In these past few days, Carrie Fisher has been in the thoughts and prayers of many, both in life, and unfortunately, after her untimely death. Not only an extremely talented actress, but also a best-selling author and impassioned activist for mental health, she is a person many can look up to. However, more than many realize, she gave us girls growing up an even greater gift: Leia Organa.
Ask anyone what the original Star Wars films were about, and you are sure to get varied answers. The struggle between good and evil. Finding something greater than yourself. Adventure. But when I was growing up watching Star Wars, unlike my friends, who were all boys imagining they were Jedi from far off worlds, I didn’t look up to Luke in the way I did Leia. Introduced as a damsel in need of rescue, this Princess was not a typical one at all. While Disney told me stories of princes who loved you at first sight and saved you from a variety of wicked things: curses, towers, or an awful family, Leia only needed someone to spring the lock so that she could save the universe herself.
Thanks to Leia Organa, I realized it was okay to be…not feminine. From the first time Luke and Han lay eyes on this Princess, who they had expected to be some weak-hearted but beautiful girl, she doesn’t hesitate to pick up a blaster and contribute just as much power, and even more brain than both of her male “heroes.” And not only did she carry her own weight, she did it in a dress, not a suit of armor to protect her from blaster shots. She didn’t have a high pitched voice and giggle sweetly while being protected or cringe pathetically when someone so much as uttered a threat. She yelled and fought back! She came up with her own solutions, some elegant, and others messy but effective.
Before I had ever seen a woman with any real power in our real world, Leia was leading a rebellion against an evil empire. She didn’t sit by a man making decisions and going to war, she was commanding troops and playing the war game. Masterfully. She was intelligent, a political powerhouse, and not once shrieked away from her responsibilities. Even though Luke himself was a powerful character that showed us more than the typical man, he at times refuses to do what he should and turns away from or denies his destiny. But Leia was ready to do whatever it took to achieve her goals, not only for herself but for everyone around her.
She also showed us that women could be the hero. That they could be ready to sacrifice themselves to save men. That we didn’t need to be afraid if we believed in ourselves and our plans. In the original three movies, Leia saved both Han and Luke, men who weren’t exactly helpless. She wasn’t stopped by the possibility of death or danger to save the people she cared about most. But in that same regard, she didn’t sacrifice what was important to her in order to save her loved ones, always considering the rebellion her first priority. She never once lowered her standards or morals, but stood strong and took on the weight of many, helping them soldier on.
Because of this, Leia also showed us that women didn’t have to be one thing or the other. She didn’t have to be only beautiful, or only strong. She was everything. Witty and funny, independent, but also gentle and a near-perfect role model. She showed me that we’re not only meant to wear one hat. But that we, as girls, could be whatever we wanted or needed to be for ourselves. We didn’t have to behave the way we were told to, but we could transform and grow as the situation we found ourselves in changed around us. Or that we could just make up our own damn minds and go out into the world and own it.
Even in the most recent Star Wars film, Leia returned, not as an older woman who has given up the fight to let a younger generation forge ahead on their own. She’s introduced as a General. A GENERAL! Who is still fighting long after her dearest allies have all left her side. Leia is even strong enough to not be pulled away from the resistance by the love of her life, who has since returned to his old ways of being a scoundrel. And not even by motherhood, which I feel all of us women who grew up watching the old movies have been told to cherish most.
Leia is, to me at least, the strongest female character to date. A princess who is capable of being both elegant and sexy. A leader who is able to make the difficult decisions and get down in the mud and fight with everyone else. And a woman who has always stood on the same level as all of the men around her, not once backing down or giving up, but an equal who demanded respect. Leia Organa is everything we need to see in female characters. And as time marches on, I hope that no one forgets exactly how powerful and iconic Princess Leia was and always will be.