One of my earliest memories relating to a heroine is that of Princess Leia. I remember distinctly that first glimpse of her — sneaking, hiding, programming a wee robot (I couldn’t figure out “droid” at that point to save my life), and oh she was crafty and stealthy and she had a gun to defend herself when the bad guys showed up. And the bad guys always showed up.
What didn’t register then was how rare a thing Leia was — a woman in the Star Wars universe. There was Leia. Aunt Beru. There was Mon Mothma, and also… Um. Well. Oh, the twi’lek dancer? And um. Surely some of those Ewoks were female, given there are also baby Ewoks. And, of course there was — Uh. Yeah.
So I returned time and again to Princess Leia. Because she was what there was. When my friends and I played dress up, I was always Leia — they feared my mighty blaster pistol stick!
Held prisoner, but by no means passive — she’s pissed at her seemingly incompetent rescuers and takes things into her own hands to get them out of harm’s way. In Empire, she’s leading the rebels on Hoth, and in Jedi she actually walks disguised into Jabba’s palace to rescue Han. Sure, they also toss her in a metal bikini because reasons, but she also strangles Jabba to death with her own chains. She flies through the forests of Endor on a speeder bike! And she learns to love a pain in the butt scoundrel. She was snarky and funny and though tiny, ever fierce.
Leia taught me that one could wear flowing white gowns and still shoot Stormtroopers in the head. She taught me that one could lead a rebel force on a hostile, frozen world and still find time to kick back and enjoy the beautiful Cloud City. She taught me that someone might be in chains, but could turn those chains on their own captor to escape. She taught me that you could totally fall in love and still be 100% bad ass. (Okay, I was young, it didn’t register in those words until much later.)
Maybe Leia Organa was more vital and present for me because she was the only active heroine on the screen. The Star Wars prequels didn’t better the situation much with Leia’s mother, Padme, and…uh. Well, sure, there’s a younger Beru, and… Oh, Shmi. Briefly, there is Zam (a bounty hunter), but mostly there are handmaidens for the queen. The queen who is much like her daughter-to-come, but who never ignited quite the same spark for me.
As news for the casting of Episode VII arrives, it’s no surprise what find ourselves faced with. The continuation of what has always been. It’s disappointing, yes, and I wonder what young girls will take from the film. Will there be anyone for them to look up to, the way I did Leia? Will they find the same combination of strength, smarts, and beauty, and realize these things exist within themselves? Maybe they will look at Leia herself (yay for original cast returning!), and maybe they will look at the original films because of that, but we need to do better.