From Princess to General: Talkin’ Leia and Bloodline with Claudia Gray

Lucasfilm book editor Jennifer Heddle and Bloodline author Claudia Gray chat about writing the hit book and their mutual fandom for a Star Wars icon.

Bloodline author Claudia Gray and I have been friends for almost 20 years, and our mutual love of Star Wars has always been a part of that friendship. Which means getting to work with her on Bloodline (I was not involved with the editing on her first Star Wars book, Lost Stars), was literally a dream come true. I volunteered to interview her for and what follows is an in-depth discussion of her work on Bloodline, what a short, sassy princess meant to us growing up, and the pleasures and frustrations of owning the 1978 Princess Leia doll.  

Jennifer Heddle: I was remembering how when I first e-mailed that I wanted you to write a Star Wars book, but we needed it really fast, and you wrote back immediately and said “No way, I’m too busy, I have too much going on,” and then I responded —

Claudia Gray: You called! It was on the phone.

JH: Was it on the phone?

CG: Yeah, you called me.

JH: Wow, that’s serious. I must have been excited, because as you know, I’m not a fan of the phone.

CG: Plus time was clearly of the essence.

JH: Right, exactly. And I remember you didn’t want to do it and then I said, “Well, it’s a political novel starring Leia,” and you were like, “Oh, crap.”

CG: Basically, yeah.

JH: Was it really, as soon as you heard that, you just knew you had to do it?

CG: I knew I wanted to write something about Leia. The timeframe [to write it] really was tough. But I did really want to write a Leia book. If it had been anything else I would have had to say, “Please come back another time.”

Star Wars: Bloodline cover

JH: Was there any sense of intimidation about writing Leia, especially since Lost Stars was mainly original characters of your creation?

CG: No.

JH: No?

CG: If anything I felt more at ease with that — maybe I shouldn’t have? — I mean, I think I’ve told you this story, but I will retell it: I never really believed in Santa. I just didn’t buy it. The story is not credible. But I sort of pretended to believe, especially since my younger brother sill believed. But then Christmas 1977 or 1978, whichever it was, when that Princess Leia doll, that was irritatingly something like one-half inch too big for Barbie clothes —

JH: YES. I had it as well.

CG: Have you found the person responsible for that?

JH: [Laughs] No.

CG: That person needs to be talked to. Anyway, I wanted that doll so badly. And that Christmas Eve I’m lying in bed, and I can’t take it, so I get up, and walk into the living room, where my parents are in the middle of setting up all the Santa stuff, and I said, “Just tell me if I got the Princess Leia doll!” And they were like, “Go to bed!” [Laughs] I did get the doll. But basically, this is like saying, “Hey, you want this Princess Leia doll?”

JH: “And make her do what you want?”

CG: And also Lost Stars wasn’t out yet, at that point, when you first spoke to me, so the impact of how many people read these books, even though I’m one of them, I really didn’t understand. So I wasn’t intimidated. I was just really psyched that this time the Princess Leia doll would have clothes that fit.

JH: And any clothes you wanted to give her.

CG: Any clothes. I think I texted you and said, “I get to make up gowns for her!”

JH: You did. I remember the Leia doll would only fit into the Cher doll clothes, I think.

Claudia Gray: I did not have the Cher doll. I did have a Darci, which was sort of short-lived —

JH: Yes! I had a Darci.

CG: And some Darci stuff fit.

JH: Well, I’m glad we’re covering these important topics.

CG: It’s what Star Wars fans want!

JH: And I’m guessing you were also really excited to write about Han, as well. The Ken to Leia’s Barbie, I guess. [Laughs]

CG: Yeah, the original idea was that it was Leia, and Han wasn’t around, but given the story we needed to tell, and given what’s going on with Han and Leia at that point, I knew readers would want that. They want to see Han. They want to see Han and Leia.

JH: Was it hard to keep him in the background as much as you did? Did you feel like he kept banging on the door, wanting to be let in?

CG: No. I mean don’t get me wrong, I would love to do a book that’s just, Han and Leia in a ship, the whole book, I would totally do that and be happy, but in terms of the story she had enough stuff going on that I felt like I got to bring in Han when he needed to be.

JH: And the parts that he is in are so good that I think it definitely makes up for the parts he isn’t, and it’s not like Leia doesn’t have a lot going on anyway. She’s a little busy.

CG: And he’s fun to write. That dialogue…you just love imagining that Harrison Ford voice.

JH: Related to that, should I be worried that you’re so good at writing C-3PO?

CG: I thought he was the hardest character to write.

JH: Really?

CG: He drove me crazy! I enjoy him in the movies, and the performance, but when you really step back, Threepio can be a bit annoying.

JH: [Laughs] Yeah.

CG: And what finally I ended up realizing I had to do with Threepio, the trick is the exclamation point. I think half of the exclamation points I’ve ever used in any of my books are in Threepio’s dialogue. He doesn’t take things well.

JH: No. Well, he believes everything he says is vitally important and deserves an exclamation point.

CG: He does.

JH: I wrote a blog post about why people should read this book, and I mentioned something that maybe other people aren’t as excited about as me but should be — just having this group of young people who are loyal to Leia and understand how awesome she is. Was that fun to do? Did you feel like Leia was getting the squad she deserved?

CG: Oh, yeah. Greer starts out pretty loyal to her, but in some ways she’s almost as loyal to “Han Solo’s wife,” and not her — but she becomes much more dedicated to her. I don’t want to get too spoilery, but one character that you maybe don’t think is going to become very dedicated to her ultimately does, that was really fun — and you see how she gets people’s loyalty. She keeps going no matter what, she knows how to delegate, she knows when to draw herself upright as a princess and use that power, and she also hangs out in the hangar with the other pilots watching the races. She can do whatever it is she needs to do in that moment.

JH: You did a good job of showing how she does actively earn that loyalty. She’s not expecting people to just throw themselves to her because of who she is and what she did. She never rests.

CG: Yeah, she’s operating from a place of duty, but I think people admire her when they see her in action. And they know she has respect for what they do, and what they can do.

JH: Talking about the original characters again, if Joph and Greer were in a cage match with Thane and Ciena [from Lost Stars], who emerges victorious?

CG: Oooh, that’s tough. I think it’s Greer, actually. Joph would not be a huge contributor to that. [Laughs] I love Joph and I think he’s perfectly capable, but he’s not a big guy, and part of his character is he is a daredevil pilot and he is ready for action, but he’s not the wisecracking pilot…he’s gentler than that. Even if he tries to hide it. And Thane and Ciena, they’re both really good fighters, but you know, a woman of Pamarthe, you don’t mess with that. Greer knows how to knock heads together.

JH: She could certainly outdrink them.

CG: Yes.

A New Hope - Leia in a cell on the Death Star

JH: What did you like most about writing Leia?

CG: I really liked the fact that although this is a political book, I think what came out of it is her turning away from politics a little bit. This is the origin of General Leia in a lot of ways. And she’s going back where she once belonged. That was sort of the most fun, was seeing her really getting out in the field, back into action, and realizing not only is she really good at that, but it’s energizing to her, in a way that politics has unfortunately ceased to be due to gridlock. That was the most fun: How much can I get a blaster in her hand? One of my first thoughts was “she’s got to blow stuff up.” I wanted to get her in action, and I got to do that.

JH: That action part is such an important part of her character in the movies.

CG: Oh, yeah. She’s shooting, and swinging across things, and pretending to be a bounty hunter…she may be a princess, but she has not had much time at all in the proverbial ivory tower. She gets out there in the middle of it.

JH: Whereas I always like to say there’s no real evidence in the movies that she actually has any diplomatic skills whatsoever.

CG: [Laughs]

JH: I mean, she can’t even talk the Ewoks into not eating her friends.

CG: She does talk the Ewoks into liking her.

JH: Right. But not anybody else!

CG: She’s like, “Uou guys gotta work on this yourselves. Chief Chirpa’s not messing around.”

JH: She’s rude to Vader the minute she sees him —

CG: Tarkin… But then again, diplomacy is over when we see her confront those people.

JH: True.

CG: She was in the Imperial Senate up until that point, she must have had to make nice on some occasion. But we don’t see it.

JH: We don’t see it and we don’t even know if she was any good at it. We don’t know what the other people in the Senate were saying about her. “That princess…”

CG: But after, she gets elected to the Senate even though she doesn’t have a planet to be from, so she must be pretty good at it.

JH: True. And what was it like to write about her as the daughter of Darth Vader?

CG: That was really tricky. It’s something I would have liked to explore even more, but then again I don’t know that anyone wants to read eight chapters of Princess Leia’s therapy session. That just had to have really, really hit her so hard. We do see when she first hears that he’s her father, and she’s devastated, but there’s not time to dwell on it, they’ve got a shield generator to take down. I liked being able to write a little bit about that, that she knows that he came back to the light at the end, and she accepts that and believes it, but it doesn’t change what happened to her.

JH: Especially since she didn’t see it, she has to take Luke’s word for it.

CG: Yeah, exactly. Obviously she believes Luke, but it’s not the same impact as having the person himself, Anakin, being able to say these things, about regret. But that just isn’t possible for her. She doesn’t get that closure in the way that Luke does in Return of the Jedi. [Laughs] I say as if you don’t know what movie I’m referring to.

JH: Yes, tell me more!

CG: “Did you know, Jen…”

Episode V - Leia and Han on the Millennium Falcon

JH: As I sit here surrounded by as much Star Wars memorabilia as you can imagine. I’m going to assume that you really enjoyed working on this book in a personal sense, as someone who’s been a fan, especially of Leia, basically your whole life. I guess I’m wondering what you are hoping that readers take from that.

CG: Oh, gosh. I definitely wanted a Leia book that was not just all politics, all in offices, I really wanted to show a lot of her life. That yes, she does do political stuff, and she can go into action, and she has her relationship with Han… I just wanted to be able to show her in totality of the things she can and would do. Does that make sense?

JH: Yes. Do you think that’s why she resonated so strongly with girls our age, because she could do so many different things?

CG: Yeah. It was definitely an era where action heroines were much thinner on the ground than they are now. I still don’t think we have enough, but back then, it was a desert. But then you have Leia, and technically she is sort of the damsel in distress, getting rescued, but she never comes across as this helpless or weak person. She’s tough, defiant. Even when the most horrible things have happened, her planet blew up, she’s been interrogated — she does not ever crumble. And the minute she has a chance of getting out — she doesn’t know these guys from anything, this Wookiee — she just jumps into it with them. “Somebody’s got to save our skins.” You’ve got to love that about her. That she was such a dynamic character.

JH: I definitely really liked the action aspect, and that she was in there with the guys, but I think the older I got, it was more her emotional strength that I admired.

CG: Yes.

JH: The moment that always illustrates it for me is when Tarkin is about to blow up Alderaan, and he’s demanding to know the location of the rebel base, and she looks right at him and she still lies, even with her planet at the end of a giant laser weapon. It doesn’t matter.

CG: I mean, I don’t know what I would do if my introduction to Darth Vader was him walking in, capturing me. It would have to do with wetting myself, because he is completely terrifying. Completely horrifying. And she just mouths off to him. That’s the first thing she says to him. She’s already been stunned, with an energy weapon, and got right back up, and the first thing she does is sass Darth Vader. That is toughness.

JH: Especially since as a viewer, you’re totally terrified of Darth Vader, you’ve only seen him in the very beginning, when he sweeps into the blockade runner, especially as a kid, you’re just absolutely terrified and then this petite woman just walks right in and doesn’t even take it from him, just starts mouthing off immediately.

CG: I guess that’s what I’m hoping readers will take away, that kind of spirit in her, hopefully that’s in the book. I hope to share the Princess Leia doll with everyone.

Jennifer Heddle is senior editor for fiction at Lucasfilm. Follow her on Twitter @jenheddle.

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