The Courtship of Princess Leia - Dave Wolverton "I'm supposed to be happy that we're going to crash into the planet instead of blow up in space?"
My quest to review all the previous Star Wars Expanded Universe books I read in my teenaged years continues!
Leia Organa has been campaigning to get the powerful Hapan Cluster to aid the New Republic in its fight against the Imperial Remnant led by Warlord Zsinj. Things somewhat backfire when the Queen agrees...under the condition that Leia marry the Queen's son and heir, Prince Isolder. Han, being outraged, captures Leia and takes her to a mysterious planet, Dathomir, where both meet up with Luke, who has been searching for missing Jedi.

I Liked:
Unlike about 90% of the other reviewers, I actually didn't mind Leia's turmoil over her feelings for Isolder and Han. I felt it was realistic. After all, it had been four years since Return of the Jedi, and I would have thought, had they loved each other so much, wouldn't they have found a chance to get married in that time? I know Leia is driven for the New Republic and all, but surely they would have found ten minutes to haul Admiral Ackbar over and have a quiet ceremony. But no. Instead, four years later, they are still unmarried and even separated for huge chunks of time, with Han fighting Zsinj and Leia campaigning with the Hapans. So, to think that Leia might have developed a crush on Isolder, who is very handsome, very charming, and very appreciative of her, isn't that too out of left field.
There are many moments in the story where Han and Leia's characterizations are spot on. The review title's quote, from Leia, is one perfect example. It's easy to believe that she would have snapped something like this to Han, just as she does in Courtship. And Han has quite a few good moments too, and some good smarmy lines.
Luke Skywalker adopts an interesting mission, to resurrect and investigate the Jedi. This is a good foreshadowing of later novels.
New characters that stand out are Prince Isolder and Teneniel Djo. Their chemistry is really nice and is well built. Besides, the two characters themselves are pretty interesting. Prince Isolder is a rich brat, but he still manages to be likeable. Teneniel also is well-written as a woman struggling with the use of the Force for good.
Also of note, the Hapan and Dathomiri cultures are founded in this book. These cultures (female centric, very interesting, if sometimes overboard) become quite prominent in later books, namely the New Jedi Order series and the Legacy of the Force series. Furthermore, this quote from Ta'a Chume is very interesting, in light of later books: "I won't have our descendants bowing to his, ruled by an oligarchy of spoon benders and readers of auras."

I Didn't Like:
If I were to read this novel now (and not listen), I can only imagine how many times this book would end up smacking against a wall!
Right from the beginning, Han Solo ogles over a "Gun of Command", which, when shot, will allow the "victim" to do whatever the shooter wanted (of course, this weapon comes from a stereotypically "technologically advanced" world in the Hapan cluster). When I heard this, I wanted to scream in terror. This is the most ludicrous Star Wars invention ever! It sounds almost as if someone had recently read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, didn't realize THAT book was satire, and took the concept from the Point of View gun! ACK! It doesn't work, and it's a lame plot device!
Then, when Han feels that he is losing Leia, what does he do? Does he take her aside, have a nice evening with her, tell her his concerns as you might think a four year boyfriend might? Of course, not! He instead sets his ship up for a loan and tries to make himself as wealthy as Isolder, because THAT is what Leia wants, royalty and money, not love for its own sake or the New Republic or anything else. Did Han disappear and get replaced by his evil and much stupider twin?? It seriously makes me wonder, since the actions of Han in this book do not remind me of Han Solo from the movies at all.
But the part I really disliked was when Han, and this is post-ROTJ Han, kidnaps Leia. This is from the man that was willing to let Leia have a chance with Luke in ROTJ, but now he is willing to commit a serious crime to get her to be with him? What happened to his being somewhat respectable? Any respect I had for Han was lost at this point.
Luke Skywalker, every chance he gets, tries to convert people to "Jedi-ism" or "Light-side-ism"--even when they aren't Force Sensitive! He tells Isolder at one point, the other man needs to "join the Light Side". And then Luke's Force teachings get muddied when he tells Tenenial Djo that it's not the spells but the meaning, the heart behind them that makes a person a Dark Sider/Nightsister. This goes against all the teachings of the Jedi up to this point. The Dark Side had been treated as a separate entity from the Light and it was with Jacen's time that the two were begun to be seen as an individual's choice and not two distinct factions. Then, I grew irritated when Luke would randomly kill individuals and then champion against killing in the next breath. Talk about hypocrisy!
While we are talking about Luke, I should mention how he comes off way too powerful. In the Thrawn Trilogy, Luke was a perfect balance of Jedi Knight/Master and naive idealist. Here, one year before Heir to the Empire, he is near omnipotent, able to appear dead, float down to Dathomir's surface, float Isolder and HIS ship down safely to the surface, and not break a sweat! That doesn't even get to the part where he flies the Falcon single-handedly (why can't Chewie or Leia or Isolder fly the ship?!) and is able to fire the weapons to perfection! Completely out of character, completely off the wall, completely TOO powerful!
The plot of the story is, in a nutshell, how Leia and Han fall in love and get married. Only, they had already fallen in love by ROTJ, so there really is no need for them to "fall in love" again. Particularly if it is done as poorly as Wolverton has, creating a conflict where one didn't need to be (even if I didn't mind Leia considering Isolder, I think the execution was poor). Why can't they just get married and have a nice adventure on Dathomir, searching for Jedi with Luke? But, no, that can't happen! We have to throw in some out of character moments for Han, make him unlikeable, and force a romantic obstacle so Han and Leia can "show" their love to each other. Oh brother! If we are going to do this, couldn't we get a REAL romance writer instead of a scifi/fantasy writer??
The latter half fares better as it deals more with the events on Dathomir than the forced conflicted with Han, Leia, and Isolder, but still there are absurdities that just won't go away, one of them being the two female-centered societies in one novel. What the...? I don't have a problem with them, but I found it oddly coincidental...and a little sexist. The female-centered societies seem more cruel, more "barbaric" than the male-centered socieities (i.e. the main character's). The Hapan females are personified as cruel, power-hungry, and insulting to men and the Dathomiri females capture men to be their slaves. What happened to Wolverton in his youth that made him want to portray women in such a distasteful limelight? Can't we have one female-centric society that doesn't oppress the people (and the males specifically) in such a blatantly hyperbolic way?
Speaking of which, if the Hapes Cluster is so powerful, why did the Emperor keep them around? Why didn't he ally with them or destroy them? Why did he leave the Nightsisters on Dathomir instead of recruiting them as his Dark Jedi (as he has done with his Inquisitors)? This makes absolutely no sense.
Lastly, the satellites blocking the sun's energies? Don't get me started...
Also, as is typical for an abridged audiobook, this was very choppy, very hard to follow, and sometimes confusing.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
A spattering of h*** and d***. Kinda shocked to see that in a Star Wars book.
Isolder is one hot babe and Han declares he and Leia are "lovers". Teneniel captures Isolder and Luke, hoping to have them bear her sons. Isolder wonders if his mother will sleep with Luke. For a Star Wars novel, it gets pretty sleazy.
Space battles, lightsaber duels, rancors, Imperials, Force-wielding Nightsisters...all come into play in this book. Not to mention beheadings, multiple broken bones, dis-arming (literally), and burst blood vessels. Joy of joys.

Overall:
Words aren't enough to describe how silly this book is. When I read it in my teens, my under-developed senses blazed past the crazy tactics Han employed to "woo" his woman, Luke's ham-handed Jedi preaching, and the bizarre female dominated societies (not one but two in a single book!). Now that I'm older, I can't help but want to bang my head into a wall.
Also, I have to send out an apology to Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. In a previous review of their co-authored book, Death Star, I criticized heavily their bad attempt at writing romance. Well, I now rescind those remarks. I've found an author who is even worse at writing a romance story (since the whole point of Courtship is to say how Han and Leia got married!) than they are.
The Courtship of Princess Leia is pivotal in establishing cultures and characters that will come into play in later books. But honestly, with as silly and embarrassing as the events in this book are, I would suggest skipping it and creating your own love story for Han and Leia. 2 stars.