This post contains SPOILERS for Leia: Princess of Alderaan
Star Wars: The Last Jedi marks the big screen debut of the Resistance’s Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern), and those curious to learn about her younger days as a peer of Princess Leia’s can do so by reading a new canon novel. Even by Lucasfilm’s standards, Holdo’s role has been subject to high levels of secrecy during promotion for Episode VIII. She is the only member of the main cast to not be featured in any merchandise, and details about her character are slim. While the porgs and BB-9E become breakout stars, audiences are largely being kept in the dark about Holdo. However, for fans itching for a Holdo fix in the months before the film comes out, author Claudia Gray has made her a supporting player in the book Leia: Princess of Alderaan.
Since the novel is set three years prior to the events of A New Hope, it isn’t so much a Last Jedi prequel as it is an interesting piece of the lore that reveals how Princess Leia became involved with the Rebellion at a young age. While Holdo will be an older and (presumably) wiser woman in Episode VIII, it’s still fascinating to read her backstory. Princess of Alderaan explains why Amilyn is a part of the Resistance, which of course is led by General Leia Organa. Apparently, the two go way back.
Amilyn is introduced early on in the book as a member of Leia’s pathfinding class, which was organized by Breha Organa (Leia’s mother) so her daughter could socialize with people closer to her age. The Princess has just turned 16 in the novel, so while Holdo’s age is never explicitly stated, it’s implied she is in that range. Her description is as follows when Leia first meets her:
“This student was human, a tall, gangly girl with a narrow face and long nose. Her hair was acid green, which mean that she was either from Iloh or she really liked standing out. While the others mostly wore white gear with silver or orange reflective stripes, this girl wore a rainbow of bright colors that clashed so painfully Leia had to fight the urge to squint. Her goggles were already strapped on, and they were of antique make, with pink lenses that curved out from the frames to an almost ridiculous degree.”
Holdo is definitely set up as one of the more peculiar figures in the Star Wars galaxy. Hailing from the planet Gatalenta, she speaks in a “drawn-out monotone” voice that at times is described as sing-songy. Her hair changes color seemingly on a scene-by-scene basis, and her outfits get increasingly extravagant – a personal decision made to differentiate from the traditional customs on her home world. Holdo has a keen interest in astrology and also yearns for excitement. One reason why she’s so thrilled to be part of the pathfinding group is “to get more comfortable with the nearness and inevitability of death.” It thrills her that the experience can potentially be dangerous, and she’s the only student who seems to be delighted when informed dying is a distinct possibility. Leia isn’t quite sure what to make of Amilyn, due to her odd mannerisms.
Despite being initially put off by Holdo’s various quirks, Leia eventually becomes acquaintances with Amilyn in an effort to make a friend so she can just hang out with somebody and not constantly worry about her daily responsibilities. The two’s most notable bonding experience in the book comes during a skyfaring session, which is a “calisthenics practice” the people of Gatalentan enjoy. There, they joke about the prospect of interspecies romances and Leia finds someone she can vent her frustrations to. During their discussion, Holdo helps Leia loosen up and relax by stressing the importance of positivity and happiness. From her perspective, things like joy and hope are needed to push back against the Empire. Much like Leia, Amilyn is concerned with helping others and realizes the need to take a stand.
Some of the earliest Last Jedi rumors suggested Holdo and Leia would be rivals, so it comes as some surprise they are so amiable with one another in Princess of Alderaan. Of course, a lot can change in three decades, so it’s possible they don’t see eye-to-eye on some issues when Episode VIII picks up. However, Gray’s portrayal of their dynamic makes it sound like they are close allies united in a fight against tyranny and oppression. Time will tell how they interact as older adults, but their partnership got off to a rousing start with one of Leia’s first official missions for the Rebel Alliance.
Leia has just joined the Rebel Alliance in Princess of Alderaan, and because of its covert nature, she has to keep the operation a secret from everyone – including most of her friends. That proves to be a tad difficult when Leia is partnered up with Amilyn on a pathfinding expedition on Pamarthe. There, the two are intrigued when they hear a call for a senatorial charter to Chandrila (home of Mon Mothma, Senator Winmey Lenz, and one of their pathfinding classmates). Making their way through the spaceport, they’re alarmed when they see Lenz (a member of the Rebellion) speaking with an unnamed Imperial about a shipment for a key project. As Leia tries to figure out a way to discover what’s happening in the moments before Lenz leaves, Holdo makes the shocking move of stowing away aboard his ship. While en route to the planet Ocahont, Leia informs Holdo of the Alliance’s existence.
Ocahont, it turns out, is the site of an Alliance outpost where Mon Mothma is in charge. Leia and Amilyn inform the Rebellion leader about what they saw. Lenz is attempting to play both sides of the impending conflict, making allies with the Empire and Rebels so he can choose one over the other depending on who has the upper hand. Mothma makes the decision to slowly phase Lenz out of the Alliance so he cannot be a threat to the group. Leia gets reprimanded for putting herself in such danger when she returns home to Alderaan, but she still brought the Rebellion valuable intel that could help stabilize the group moving forward.
A running theme in Princess of Alderaan is Bail Organa’s reluctance to let Leia become a fully-fledged member of the uprising. That all changes at the very end of the book. After Leia realizes Grand Moff Tarkin is aware of the Rebellion’s growing fleet at Praucis Major, Mon Mothma and Breha send Leia off to warn the rebels stationed there. Unable to find a ship for herself, Leia hitches a ride with Holdo, who had hired a ship for travel. The two make their way to Praucis, and Bail leads the evacuation efforts, saving their vessels in the process. It’s at this point Amilyn becomes fully aware of the extent of the push back against Palpatine and it’s clear she’s someone Leia can trust. Holdo even uses intuition on the return trip to Alderaan, where her astrology knowledge came in handy finding a unsuspicious route home.
Of course, Holdo is nowhere to be seen in the original trilogy, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a participant in the Galactic Civil War. As demonstrated in non-movie canon materials like the TV show Rebels and other books, the Alliance was much larger than just what was shown in those first three films. After all, Mon Mothma shows up in Rogue One and isn’t seen onscreen chronologically until Return of the Jedi. Holdo was most likely involved in some capacity, helping the cause in any number of ways offscreen before the Empire’s downfall.
Given the content of Princess of Alderaan, it will be interesting to see the Leia/Holdo dynamic unfold in The Last Jedi. It’s difficult to gauge anything at this juncture, since the roles for both are largely mysterious. If they’re both affiliated with the Resistance, they most likely are still friends – but anything could have happened in the years between Return of the Jedi and Episode VIII. With speculation implying Amilyn has an antagonistic relationship with Poe Dameron (Leia’s surrogate son), perhaps the two don’t see eye-to-eye anymore. Whatever happens, knowing Holdo’s backstory and her history with the Princess will surely add dimensions for die-hard fans.