As soon as news broke back in 2012 that Disney bought LucasFilm, fans began to do picture mash-ups of Princess Leia with the other members of the Disney Princess Collection. It is certainly enough to illicit a groan and a chuckle, as there is Leia standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Sometimes she’s pointing her blaster rifle, other times she’s in her bronze bikini. It seems odd to associate Leia with these fairy tale characters, especially “children’s” fairy tales.
Yet at the same time, it is a fitting comparison. While scholars have gone to great lengths to describe Star Wars as a myth, and fans will debate whether Star Wars should be defined as science fiction or simply fantasy in an outerspace setting, Star Wars is also a fairy tale. Like all fairy tales it has a heroic peasant, a charming but roguish knight (or pirate), a wise old wizard and most importantly a princess. Further, as is the case for many fairy tales it is the task of the heroes to save the princess from the clutches of the evil over lord or dragon. It is also the job of the princess to beg the hero for help and there by alert him to the trouble at hand.
Surprisingly, Disney was initially reluctant to add Leia to their Disney Princess line up as she does seem out of place. She is far from sweet and dainty like Snow White, Cinderella, or Princess Aurora were. Her merchandise was even suspiciously absent from the Disney Store while her male characters from Star Wars were well represented.However, in the nearly 40 years of Leia’s fictional existence she has she has become a role model and a fan favorite character to countless young girls, and following fan petitions, Disney agreed to make her an unofficial Disney Princess and to sell merchandise with Leia at the Disney Store.
Some would be quick to dismiss this charge and label Leia as a sexist stereotype, as Tricia Barr notes in “Leia: Princess to Her People” in Star Wars Insider issue 144,
“Princess Leia has never quite been embraced by the feminist movement in the way Wonder Woman has, perhaps because of the perception that Star Wars was a boy’s franchise rather than a pro—feminism vehicle. Yet male storytellers like ( J.J.) Abrams and (Joss) Whedon, who were heavily influenced by Star Wars have made a mark in the entertainment industry with their exceptional female characters.”
Indeed, look at what we see Leia accomplish in her establishing scene in the original Star Wars movie. After she gives the stolen Death Star plans to Artoo, she fights off Imperial Strom Troopers, and unlike the troopers, she doesn’t set her weapon on stun. She even has the audacity to sass back at Darth Vader, something that any good Imperial Officer would never do. They might tremble at Vader’s presence, but she isn’t frightened by this guy in the giant walking iron lung.
Further, during her captivity on the Death Star she resist all attempts at torture at the hands of Darth Vader, refusing to give him any information on the whereabouts of the Rebel base. Her resilience impresses both Vader and the Imperial Regional Governor, Grand Moff Tarkin. Later, when Luke’s rescue plan goes south it is Leia who takes charge by snatching the blaster riffle from his hands and firing at the advancing troops, then when their escape route is cut off, she blows a hole down into the garbage shoot for them to escape. When they are escaping the Imperials, Leia easily takes the helm of the Falcon while Luke and Han man the guns. Snow White would have never done that. Sleeping Beauty would have probably pricked her finger in the first act on a metal splinter from a blaster. Cinderella would probably just go back into her cell. Not so for Leia.
As Barr notes,
“…while most of the focus has tended to be on Luke Skywalker’s “Campbelian” hero’s journey, Leia Organa also marked a twist on a narrative archetype. Leia enters the story as a classic princess character—but it soon becomes clear that she is no typical fairy tale princess…She introduced a generation of movie goers to a new type of female character-one fully empowered to take charge of her destiny.”
In fact it could be argued that the influence of Leia is clearly seen on the Disney Princesses who would come after. For example in Disney’s Tangled, while Repunzel may certainly need to be rescued from the tower, she is the one to cut her hair and rob the evil witch of her power over her. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Belle not only offers herself in exchange for her father and grows to love the beast, she is quick to try and dissuade a lynch mob that is ready to kill the Beast. In Disney’s Frozen, it is Princess Anna who sets out to find her sister, bring her back and restore summer when her sister’s power unleashes winter on their kingdom, later she is the one to break the spell on both of them. Princess Jasmine in Aladdin refuses to be treated like a prize to be won and wishes to marry for love. Mulan disguises herself to join the army and prevent her elderly father from heading off to war where there would be a good chance he’d die.
Further the girls, while in some cases may come across as “innocent and trusting”, they possess intelligence much like Leia and trade verbal barbs with the men they love. They are not the polite shrinking violets that Cinderella, Aurora or Snow White who did everything they were told when they were told, were far too trusting when it came to strangers, and waited around to be rescued. Also like Leia, the Disney Princesses who would come after are now willing to fight more for what they believe in, and even help defeat the villain in the end. Most importantly these women actually succeed in changing their own fate.
Yet long before her own efforts to escape the Death Star, and even before she would upload the Death Star plans into Artoo, Leia was always a freedom fighter for her people. Leia was raised as a princess and her adopted family loved and protected her. Her adopted parents were Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan and his wife Breha. While they were held in high esteem by the Empire they were secretly part of the Rebel Alliance, working closely to find a way to overthrow tyrannical regime and restore freedom and democracy.
Hence why when she is captured, Leia, full of indignation tells Vader,
“Darth Vader. Only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this. When they hear you’ve attacked a diplomatic —“
Vader shuts her down and having deduced her true allegiance. While she denies she is part of the Rebellion and only on a diplomatic mission, Vader does not believe her claims As he tells her,
“Don’t act so surprised, Your Highness. You weren’t on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by Rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you…You are a part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!…Take her away.”
Further she is the one that helps set thing in motion for the destiny of other heroes. It is while cleaning the droids that Luke Skywalker receives his call to adventure in the form of a hologram of the beautiful Princess Leia asking for Obi-Wan Kenobi to help her, saying,
“ General Kenobi. Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I’m afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
Her message would be a beacon, not only to signal it was time for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo to begin their own heroic journeys, but for Obi-Wan to come out of hiding and help defend the galaxy one last time. Leia, because of her grace, her poise, her strength, and her dignity is ever the inspiring figure. She is just as quick to help plan the assault on the Death Star as she is to comfort Luke in his loss of Obi-Wan, and encourage him when Han wants to go his own way. Then when Luke and Han destroy the dreaded station, it is Leia who bestows medals of valor to them, giving honor where honor is due.
More than just someone to rescue, she is the kind of girl who Luke and Han can fight beside, as well as fight with. The moment Leia meets Luke in Star Wars she quips about his height, noticing how ill-fitted he is for a Stormtrooper. She is quick to mock Han for the lack of foresight into planning the rescue attempt as their exits are cut off. She doesn’t let up on Han either, insulting him for everything from his broken-down ship, to his furry companion, to his more than obvious ego.
It is perhaps this back and forth that makes their romance in Empire Strikes Back so appealing. They are nothing short of a lady and a tramp. Even though she denies it, as her mother Padmé denied having feelings for Anakin, Leia secretly comes to love the cocky smuggler. Leia has dedicated herself to one cause, the rebellion, and her reasons are easy to see.
As actress Carrie Fisher who played Princess Leia noted in an interview with Rolling Stone conducted back in 1983,
“She has no friends, no family; her planet was blown up in seconds—along with her hairdresser—so all she has is a cause. From the first film, she was just a soldier, front line and center. The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry.”
Yet here comes this guy who can finally keep her on her toes and doesn’t worship the ground she’s walked on. He’s probably one of the only men who can keep up with her sharp wit. It has been pointed out that in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice one of the signs that the characters of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are so perfect for each other is that they are perfectly matched at a dance. Leia and Han are also equally matched in what can only be described as a dance of wits.
Despite the fact he may not let it on, Han does care for her as well. When the Imperial walkers are attacking the rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth, Han returns for her to see to it that she gets to safety. It is during their flight that they share their first real kiss, after trading barbs, only to be interrupted by Threepio.
It is during their escape that Leia also shows to be a good judge of character and of the situation in front of her. A person doesn’t rise to the ranks in an army by being gullible. Leia is the one to deduce that their escape from the Death Star on board the Falcon was almost too easy. While staying at Bespin Cloud City while the Millennium Falcon is in repairs during Empire Strikes Back, she stresses to Han several times that something doesn’t feel right about the situation and that she doesn’t trust Han’s old friend Lando.
Her suspicions are proven correct when it turns out to be a trap that Vader had set for Luke and they were the bait. After torturing Han, Vader was ready to implement the next phase of his plan and freeze Han Solo in Carbonite. It was at that moment, just when they were about to be separated that Leia finally admitted out loud that she did love Han.
However this moment also only continues to show how strong Leia is. She is not Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind shouting, “Rhett, Rhett, oh where shall I go. Oh, what shall I do?”, Juliet killing herself over Romeo, or Ophelia going crazy and killing herself over Hamlet. Even Padmé succumbed to despair when her husband and her republic fell to Palpatine. As Emily Asher-Perin notes in the essay “Can We Talk About Why We Really Love Princess Leia?” From Tor.com,
“Her relationship with Han is startlingly progressive for a character initially woven under a “princess” banner. Leia keeps a level head while they are captured on Cloud City, despite the fact that Han is tortured and there is a chance that she might lose him during carbon freezing. She escapes and lives, preferring to fight another day to get him back. We get to see the inverse at work with Leia; after being the one rescued at the start, she performs a rescue of her own.”
Further this trip to Bespin began to reveal a new mystery about Leia. As she was escaping the Imperial occupied Bespin with Lando Calrissian, she somehow knew that Luke was in trouble and calling out to her. Ordering Lando to turn back, and aided by Chewie, they turned around and found him just in time.
After returning to the Rebel rendezvous point she began to make plans with Luke and Lando to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. After Lando successfully infiltrated the palace as a guard and Threepio and Artoo had convincingly been passed off as “gifts” from Luke to Jabba, Leia snuck in under the guise of a bounty hunter named Boushh, handing over Chewie for the rest of the reward in Return of the Jedi.
Then in the dead of night she snuck into the chamber to free Han from the Carbonite. In a role reversal of the Sleeping Beauty story, it is the beautiful princess who awakens her handsome hero from his deep sleep, and even reveals this to him by taking off her helmet and kissing him. However she and Han are caught and Han is thrown in jail while Leia is taken to be one of Jabba’s slaves, even forced to where her iconic if not controversial metal bikini. Despite this, during Luke’s rescue mission she is more than able to still pull her own weight .While Luke, Han and Lando take care of Jabba’s henchmen, it is the princess who gets to kill the vile gangster by chocking him to death by wrapping her chain around him and pulling tightly.
Just as Luke’s costume reflected his growth from boy to Jedi, Leia’s reflected her journey from girl to woman. In Star Wars she was dressed in a long white gown with a shawl drawn over her head like an angel. In fact on the back cover for the Marvel Comics adaptation of Star Wars, while Luke, Han and Chewie looked ready for action, and Obi-Wan looked like a mysterious old wizard, Leia was placed upon a platform behind them, with a halo around her head and her cape billowing like wings. In contrast by the time of Return of the Jedi she is wearing outfits that reveal much more of her femininity and not just in Jabba’s palace. On the forest moon of Endor she not only lets her hair flow down, but she dons a simple woodland dress.
Further she has let her own personal concerns start to take precedence. While in Star Wars and Empire she was the one to help coordinate the battles of Yavin and Hoth she spent a lot of her time trying to rescue Han for no other reason than she loved him. She knew full well that with other high ranking Rebel officials there were others to take care of the battle plans. Further instead of sit in the command station as she had before in the battle of Yavin or the Battle of Hoth, Leia joined Han, Chewie, Lando, and Luke on the assault on the deflector array for the second Death Star.
When spotted by scouts she immediately commandeers a speeder bike, and with Luke by her side, diverts the scouts attention from their assault team. However in their efforts, Leia is separated from Luke and inadvertently makes contact with the indigenous natives of the forest moon of Endor, the furry and lovable teddy-bear like Ewoks. Here her skills in diplomacy come in handy. While Han is impatient with them, and Luke, though a full trained Jedi, is still wet behind the ears in terms of dealings of the galaxy, Leia is more than able to foster a relationship with the Ewok, Wicket.
First she shows him he has nothing to fear by holstering her weapon. Then she removes her helmet and when the little guy worries it’s something dangerous she shows him it’s just a hat. Then she offers him a bit of her rations to eat. The little Ewok cozies up to her, becoming an instant friend. Contrast this to Luke, Han, and Chewie’s efforts that only get them carried into the Ewok city to be cooked as food for a feast.
Reunited with her friends they successfully become “part of the tribe” thanks to Threepio’s help and skill as a translator. However Leia is ever perceptive and can tell something is troubling Luke. When he steels away she goes after him and this is where she learns the shocking truth of Luke’s parentage. The look on her face is one of disgust, shock and horror. He tells her that if he does not come back she is the only hope for the alliance.
Leia dismisses it, recognizing Luke’s power and skill in the Force as a Jedi. She knows he is trained in something that no one else in the alliance can do. She knew that to have the Jedi return would be a boon for the galaxy, and thusly they need Luke. As far as she knows he is just another rebel.
That is when Luke tells her,
“You’re wrong, Leia. You have that power too. In time you’ll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it and… My sister has it… Yes. It’s you, Leia.”
To her this is almost unbelievable. Yet somehow, Leia, through the Force and her instincts accepts this to be true. She urges him to leave, but Luke will have none of it, saying good bye to her as he heads off to face Vader.
At this point Han comes out and is instantly jealous. Leia tries to dismiss everything but in the end only asks to be held by Han and allowed to cry. For the first time in three films, the Princess finally shows emotion. She held fast over Alderaan’s destruction and Han’s captivity and resisted torture yet now, she finally breaks. As Asher-Perin notes ,
“At first glance, all of this seems like logical character progression—her relationships have advanced and the fight is moving toward its finale. She can afford to be more frank about her feelings, she’s had some time to heal from the destruction of Alderaan. She is ready to kick the Empire’s behind and move on to the next exciting stage of her life. At 22 years old, she already has the life experience of someone twice her age—it’s hardly surprising that she’s ready for a change.”
Further, her whole life has been turned upside down in a matter of moments. She has learned that her best friend is actually her brother. She has learned that she actually has the power to be a Jedi, and yet to the best of her knowledge there is no one, save her brother who could ever train her. Last of all, Darth Vader her hated enemy, the scourge of the galaxy. The very monster who tortured her and her friends and destroyed her home world is actually her father. It would be a lot for anyone to take in, especially Leia.
J. W. Rinzler recounts in the book The Making of the Return of the Jedi that Carrie Fisher described it as being like learning from Mark Hamill that actor Eddie Fisher wasn’t her father, but instead Adolph Hitler. Leia had spent her whole life fighting the Empire, a fight that had involved anger and hatred at them for their atrocities, and to learn of a connection to their leader would be a thing of disgust.This is all the more reason for Luke to go off and face Vader.
Not only is this his sister, who lacks the training, but of the two of them Leia has considerable more anger inside her then Luke ever did. This would make her more susceptible to the Dark Side. This is seen in the Star Wars Infinities comic of A New Hope,the original Star Wars movie. Set in an alternate universe in which Luke’s torpedo detonated prematurely and Leia was taken by the Empire she went on to become a Sith apprentice as Vader reached in and manipulated those feelings she had, turning her into his perfect pawn.
This is also seen in the Star Wars : Legends novel Truce At Bakura, in which Anakin’s Force Ghost appears to her and asks for forgiveness, even reminding her that he saved her brother. She tells him,
“You can’t restore Alderaan. You won’t bring back the people you murdered, or comfort their widows and orphans. You can’t undo what you did to the alliance…I heard Luke…But I’m not Luke. Or your teacher. Or your confessor. I’m only your daughter by a cruel trick of fate…”
Of the two of them, Leia was more like her father in spirit then Luke. While Luke may have had his father’s impatience and natural skills as a pilot, Leia had Anakin’s temper. For example, she was more than willing to let Chewie kill Lando Calrissian after his betrayal of Han Solo in the Empire Strikes Back. In contrast Luke inherited their mother’s clam, quiet demeanor, and would have probably tried to hear Lando out had he been there. Leia held to the same belief as Vader that there was no longer any good in the man that was Anakin, while Luke and Padmé believed he could be redeemed.
Further, by leaving her on Endor, this only that it puts her in a much more strategic place to help win the ground assault on the shield generator for the second Death Star. We also see the princess wounded for the first time in the trilogy during this battle. While trying to break into the base, her arm is grazed by the blaster bolt of an Imperial storm trooper.
It looks like they are about to take her and Han Solo prisoner when Leia turns the tables on the troopers, proving that she is every bit Han’s equal. Concealing a blaster from the troopers she shoots the troopers, but not before Han can admit to her that he loves her. After some much needed back up they manage to take down the generator turning the tide of the battle in the favor of the alliance, destroying the Death Star.
As the Death Star II went supernova over their heads Leia and Han fully realized their love for each other, and later joined the victory celebration on Endor. Leia was the one to greet her brother as he arrived at the Ewok village and even pulled him into the group, wanting him to bask in the celebration they earned with Vader and the Emperor now dead. However, for someone like Leia who had dedicated her whole life to fighting the Empire, what could possibly be a suitable “next phase” for her life. Her two worst enemies were gone, but so was her homeworld.
In an interview with Marvel.com, Writer Mark Waid said this was part of what he and artist Terry Dodsen would explore in their Princess Leia five-issue limited mini-series for Marvel Comics.,
“She very much compartmentalizes it in “A New Hope,” but that’s our springboard: how does she really cope with losing her entire world once the events around that loss have calmed down somewhat? Does she choose to be the princess of nothing—or does she set out to rebuild her heritage and her civilization? You can probably guess the answer.”
In fact many authors of the Legends series explored what came after Return of the Jedi with Leia struggling to not only rebuild the Republic, but balance it with her family life and with Jedi training and the specter of her father. Leia became not unlike the typical 21st century woman who struggles to try and have it all between her family and work. Naturally something had to give, and one of the first was her Jedi training. As she admitted in the Legends novel Rebel Dream from the New Jedi Order series,
“‘Sometimes I’m a Jedi and sometimes I’m not. Jedi teaching says that you must turn away from fear. But as a politician I have to experience fear…Sometimes being a Jedi just runs completely counter to your other goals…”
Her goals, first and foremost were always to overthrow the Emperor, and restore freedom to the galaxy. Through the Will of the Force she was thrown into the mix with a smuggler, a Wookie, a legendary hero, a pair of droids, and her long lost brother, she managed to achieve that dream. Through a tremendous amount of trial she persevered and she rose to the occasion time and time again. As Leia says in the prologue for the novelization of Star Wars, in what could describe her and her friends,
“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they naturally became heroes.”
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