Story Geeks blogger and longtime Star Wars fan Ashley Pauls digs deeper into her favorite franchise with the “Women of Star Wars” blog series, taking a look at the character journeys of the major female characters in Star Wars and examining their impact on pop culture.
A spark of hope
1. Who is Leia, and what characteristics define her?
Leia is a woman known by several names, each carrying the weight of different legacies: Leia Organa. Leia Skywalker. She is a woman of many titles: Senator. Princess. General. She is a legend within the fictional Star Wars universe, and in real-world pop culture. She’s strong, brave, determined, and doesn’t tolerate nonsense from anyone, no matter who they are or how powerful they claim to be.
Based on her lineage — from both her birth mother, Padmé Amidala, and her adoptive parents, Queen Breha and Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan — it’s not surprising that she’s a natural leader. However, one of the things I respect most about Leia is that she doesn’t take advantage of or try to abuse the power she’s been given. She uses her privilege as a platform to fight corruption in the Empire and to stand up for those who need a voice.
She could have easily sat back and benefitted from the Empire’s regime, but she risks everything she has to help the fledgling Rebel Alliance. And even after everything she has lost and sacrificed, she’s willing to do it all again by standing up to the First Order and serving as a spark of hope for the Resistance.
2. What are Leia’s biggest hopes? What are her greatest fears?
I think Leia’s biggest hope is that her actions will make a difference in the galaxy. By the time we see her in “The Last Jedi,” she’s witnessed the downfall of one empire and the rise of another. She hopes that through the Rebellion/Resistance, freedom and democracy can rise again, and that people all across the galaxy can live without the threat of tyranny and violence.
Her greatest fear is, I believe, the flip side of that — she fears that her actions will not make a difference in the end. It had to be incredibly disheartening for her to see the First Order rise not long after she and the other Rebels sacrificed so much to defeat the Empire. She also has to watch her own son’s fall to the dark side, which drives a wedge between her and her husband, Han Solo. As a woman who’s already lost so much, she fears what more she may have to lose.
3. What is the biggest challenge that Leia faces, and how does she overcome it?
As a politician and later general, Leia’s biggest challenges are the Empire and the First Order. These two regimes are a threat to the safety of the galaxy and all the values she holds dear. What has to be frustrating for her is that no matter how many times she warns people and tries to expose corruption, evil still festers within the Republic.
We know that Leia is daring enough to take on the Empire and the First Order alone, but a movement can’t succeed with just one person. One of Leia’s greatest strengths is her ability to inspire other people and rally them to the cause. She draws in people like Luke and Han in the original trilogy, and then in the sequel trilogy we see her inspiring new heroes like Rey and Poe.
Leia recognizes the value of a close-knit team of people united around a worthy cause. And even though sadly, due to Carrie Fisher’s death, the character of Leia will likely not play a major role in Episode IX, Leia’s legacy most definitely will live on.
4. What is Leia’s biggest fault and/or moment of failure in the series, and how does she learn from it and grow as a character?
I feel that Leia’s biggest failure is actually found outside the films, in one of Disney’s new canon novels. If you haven’t read any of the new expanded universe books yet, bear with me here, because I think this moment is very relevant to what happens in the films.
In the book “Bloodline” by Claudia Gray (if you haven’t read it yet, please do!), we learn that Leia has been keeping the identity of her birth father — Darth Vader — a secret. I can’t really blame her for that; if your father was responsible for planetary genocide and countless other horrors across the galaxy, you would probably want to keep that quiet too.
However, keeping this key fact a secret ends up backfiring. When it’s finally revealed by a person Leia once considered to be an ally, her political career is compromised. Though the book doesn’t say so explicitly, I imagine that learning this secret belatedly ended up deeply hurting her son, Ben Solo, whose future was already in jeopardy.
The untimely revelation of this secret proved to be a catalyst for the rise of the First Order, and we see the fallout of this in the sequel trilogy. It’s tough to say what Leia should have done instead; was she obligated to be more open about her father’s identity? She definitely shouldn’t have kept the secret from Ben for so long, and deep down she probably knew that the secret would get out eventually to the general public.
Yet regardless of what should or shouldn’t have happened, Leia chooses to do the right thing going forward and to keep fighting for justice, liberty, and freedom. Even when other people say terrible things about her just because Darth Vader is her father, she doesn’t give up.
5. What about this character portrayed as female stood out? Did she break any ground or does she feel more like a compilation of female character tropes?
Leia is definitely a groundbreaking character within sci-fi cinema. I don’t think I’d be as passionate about Star Wars as I am today without her — or the actress playing her, Carrie Fisher!
Leia is special because the film goes beyond just portraying her as the stereotypical princess we’ve seen in other films in the past. She’s not a helpless “damsel in distress”; although Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han do show up to rescue her from the Death Star in “A New Hope,” once she’s sprung from her cell, she becomes a key part of the escape mission. I also love that the other characters respect her as a leader and take her seriously.
One of the things I really love about Star Wars is that it has diverse characters working together and treating each other as equals. Leia opened the door for other strong characters like her, both within Star Wars and other franchises we enjoy today.
6. What does this character teach us about women in the real world? Are there lessons we can take from the screen and translate them into real life?
The main lesson we can learn from Leia is that it’s important to fight for what you know is right, and to keep fighting even when it seems hopeless. And if you’ve been given the gift of leadership, you should embrace it and seek to do good in the world.
From princess to senator to general, Leia has been a true beacon of hope in the galaxy, and that’s exactly what we all should try to be in the real world. If you see oppression, speak up. If you see corruption, don’t ignore it, and resist the temptation to join in.
I’m deeply saddened that we won’t get to see a full completion of Leia’s character arc on screen, due to Carrie Fisher’s untimely death (although I am intrigued by the announcement that past footage will be used to portray her character in Episode IX). However, I’m thankful that we got to see Fisher in her iconic role one last time in “The Last Jedi,” and I hope she knew how much this character meant to fans across the world.
Want more Leia and Star Wars? Check out our podcast on Leia’s Character Journey. Also, check out all our Star Wars content, including our popular podcasts digging into Luke Skywalker’s and Han Solo’s Character Journeys, and the concept of Reylo.
Next up in the Women of Star Wars: Qi’ra!