As one of the three illustrated young reader novels released as part of The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Cecil Castellucci’s Moving Target centers on the Alderaanian Princess, Leia Organa, as she undergoes a covert mission to help the Rebellion prepare for its final clash with the Empire over Endor. Introducing curious new characters such as Kidi, the socially inept Cerean communications whizz; Antrot, the anxious Abednedo tech genius; and the blunt and always ready to fight Dressellian, Lockmarcha, Moving Target promises to be a fast-paced, character-driven story.
Set between Empire and Jedi, the novel sets up Leia’s motivations for her actions in the latter beautifully, building on her character in a way not found in the films. Her characterization is near spot-on, from her self-sacrificial dedication to the Rebellion, to her personal struggles with finding the balance between duty and her own emotions. Just as in the Leia comics, this novel depicts Leia somewhat as an ice queen, while also delving into her warm relationships with her friends and allies. The most interesting part of Moving Target is, indeed, Leia’s introspection and growth—though being a shorter story aimed at younger readers, there is a certain depth lacking.
The actual core story of Moving Target is framed by another narrative set much closer to the time of The Force Awakens, and it is within this narrative that hints towards the new film can be found. In this time period, Leia has finally relented to the harassment of her droid, a rather cute new character by the name of PZ-4CO, or Peazy, who has been trying to get Leia to open up so her memories can be recorded to survive on in a memoir. The framing narrative is brief and offers only glimpses into the state of the galaxy 30 years on, but every hint is delectable, and coupled with the other JTTFA releases sheds dim light on some aspects.
Throughout the novel Leia and her rag-tag team of Rebels travel to a handful of exciting, new worlds and meet even more new characters. Each planet is unique and full of life, and while characters are mostly two-dimensional—a symptom of stories aimed at younger fans—they at least have fresh, interesting creativity going for them. A personal favourite moment is a particular costume change on the second planet, a good use of environment and story to bring light humour to dark times.
Given that the core story of Moving Target is but the first entry for Leia’s memoir, it is curious that the memory she first jumps to is one that relates to her realizing how important love is to her—both platonically and romantically. Her thoughts are, at least in part, of Han, even 30 years on. Could this have even deeper hints as to Leia’s state of mind come The Force Awakens, and her ties with her Original Trilogy lover? Are we, the readers, being shown that her being torn between her head and her heart is something we’ll see mirrored in a way that is so very Star Wars in the new trilogy? All will be revealed come December—or so we hope.
But for Leia there’s more than friendship and romance that’s weighing her down; the loss of her home, her people, and her family is given proper weight in a way the films never even attempted. Sure, everyone knows Leia is one tough cookie—she’s not going to let herself grieve when there’s work to be done—but the Princess is still young, and death and sacrifice permeate every inch of the Rebellion. The fans want to know that she still feels empathy and grief in a familiar way, and Moving Target attempts in delivering that. Again, given the length and the target audience, there’s only so much that can be shown, only a certain complex maturity that can be reached.
Still, if there is any reason to pick up this novel apart from Leia herself—and if you want good representation of her, Moving Target is the book for you—it would be the exploration of her relationships with other characters both new and old. Where other media tends to gloss over her closeness both with her as yet unknown brother and her scoundrel friend, Moving Target doesn’t shy away from Leia’s thoughts and emotions regarding her boys. Clearly, she cares for Luke enough to trust his choices; clearly she loves Han enough to brave Jabba’s lair. If nothing else (and there is much else) this novel gives insight into what led up to Leia’s decision to risk her own life—a life so important to the Rebel Alliance—for a single person. Maybe that takes a secret mission, one that literally makes her a moving target, for her to figure out. Sometimes that’s just what a princess needs.