stores will always drag me in, and that day came, when I was about fifteen years old, and I was staring at The Courtship of Princess Leia. The cover was of Leia dressed in her woodland gear from Return of the Jedi, with Han and Luke in the foreground (also in Episode VI gear). And pictured behind them was… a rancor. Now, if you’ve watched the Star Wars movies, you’ll know that a rancor is the huge, gross looking monster that lived in Jabba the Hutt’s basement. Luke was dropped through a hole in the floor, with the intent of the rancor eating him. We all know the story, right?
Now, some of you will have heard my opinions on a good cover picture. I think this was an excellent choice on the artist’s part, in the case of this book. I will never know if I would’ve picked the book up, if it had had Leia dressed in a wedding dress, like on my cousin’s copy of the book. I still think it looks like a stupid dress, nothing like they would’ve worn in that galaxy. But this!
Think about it. In Return of the Jedi, the movie, we assume that Han and Leia will get married afterwards. End of story. But this title implies that some courtship was necessary on Han’s part, so what happened? Also, the rancor in Jabba’s basement died when Luke dropped the big steel door on his head. And the rancor keeper cried. All the land was in mourning, so…. no, wait, wrong story. The rancor was dead, so why was there a picture of one on the cover of this book?
Well, after the Death Star was blown up, the Rebellion was still fighting the rest of the Empire, and they were short on money. So, the prince of the Hapan Consortium came calling and proposed to Leia, offering a fortune in gifts to the Rebellion. Han gets jealous, he and Leia fight, and Leia says she won’t marry him. Han being Han, he gets drunk and enters a Sabacc (galactic poker) tournament, and he wins a planet. In order to win Leia back, Han kidnaps Leia and takes her to the planet Dathomir, insisting that he’s going to make her fall in love with him again. And did I mention that Dathomir is the home planet for both Dark Side witches, and the rancors that they ride on? Yep, if you can control the Force, you can make a rancor be your “horse” of choice.
Not all of that was in the blurb on the back of the book, but there was enough to lure me into the idea of a continuing story of Star Wars. Because if there’s something I’ve never been able to resist, it’s a good story. Yes, a good movie will be good if it has a good screenplay, but I will always opt for the book, if I can get it. There’s more detail about characters and back story, in a good book.
And sure enough, The Courtship of Princess Leia won me over, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been reading the books of the Expanded Star Wars Universe for over fifteen years now, and I’ve never gotten tired of them. The prequel movies came out, and they expanded those into numerous books, with enough back story to make you forgive the movies for their issues. The SW Universe continues to expand in both directions, and I am now reading about what takes place forty-five years after A New Hope. But I think I’ll stop there, and tell you more about the other books, later.