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Star Wars: Bloodline - Review
When I first picked up Star Wars: Bloodline, the latest entry in a series of Disney-sanctioned Star Wars canon novels, I found myself thinking, "What the kriff is that backdrop of Darth Vader doing on the cover of the book? Why it isn't just Leia gracing the cover alone, since Bloodline is supposed to be Leia-centric? I realize that the ghost of Vader still hangs around in The Force Awakens, but still...how can Vader still be relevant in the politics of post-Galactic Empire-galaxy that warrants his image on the cover?"
Well, I'm pleased to report that my impatience for the answers were rewarded just beyond the second half of the book. And yet, this particular revelation with Vader was not the only juicy intel that I've gathered from this second Star Wars handiwork by Claudia Gray. In fact, Bloodline may be the very first Star Wars material out there that really spells out the origins of the 2 warring factions in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, which are the First Order and the New Republic/Resistance. Along the way, Bloodline paints a complimentary picture to the story in The Force Awakens, almost in a prequel fashion in its moments of political bickering, espionage, conflict of ideologies, relationships and good old fashioned stab-in-the-back, just like any elements you would find in other political thriller literature.
First thing first. Bloodline is a heavy material that relies on political tone, conspiracies and investigations with few action sequences in between. Action wise, it is definitely not Star Wars: Lords of the Sith or Star Wars: Aftermath. As I have mentioned, Bloodline is Leia-centric. You'll spend more time on the politics of the New Republic and following the trails of organized criminal empire and militants around the galaxy. A big chunk of the story is presented from Leia's point of view.
After I have flipped the final page of Bloodline, I can't help it but simultaneously feel sorry and amazed at Gray's portrayal of Leia, a sentiment I believe is shared by others who read the book. I feel sorry for Leia, that despite her preference in safeguarding the galaxy's greater interest through nonviolence, political channel, she never really stood a chance in doing so in the New Republic and in the Imperial Senate during her youth. Throughout her illustrious career as a politician and Rebellion leader, circumstances always demanded solutions through the business end of blasters instead of peace treaties and agreements. But then again, I feel amazed at her willingness to get her hands dirty every single time in order to get the job done. Her volunteering to take action after Emissary Yendor's plead to the Galactic Senate sets the motion for the main narrative in Bloodline.
Bloodline provides an insight into Leia's frame of mind in the years leading up to the events in The Force Awakens. 24 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire in the Battle of Endor, Leia still struggles to make peace with the memory of her redeemed father, Anakin Skywalker. The persistent inaction of the Galactic Senate in doing any real good for the galaxy and provocations from her political adversaries demoralizes her spirit. Fatigue from advancing age and her yearning to be reunited with Han Solo and their son have started to catch up with her. At one point, Leia even almost call it quits from the Senate until the threat of a rising militant movement and her inevitable candidacy for the First Senator force Leia to put on the brakes en route to her retirement. Never one to be intimidated by threats from her political enemies, underworld figures and potentially fatal consequences in exchanges of blaster bolts, the character of Leia in Bloodline makes me reminisce the Leia that I know and grew up with from the Original Trilogy.
In Bloodline, you'll have to expect a lot of mudslinging in the Galactic Senate chamber between the two halves that make up the New Republic. Ever since Mon Mothma has left her seat as the first Chancellor of the New Republic, the crack between the 2 ideologies propagates and separates the Senate into 2 entities, the first being the Centrist who vouches for a centralized galactic government and stronger military presence, and secondly, the Populist that favors individual authority for each member planets. Leia's aligning to the Populist is a reflection of her experience in witnessing first hand how corrupted Emperor Palpatine and Galactic Empire can be when authoritative power is concentrated in a single ruler and governing body.
Make no mistake here, the seemingly endless debates between these 2 political factions make up the backbone of Bloodline which drives the story forward. While some Prequel Trilogy detractors complaint about the repetitive political dispute scenes in Episodes I, II and III, the abundance of political arguments taking place on the Senate floor and in the corridors of power in Bloodline feels just right. You tend to feel at home when you immersed yourself in one of the thousand seats in the Senate chamber and being made witness to the verbal sparring between the 2 political factions. Verbal sparring that unintentionally, one way or another, gives birth to the New Republic, Resistance and First Order as we know them in The Force Awakens.
Although the birth of Resistance and its parting from the New Republic takes it shape through a build up of momentum from the beginning towards the end of the book, the sudden first mention of the First Order in earlier chapter will left you stunned, as if a hand literally surfaces out from the page and slap you in the face when you least expected it. Before Bloodline, I had the impression that the First Order is born exclusively from the ashes of the Galactic Empire without any external influence, an impression born from my observations of the events in The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Aftermath. Finding out that an underground movement within the Galactic Senate is actually pulling the strings for the rise of the First Order certainly nukes my previous perception on the origins of the Order! Not to say that the presence of Imperial sympathizers in the Galactic Senate is illogical, as any political organizations do tend to have a few figures that stick out like a sore thumb and won't necessarily align themselves to the common goal. But orchestrating a coup d'état behind the curtains in the heart of the New Republic is an entirely different ball game.
Having the privilege of being a senior-ranking senator in the Populist sect and a legendary Rebel Alliance hero adds to the conflict that Leia has with the Senate, as the galaxy now have to content with a new generation of greenhorn politicians that take peace for granted. Ransolm Casterfo and Lady Carise Sindian are the 2 among the younger generation of politicians that Leia has to deal with during the entire story.
Leia's evolving relationship with Casterfo, a prominent figure in the Centrist sect, is one of the facets that makes the story in Bloodline riveting. Initially, their contradicting opinions on the legacy of the Galactic Empire and how the galaxy should be run cause their relationship to start off in the wrong foot. Eventually, they both find a common ground and mutual respect from which they join forces in their investigation of underworld organization and militant movement that leads them to the shadows of the First Order. Gray's portrayal of their relationship gives substance to the character of Casterfo, as his dark entanglement with the Empire in his childhood and motivations for a better galaxy are revealed. There are quite a few occasions when Casterfo shines in his own right in Bloodline, taking the spotlight momentarily from Leia. With regards to Lady Carise Sindian, well, I have another name to add to my personal list of despicable Star Wars characters. She plays a pivotal part in dropping the V-bomb to the Senate and whole galaxy; the revelation of Leia as Darth Vader's daughter and its consequences of Leia dropping out of favor with not just the Senate, but with the citizens across the galaxy as well. Now the cover art of Bloodline makes sense!
Besides Casterfo and Carise, none of the supporting cast in Bloodline felt out of place. Leia's entourage builds upon the youths in the changing galaxy since the fall of the Galactic Empire. Leia's relationships with her chief of staff, Greer Sonnel and intern Korr Sella are presented as seasoned relationships right off the bat. Greer's moments and backstory in Bloodline is a worthy distraction from the main narrative, as she is the only character beside Leia in Bloodline that has a substantial history with Han Solo. Korr's presence as the enthusiastic intern in Leia's office is a nice touch for the backstory of a character in The Force Awakens whose screen time is cut short by Hosnian Prime's annihilation by the First Order. Joph Seastriker is the archetypal character of young, reckless freedom fighter with pure intentions for the greater good, even though sometimes he has trouble keeping his eagerness to jump into the heart of action in check.
Another merit of Bloodline is its ability to provoke the nostalgia of both the Original and Prequel Trilogy through the appearance of Han Solo and the posthumous recording of Bail Organa's message to his beloved adopted daughter. In Bloodline, Han keeps doing what he is best known all this while; Leia's soulmate and guardian angel while still maintaining his charm of a risk taker, adrenaline junkie and a cynical to Leia's loyalty to the Senate. As well as Han's brief physical presence in Bloodline, Leia's video chats with him drives home the point that their love for each other evolves beautifully since Return of the Jedi. Han's support for Leia in her times for a shoulder to cry on and Leia's thoughts for their only son, Ben Solo and her estranged brother Luke helps her to stay afloat in the midst of the multiple crises that she's facing. And while Leia rejoices at the chance to hear her adopted father's voice again, the recording of Bail's message serves as a double-edge sword as her adversaries in the Centrist sect, especially Carise uses it against Leia to neutralize Leia's rising popularity in both the galaxy and her campaign for the position of the First Senator.
A bonus with Bloodline; every now and then, original characters from The Force Awakens make a cameo. These kind of character appearances lend Bloodline a significant prequel vibe to The Force Awakens, even though they don't impart any weight to the course of the narrative in the book. Coming across the likes of Temmin Wexley, Ello Asty, Dr Harter Kalonia, Korr Sella and Ben Solo in the pages of Bloodline never fails to geek me out at seeing these characters again in the print.
Even with the lack of action sequences in Bloodline (if memory serves, there is not even a single mention of lightsaber), Bloodline deserves its place among other Star Wars canon material. Through its brisk pacing rooted in political intrigues and conspiracies, Bloodline presents a fresh look into the state of the galaxy leading up to the events in The Force Awakens. The shortage of light comedy and fun moments is a perfect fit for a narrative that focus on Leia's personal struggles during her twilight years in politics.
Besides being a perfect lead up to The Force Awakens, I feel the influence of Bloodline will extend beyond Episode VII, as the confirmed director of Episode VIII, Rian Johnson has contributed his own creative inputs into the narrative of Bloodline. I'm keeping my fingers crossed in seeing the supporting cast of Bloodline to make their comeback together with the top-billed cast in the upcoming Episode VIII.
Furthermore, I'm looking forward to more Star Wars material from Claudia Gray. Her work in Bloodline and Lost Stars should have cemented her position as one of the Star Wars authors to look out for in the future.