journey to another galaxy…

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.

6 thoughts on “journey to another galaxy…

  1. Interesting… I’ve always wondered what the expanded “Star Wars” books were like. For whatever reason, I avoided them in the bookstore, probably because I couldn’t grasp the idea that someone other than George Lucas would be inspired to write on/to continue the story. I convinced my little naive self that the books wouldn’t be any good. Plus, there were a lot of them, so… where to start??

    I was an average fantasy reader, and the “LOTR” books were (are) my mainstay. I read the first one or two Anne McCaffrey “Dragon” books, but I didn’t stay interested. I know that I read “Sword of Shannara” by Terry Brooks at one point… again, it didn’t grab me. I was much more of an Anne Rice reader in high school (“Interview,” “Lestat,” “Queen”), and there was “The Mists of Avalon” that absolutely made me weep (I still love Arthurian legend). But I did read the first three Katherine Kurtz “Deryni” trilogies, and loved those (1. The Chronicles of the Deryni; 2. The Legends of Camber of Culdi; 3. The Histories of King Kelson), but didn’t read either the fourth or fifth trilogies as I’d entered college and had my mind full of history and overturning moment equations (and let’s be truthful: boys).

    It took a long time for me to rediscover reading for recreation and the fantasy genre; my reading definitely picked up while staying home to raise our children (it’s cheap escapism!). I plunged head-long into whatever vampiric fiction I could find and (recently) a lot of post-apocalyptic vampiric/zombie horror. In short: it affected my sleep (and mommies – like nannies – NEED. SLEEP.) Then I hit upon George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series – I know that I’ve mentioned this before in the comments – and I. Was. Smitten. I raced through those tomes, and am eagerly awaiting the sixth installment in the series. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there is now an HBO series based on the books, and that their production looks like a group collaboration between WETA and half of the people that worked on the “LOTR” movies. Have you read them?

    Now, in addition to my own reading, my kids are getting to the age where they’re able to read and lap up whatever stories we put into their paths. My husband “released the genie” and showed the original 1977 “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” to the kids back in May. They’ve been clamoring for more of the movies ever since. Slowly, we’re showing them the first trilogy – we just viewed “Empire” for my son’s 7th birthday after much begging and negotiating (it was almost too much for him, as I suspected, but the other two kids – 5, 4 – loved it), and now they’re clamoring to see “Jedi” (our deal is to wait until the middle of the summer). But what then, after that? There is NO WAY that they’ll see the more recent “Star Wars” movies until they’re driving; however… there are the books! This may be a way for me to finally come about to reading them, and to be able to answer the inevitable question, “Mom? What happens next?”

    So… where do I start?

    Good call, Rachel. Nice post. Thank you!

    • Ok, several things to cover here, I guess. I’m only just starting on the Star Wars posts, I should have another in the works within the week, giving a general tribute to the lot of them. I did a count, earlier, and I think I’ve read somewhere around 97 of them, when there are probably 120 or so of them. So, I don’t generally try to hook people into reading the whole series, you know? Of course, there were a lot fewer of them when I started… maybe about 30. Some of the books are better than others, depending on the writers, just like any other book. But some of them would be confusing, if you weren’t already invested in the series. George Lucas only wrote one of the novels, if I remember right, though of course he wrote the screenplays for the original Star Wars movies. OK, maybe he wrote two. But I somehow doubt he’s had a huge say in all the later stuff, but who knows?

      I consider Lord of the Rings a mainstay, now, but they weren’t then. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern took me into fantasy/sci-fi, but you could say that fairy tales already had me into fantasy. I’m just not always sure which ones I read back then. I tried Shannara, when I was in middle school, but whichever one I read, everyone died, which turned me off to the series. I’ve never liked horror, so I never touched vampires until Twilight. I wasn’t aware of the Twilight craze, when I discovered them. I just got interested in the book cover and the book description and got hooked on my own.

      I had someone recommend George R.R. Martin to me, but when I mentioned it to more than one bookworm family member who knows me very well, they told me I wouldn’t like them. My impression has been that they’re full of violence and sex, but I don’t remember where I picked that up. Yes, I know there’s a tv series about them, but I haven’t really paid attention. I’m not saying I have a problem with anyone else reading them, and maybe my impressions are wrong, but I haven’t worried about it. I have a million other books to read, and investing in a new series isn’t always a good thing. Oh, yes, I know Sean Bean and some others are in the show. 🙂

      After that, with your kids? Ohhh… I’ve discovered, even looking at the list on places like Wikipedia, all the books listed aren’t ‘canon’, meaning the wiki lists every book ever written about Star Wars, not just the ones that are listed at the back of the books (the good ones). Lots of rotten ones out there.

      At some point, I read all of the Young Jedi Knight books, which follows the story of Han and Leia’s children (Jacen & Jaina) at the Jedi Academy, as well as all their friends. They’re quite good, and they serve as back story to the later books, not just as filler for kids. In the books I’m reading now, the same characters in the YJK books are my age, and fighting grownup battles. There’s also a series called the Junior Jedi Knights, about Han & Leia’s youngest, Anakin, and his journey to the Academy. I think the JJK books are a little off, date-wise (or at least I’ve heard), but stuff from them gets used later, too. I didn’t read JJK. So, perhaps this would be starting point for your kids. It’s not quite what happens next, but if they like them, they can fill in the gaps later. Same for you, of course.

      I do know that Episodes 1,2,3 were all written into junior novelizations by Patricia Wrede, who’s well-known for her Dealing with Dragons series, and I’m reading her Frontier Magic books right now. So, if you want to give them the back story on Star Wars, in a shorter form, those will probably be good. There are no junior novelizations of Episodes 4,5,6.

      Like I said, I plan to cover a bit of range with the books in a future post, so I’ll cease and desist on giving you a bunch of other book details. Start the kids with the YJK books, because they’ll still hear about Luke, Han, and Leia in them, and it’ll let you know whether they want to continue. 🙂

      • A couple of things here: I will reiterate that you would NOT like George R.R. Martin’s books. They are filled with violence, sex, cruelty, and so on. It’s a very ugly, ugly world, where alliances are made and broken, people are tossed aside when they’re no longer needed, and most people don’t seem to have any sense of honor (there are a few exceptions). This is also a series where no characters (even important ones) are safe from death.

        As for which Star Wars novels to read, I would partially agree with Rachel here. If your children are 4,5, and 7, or thereabouts, starting with the Young Jedi Knights may be a good idea. They’re short books, and quite fun for the most part, but they don’t really deal with the characters from the main trilogy that much. These are mostly stories about the new generation, so they focus on Jacen and Jaina (Han and Leia’s children), Tenel Ka (the child of several people introduced in the Courtship of Princess Leia), Zekk (one of their friends), and some others. If a bunch of new characters (as opposed to the characters from the original trilogy) won’t bother your children, go for it.

        If you want a general place to start for figuring out what comes after the movie trilogy, I’d say start with the Thrawn trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command). It’s one of the classic series in the Expanded Universe, and it shows how the galaxy is set up after the death of the Emperor. The Empire has had a huge setback, obviously, but it was powerful enough to still keep going and control a large portion of the galaxy. However, the Imperial Remnants are fighting amongst themselves for control, and the Rebel Alliance (or possibly the New Republic at this point) are chipping away at them and gaining more ground. Enter Grand Admiral Thrawn, the only non-human Grand Admiral in the entire Empire, which was known for treating non-humans horribly. He is in this position, because he’s a tactical genius, the likes of which the galaxy has never seen before. Also introduced is one Mara Jade, The Emperor’s Hand.

        The other place I would recommend starting would be the Jedi Academy Trilogy (Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force). Rachel actually put one of the covers in the main post up above (Jedi Search). This trilogy is the story of how Luke restarts the Jedi Order on the moon of Yavin IV (this is where the Rebels were based in A New Hope). He has to search for people who are force sensitive, bring them to Yavin, and then actually train them. It’s a learning experience for all involved, since Luke has never trained a Jedi before. However, Yavin IV holds dark secrets of its own that cause problems for the new Jedi…. This series also introduces more characters that are somewhat important later on, such as Kyp Durron, and explains things like that Kessel Run comment that Han makes in A New Hope.

        Single books that I found enjoyable include “I, Jedi”, “The Courtship of Princess Leia”, and “Shatterpoint”. Although, I would not recommend Shatterpoint for children, and it is set during the Clone Wars, so you might not like the setting. Still, it’s a pretty awesome story about Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson’s character), and his journey to his homeworld to hunt for a former apprentice who has gone missing.

        Oh, and while you may not like the prequel trilogy, I would highly recommend the Clone Wars cartoon for just about anyone (a few short sections may not be safe for very young children, though). Not the new CG one, but the slightly older animated one. This one: http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Clone-One/dp/B0006Z2LMO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328386887&sr=8-1
        For some reason they are now more expensive and harder to find. Maybe they’re out of print? I don’t know, but I love them. There’s two volumes, and they’re excellent. Especially the clone troopers.

        ….That was more than I planned to write.

        • Yes, brother dear, and I’m resisting the urge to throttle you, but it was written so well that I’ll forgive you. 😛 I’m going to be covering both the Thrawn trilogy and the Jedi Academy trilogy in my next post, so I stopped short of writing a book in response to Erin’s question. I also corrected my typo over Episode VI (my mind wandered and I put the I in the wrong place!). I haven’t settled on which other books to talk about in my upcoming post, but I, Jedi would probably be one of them. I didn’t like Shatterpoint, so I wasn’t going to mention it. I found it dull. 😉

          You’re definitely the one to ask about the Clone Wars cartoon, since I’ve never watched ’em. Did you start any of my Fate of the Jedi books before you left? I’m about to pick up #8, which is Ascension. Kind of interesting that Fate of the Jedi has Tahiri on trial for the murder of Admiral Pellaeon and the Galactic Empire is being run by Natasi Daala. We’ve come a long way since Thrawn and the rest, haven’t we? Did you know there’s a new X-wing book coming out in March?

          • Oops.

            Well fine. I liked Shatterpoint. Traitor was one of my favorites out of the New Jedi Order, as well. Same author.

            I never did pick up Fate of the Jedi. I still haven’t finished the Legacy of the Force yet, actually, so I never bothered working on the new series. At some point I need to do that, because I think Karen Traviss did some more stuff with the Mandos and the clones in LotF. I really liked some of the stuff she did in the Republic Commando series, so I’ll get around to that eventually.

            As for a new X-Wing book, no, I didn’t know about that. Color me excited, then. Aaron Allston was one of my favorite SW writers. I never really liked the Rogue Squadron series by Stackpole, but the Wraith Squadron stuff was excellent, and Allston’s entries into the NJO were some of the best. This new one is focusing on Wraith Squadron, which is something I’ve wanted for a long time. Woohoo!

            Pellaeon’s dead? Spoilers, sister dear.

          • Oh, don’t be silly. He was ancient anyway, so they had to make it more interesting. He couldn’t just die in his sleep. I told you nothing important. And since you never finished Legacy of the Force, I’m not even quite sure which book it occurred in. That was no “Chewbacca reveal”. All the NJO books have run together in my head, at this point. Legacy of the Force was somewhat fascinating, because it was being written at almost the same time as some of the prequels, so they could tie things together between grandfather and grandson. I love Allston’s writing, though I enjoyed Stackpole, too. Allston is just funny. He’s one of the writers in Fate of the Jedi, so Conviction (which I just finished) was his. His writing makes you really believe that Han & Leia are an old married couple, but who still have fun with each other. And I need to get to my next Karen Traviss book, because I’ve forgotten all the Mando that I ever knew. She was part of the Legacy author lineup, too, wasn’t she?

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