Friday Focus: Leia-Strength Through Sacrifice

Here is my first post on my current series, Women of Star Wars.

Once a week for a while, I’ll be posting some thoughts on the women of Star Wars, since, well, I’m a woman and it interests me. Leia seems to be the perfect character to start with.

Princess Leia Costume - Star Wars
Tough Princess

In 1977, Leia Organa was seen as a new kind of heroine: the strong Princess who doesn’t need to be saved. Rather than being a damsel in distress, she was a “distressing damsel”, in the words of Carrie Fisher herself.

So true, and yet, technically, she did have to be saved from that first Death Star in a New Hope. She was locked in a cell, scheduled for termination. If the boys hadn’t come along and opened the door, she would have been just another martyr for the Rebellion. But Leia would sacrifice herself in many other ways over the course of the films.

This is no way takes away from her capability, obviously. She risks life and limb for her cause, and absorbs tragic blow after tragic blow with a stoicism I can’t begin to fathom. Her entire home planet, Alderran, gets blown to bits, and we see nary a tear. “There’s no time for our sorrows,” she says when she arrives at Yavin.

In the past, I often thought Leia to be a bit cold. We never, ever see her cry, though she suffers more than her fair share of tragedy. Padme weeps with sorrow, Rey cries in frustration. But Leia? Not one tear, ever. I used to think this was unrealistic, that any woman worth her salt would allow herself to weep for what she loves.

Home planet blown up? No time for sorrow. Man she loves encased in carbonite, may die? Confess love, but chin up. The closest we get to tears in Leia is in Return of the Jedi, when Luke tells her that he is her brother, and Vader is their father. When he leaves her, tears hover, but don’t quite fall. That’s the closest we get to waterworks from Leia.

Tough moment

In the sequels, she’s much older, and has seen ever more tragedy, namely the loss of her son to the Dark Side. I liken this to losing your child to a cult, almost a fate worse than death. I have to imagine that she’s shed a river of tears over this one; we just don’t see it onscreen. Leia is a rock, a pillar of fortitude. Even when she senses Han’s death, she sits heavily, as if she can’t bear this latest burden, but her eyes remain dry. Perhaps there’s no tears left at this point. But in pure Leia fashion, she sets aside her personal sorrows for the cause, and remains the strong General so many in the Resistance rely on.

Leia is the figure of sacrifice in Star Wars. Personal loss after personal loss, she swallows it and carries on. How much more crap can the galaxy fling at her?

But her very last act in life is one of sacrifice, again: she expends all of her remaining life force to reach out to her son in an attempt to bring him back to the Light. Even after she dies, she waits for her son to join her before she disappears into the Force.

We even learn in TROS that Leia gave up her Jedi training after having a prophetic vision that her son would die if she continued it. “Someone else” would pick up her lightsaber and continue what she began (Rey). Again, Leia sacrifices her own wants and needs for her loved ones, and the Greater Good. Cold? Hardly. Her strong emotional armor protects deep wells of love.

Thoughtful moment

It seems to me that, at the time of the original films, the character of Leia was caught between this new idea of a strong heroine (scrappy, capable) and the old stereotypes of how women should be portrayed, especially in the male-dominated action/adventure genre (bikini scene, anyone?) Strong female action heroes, like Sara Connor, Ellen Ripley, and even Furiosa, were several years away, even decades.

In a lot of ways, the character of Leia confounds me. She’s strong, independent, not prone to tears or emotional outbursts; but also incredibly selfless in the sacrifice of her own wants and needs to duty, her sense of right, and her loved ones. The stereotype of women sacrificing themselves for others as a kind of submission is turned on its head: her sacrifices become her strength.

How do you feel about Leia? Do you think her storyline did her character justice? Comment in the space below and we’ll talk about it!

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