Favorite Fictional Characters, #363: Leia Organa
There's not much I can add to everything that's been written and said over the last twenty-four hours about Princess Leia/General Organa and the woman who gave her life on screen. Somehow, in the midst of this pulpy space opera, jam-packed with starships and laser fire and the best kind of juvenile machismo, there emerged this three-dimensional female character who managed to be all things to all people. Leia Organa was beautiful without being fragile, strong without being overbearing. Feminine and fierce, brave and driven and loyal and relentless, Leia was the heart of a rebellion against an Empire, a child of evil who was never once tempted by that darkness.
My enduring, favorite snapshot of Leia comes from the opening sequences of Empire, perhaps the greatest science fiction movie ever made. She's not in sleek robes or slave swimwear (more on that later). She's in practical gear, moving from political statesmanship into military leadership as the narrative becomes darker and more dire. While Star Wars was mythic romp and Jedi an off-ramp into commercial mediocrity, Empire was the most mature and gripping arc of the storyline, and Leia's attitude mirrored that. What I loved was that she took matters seriously without taking herself seriously, and her banter with Han in those frozen corridors revealed the foundations of their rocky romance, the sparking friction of a woman falling in love at an inconvenient time with an inconvenient man. What was so unusual about Leia was that she was part of an iconic romance without being defined by it, an equal partner in that epic love story.
There's always been predictable controversy around another costume she wore, that metal bikini Jabba put her in at the beginning of Jedi. I was a bit too young in 1983 to have the kind of visceral male reaction some fanboys experienced, but yeah, it was sexy. And that's okay. Some revile that as objectifying and there would be truth to that except for the fact that it never slowed Leia down. If all you care about it what she's wearing (either with a leering drool or a sanctimonious sigh), you're missing the point. She used her chains to slay her oppressor, and she owned every frickin' second of it. You know what's both sexy and strong? A badass hero who doesn't care what she's wearing. For me, she was more charismatic and appealing and compelling in the tunnels of Hoth than on the sands of Tatooine.
The constant northern star of the Rebellion, Leia never wavered. While Han waxed and waned and Luke waged his inner vision quest, she remained the grown up at the party, the sober general who never lost sight of what they were fighting for. This was a woman who saw her entire planet obliterated at the hands of her own parent. Who watched as her son was seduced to the same dark side that consumed her father. Leia knew the cost of resistance. But she also knew the power of hope. Those of us who grew up in a world with Leia Organa had a beacon of what strong women could be. For girls, I can only imagine how powerful that must have been. All I know is that as a boy, I wanted to someday find a partner who was as capable of doing the rescuing as being rescued. Who could command and fight. Who could argue without rancor and wield an iron integrity. Who needed a scoundrel in her life.
Well, don't get all mushy on me. So long, Princess.