Review written by Clark Valentine.
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure is another in the young adult series of Star Wars novels that fill in some of the main characters’ stories between the movies of the original trilogy. (You might be interested in my reviews of other books in the same series, The Weapon of a Jedi, which focuses on Luke Skywalker, and Smuggler’s Run, which features Han Solo and Chewbacca.)
This time the focus is on Princess Leia and the desperate times the Rebel Alliance faces following their retreat from Hoth in the movie The Empire Strikes Back. Pursued across the galaxy by a Galactic Empire eager for the propaganda coup of capturing Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, she puts together a team to help her create a diversion to keep the Empire from detecting the Rebel fleet massing to strike at the second Death Star. Fans of Nien Nunb, first seen as Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot during the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, will be happy to see him here. This is no spoiler to fans who’ve seen the Moving Target’s cover—Nunb is the sort of dude whose mug makes an impression.
Was he a Henson effect in Return of the Jedi, or was it a stellar make-up job? Why am I asking this question in a book review? Why didn’t my editor remove this entire line of discussion? So many questions are raised here. (Note from the editor: Nien Nunb was a Hensen puppet.)
Incidentally, Moving Target uses the same sort of flashback device that The Weapon of a Jedi uses, where a character in the era of The Force Awakens relates a tale from the days of yore. Seems to be a recurring theme in the new slate of YA Star Wars novels. I didn’t see the point in Weapon, but now that I see the pattern I think it works.
Okay, now a REALLY important point. Moving Target has a noticeably more mature tone than The Weapon of a Jedi. This book deals with some heavy stuff—war, death, PTSD, and more. I’ll get to details later, but don’t judge this entire series on just one book—in spite of similar page count, cover art, “young adult” categorization, and in some cases the same authors, they are aimed at very different audiences.
It helps if you’ve seen the entire original Star Wars trilogy, but the events of Empire Strikes Back are essential to understanding this book.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
War, Violence, and Death
It’s a book about war, and warriors die. Of the five main protagonists, two do not survive the book. Lots of stormtroopers die, many at the hands of the protagonists. Spaceships are destroyed, taking named characters with them. Characters casually talk about their enemies’ deaths, with very little impact on conscience or psyche. Princess Leia contemplates the death and destruction of war.
Princess Leia struggles to cope with the fact that Rebel troops are willing to, and in fact sometimes actually do, die to protect her.
“We’re at war,” several characters state, justifying questionable moral choices. The protagonists are on a diversionary mission, which will put many people in terrible danger. The Rebel Alliance’s leadership is willing to sacrifice those would-be allies, but before the end Princess Leia and her team are unwilling to continue the deception. It’s an interesting dilemma—risks have to be taken to defeat the Empire, but what lines are you unwilling to cross, even at the cost of allowing the Empire to win? Is it acceptable to risk some lives now to save many lives later?
Twice, major protagonists sacrifice their own lives to save the rest of the team. One of these cases is a somewhat gruesome death, where a character has a device embedded within his body that he intentionally detonates. It’s not slasher movie territory, but it’s not exactly a peaceful passing in his sleep either. Although the character’s death had been telegraphed in a Chekov’s Gun sort of way since he was introduced, I sure didn’t expect the method. Definitely something to prep a kid for if they’re sensitive to protagonist death or anything remotely gruesome.
Another character is asked to prep their ship for self-destruction, should it come to that, and he’s called upon to use that—while he’s aboard. This allows the surviving crew to escape.
Torture and Trauma
Princess Leia deals with some posttraumatic stress from her captivity and interrogation (Moving Target confirms what the movie implies, that she was tortured while in Imperial custody), and the destruction of her family and entire homeworld, in the original Star Wars (A New Hope) film. I’m glad this makes an appearance, as they hardly ever touch on it in the movies—this sort of trauma can have significant lifelong consequences in reality, and Hollywood likes to sweep that under the rug.
Late in the book, the protagonists are captured and Princess Leia once again faces the prospect of harsh Imperial interrogation, and while she responds with courage and fortitude, her dread is obvious. Luckily they make their escape before it comes to that.
Both principal women characters have love interests, even if distant. Princess Leia’s feelings for Han Solo are discussed. Two of her team start a relationship that ends tragically.
I like this book. It goes dark; a lot of kids can handle that, but some will find elements disturbing. I wouldn’t let a kid under 12 have a go at Moving Target unless they’re unusually mature about stories with dark themes and plot elements. (Well, unusually from my perspective—some kids have some pretty mature firsthand experience, so…) That said, for a young teen ready for a Star Wars book that doesn’t pull its punches quite so much, but isn’t quite ready for something like Wendig’s Aftermath, Moving Target is a great middle step.
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry
Published in 2015 by Disney/Lucasfilm Press
Part of the Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens series, including The Weapon of a Jedi and Smuggler’s Run
Read the first edition hardcover