Fair warning: this contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen the film, you read at your own risk.
She was a princess, but this was never a fairy tale.
She was a princess, but she was always something more than that.
A rebel, a revolutionary, a senator who dared to step outside the box the world would paint her into. Many Bothans died to acquire the secret plans to the Death Star and she always knew that plan was bigger than any one person — even herself. She put herself in harm’s way to see that the Rebel Alliance had the information they needed to succeed.
Thirty-eight years later, she’s still doing it. Call it the Alliance, call it the Resistance, it doesn’t exactly matter. Leia Organa has given a lot for this cause. Her family on Alderaan, her lover, her brother. Her child.
It’s funny. Going into the film, I said to myself “just let them all survive,” because part of me — that wide-eyed girl who fell in love with Leia and came to love Han — needed that fairy tale. But we grow up and this is a universe of war, a universe where the Dark wants to swallow the Light entire and will not cease until it has. This is a universe that says sorry, no happily ever afters. We burn the dead, but it’s not enough to light the night.
We probably knew, deep down, when we saw the trailer. It wasn’t a hug that was comfortable. It was heartfelt, but also heartachy, because something was amiss. Despite the hug, there was something missing — something lost. A life lived in peace, with family, and a new hope (sorry not sorry).
But we never seem to learn from the past. And Star Wars is a universe tangled up in the sins of fathers and their children. Vader was the father of Luke and Leia, and so Kylo Ren is the son of Leia and Han — a child they named Ben, a child they had all the hope in the world for. With Luke’s guidance, surely he wouldn’t become another Vader. But wasn’t part of Vader always inside Luke? Inside Leia? Was that piece handed down?
The Dark Side is tricky, ever seductive, and when you are pushed away from a thing, of course you grow curious. You wonder why people won’t show you exactly what it is. You want to look at the thing they won’t show you. You want to hold it and touch it and understand it. Eventually, you want to be it. You admire the thing they feared; the thing they tried to kill. And it doesn’t matter that the people trying to shut you out are your parents, does it?
So I can’t decide if it’s good or if it’s crap. I feel too close to it — Leia’s story has been important to me for so long. Is it a solid story, when your heroine loses nearly everything? No fairy tales, okay, and I know the story is not yet over. But to find Leia here, after all these years — standing where she did so long ago, watching distant battles, commanding people, but unable to go and do and claim — to see her waiting. To watch her know when the light in her universe is extinguished. To know that she knows why, and by who — and she cannot go, does not go. She has other responsibilities. Suns are being swallowed and planets destroyed. What does her heart matter? She has seen this happen. She has watched Alderaan turn to dust under the fist of the Dark. She knows.
She has become a general for the cause, but she is also a mother who has lost her child to the Dark. Her brother remains, though distant. You can see when she hugs Rey, the exhaustion, but in her farewell you can hear that thread of hope even after all that she has lost. Because she knows it’s all bigger than her.
But! She still matters and her heart still matters. To this fan, to the young girl I was when I first saw that princess on a fleeing starship — she matters. Leia has accomplished a lot — and has given much. Her story isn’t happily ever after — and she probably knew it never would be. She was a princess, but it was never a world of fairy tales.