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!

My Top 5 Fave Lightsaber Duels

Like any Star Wars fan, I love a good lightsaber duel, and there’s plenty to choose from over the course of nine films. The ones I like the best have the most emotional heft where the stakes are high, rather than flash and dazzle (though that’s fun, too). Here are my top five faves:

5. Kylo and Rey on the Death Star Wreckage (TROS)

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey battle it out with lightsabers in a stormy confrontation. Their Force-connection—what Driver calls their “maybe-bond”—will turn out to run even deeper than previously revealed.

This duel is visually stunning, with the waves of water pouring down on them as they battle it out. I like how the water may be seen to symbolize a sort of baptism for Kylo/Ben, as at the end of the battle, Kylo is washed away so Ben can emerge. The lack of score through a lot of this fight also intensifies the battle, as if any kind of music would be too distracting to the physical and psychic battle going on.

4. Throne Room battle with Kylo and Rey (TLJ)

Top 10 Lightsaber Battles in Star Wars¨C Geek Culture Countdown Podcast #Affiliate #Battles, #AFFILIATE, #Star, #Lightsaber, #Top

This battle is emotionally satisfying because we see Kylo and Rey working together against a common enemy–Snoke’s personal guards. It’s a spectacularly choreographed fight scene (it took six months to train for and shoot), and has a bit of flash and dazzle that awes the viewer. We see in this battle what Kylo and Rey could be together and are left wanting more–which makes his refusal to help the Resistance Fleet and her refusal to join him all the more painful.

3. Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar (ROTS)

The Duel of Mustafar | Fact |

The prequel series has a lot of great lightsaber duels–the Jedi at the height of their powers is a sight to see. They look like dancers flitting across the battlefield, graceful and nimble and fleet. But watching them fight the bad guys isn’t particularly interesting to me on an emotional level.

The exception to this prequel prejudice is the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar. This is the battle we’ve been waiting for– Anakin’s final fall into his transformation into Darth Vader. The anguish in the two men is palpable: Anakin’s rage, and Obi-Wan’s sorrow at losing his friend to the Dark Side. To see the particulars of Anakin’s physical and emotional pain is disturbing.

2. Vader and Luke on the second Death Star (ROTJ)

'Evolution of the Lightsaber Duel' will focus on the weapon's roots onscreen and off.

Luke’s confrontation with his father, in the presence of the Emperor, is harrowing. The stakes, of course, are extremely high here; not only in the fate of the Rebellion, but Luke’s life and his very soul. There is a point where he gives in to his rage and hacks away at Vader, a glint of dark in his eyes. Looking down at his beaten father, he realizes the path he is treading, and throws down his lightsaber while standing up to the Emperor. This is where the strength of Luke’s character shines through. And of course this battle leads to Vader redeeming himself by saving his son from the Emperor. It’s satisfying in every way.

1. Luke and Vader on Cloud City (TESB)

Design for wall. Lightsabers mounted.

I chose this battle as #1 for a few reasons. First, it leads to the greatest revelation in all of moviedom: Vader tells Luke he is his father. BAM what!?

Second, it’s the first time the untested Luke confronts Vader, wanting to take revenge on the man who he believes killed his father. But Luke, though capable with a lightsaber, is nowhere near ready for this battle. His innocence and naivete is quite literally chipped away until there’s nowhere left to turn: here we first get a glimpse of Luke’s commitment to the Light, as he chooses to fall to his death rather than join his father in the Dark Side. This is a critical turning point for Luke, leading to the sober, black-clad Jedi we see in Return of the Jedi. Here, Luke grows up.

Third, from a physical standpoint, this duel is a bit of cat and mouse, with Luke escaping and being found again, escaping and being found. It’s ominous, we’re on the edge of our seats on first viewing because we don’t know when the bad guy is gonna jump out at us. This is a great litmus test for battles and duels: what can surprise and startle us.

Honorable Mentions:

Kylo and Rey on Starkiller Base (TFA)

Rey Vs Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base Duel

This is the first time the two have met in battle, and Rey is just beginning to understand what she is capable of. The moment Anakin’s lightsaber flies to her instead of to Kylo is an important moment. Kylo is injured and an emotional wreck, as he just killed his father and is dealing with the reality of that, and so Rey is able to best him here.

Ben Solo against the Knights of Ren on Exegol (TROS)

Just Another Reylo Fanatic — frozenmusings: One thing I am both grateful for...

This is a fantastic short battle, with the newly emerged Ben Solo fighting off the Knights of Ren after Rey force-hands him Anakin’s lightsaber. It’s fascinating in that he fights in a completely different manner than Kylo Ren, who used brute strength and intimidation in his duels. Ben Solo seems to be lifted of a heavy burden here, and infused with Light; he fights more like a prequel Jedi Knight, with speed and agility. After demanding Anakin’s lightsaber throughout the series, here he finally earns it.

Luke and Kylo Ren on Crait (TLJ).

Will Luke Skywalker Return for Star Wars Episode IX

Though technically not a proper battle, as Luke isn’t even really there, this is an emotionally relevant confrontation between a master and his former fallen student. Luke is using it as a ruse to buy time for the Resistance to escape, but it also gives him some sort of closure on his failure of Ben Solo. It only enrages Kylo, but Luke can now fade into the Force knowing he did what he could and giving these last words of wisdom to Kylo: “See you around, kid.”

So what do you think? Do agree with my list? Or did I miss an obviously important and/or awesome duel? Post your thoughts in the comments below and we’ll talk about it!

My Compassion Awakens: Kylo/Ben

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

When The Force Awakens premiered in 2015, I was pretty excited. I’d been a huge fan of the originals when I was a kid, but not so much the prequels when I was older. This new series looked promising, exciting, something new.

Sitting in the theater, I watched, enthralled, as the beloved original characters–Han, Chewie, Leia–came back into my life after so long an absence. We were all older, wiser, a bit battered from life. I could see that both Han and Leia harbored some great wound that had forced them apart. What could it be? What was their story?

Many years ago I’d read a little bit of the Star Wars novels that came out a few years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn series. In them, Han and Leia had two children, twins: Jaina and Jacen. I wondered, with this new trilogy, if that would be the case here.

Hardly. Turns out, that angry, reactionary villain, Kylo Ren, was their kid. Whaa? I’ve missed something here. How the hell…?

Well, I told myself, let’s see what’s going on here. There’s an interesting story here, I just wish I knew what it was. And this Kylo Ren…he’s a puling kid, really. Impatient, selfish, violent. A crybaby. How did these two stellar heroes produce such a disappointing child?

Adam Driver Talks About Working With JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson
Angry Kylo

I’d loved the whole Han/Leia love story in the originals. For years I dreamed of their future together after Return of the Jedi. They’d have amazing children. Yes, they’d have awesome Jedi powers, and they’d be beacons of light in the universe. To say my heart sank when I realized this Vader-wannabe was Han and Leia’s child is an understatement.

And then, the kicker: this damaged, twisted boy kills his own father. No, he murders him in cold blood. My favorite character in all of Star Wars, my childhood screen idol, slain and pushed off a catwalk like so much meat. A father, torn up by his son’s fate, wanting, needing, to help him–only to be betrayed by his own child.

God, I hated this guy Kylo Ren.

On some level, I knew this character’s arc would lead him to eventual change and possible redemption. This was the obvious question posed by the character, even in the first film. His conflict between light and dark was plain.

Did I care? Nope.

I’ll never forgive him, I told myself. No matter what happens in these films, no matter what he does from here on out, I’ll never forgive this little shit. Killing your own father. Killing Han frickin’ Solo. It’s insupportable. Unforgivable.


Then The Last Jedi came along, and there I was, ready to ward my heart against any possible melting in that regard. And the ridiculously talented Adam Driver returned with his sad, puppy dog eyes…his tender Force connection with Rey…his version of what happened with Uncle Luke when he was young and vulnerable…his very obvious emotional and psychic pain. His admission to Rey that he didn’t hate his father. And the shirtless scene, to say the least, was a low blow.

complicated enemies. Kylo Ren and Rey. Reylo. Such a beautiful face. Those lips. - Ideas of Star Wars Kylo Ren #kyloren #sith #starwars -   complicated enemies. Kylo Ren and Rey. Reylo. Such a beautiful face. Those lips.
Sad Kylo

And, tellingly, he couldn’t bring himself to kill his mother Leia when he clearly had the chance. All of these things, taken together, began to work on my hardened heart, loosen the chains of implacability.

Ah geez, I’m starting to feel sorry for this guy.

And then, a spark of hope: He and Rey fight together against Snoke’s guards in the Throne Room. A spectacular scene, and my heart soared for a moment. He killed Snoke, saved Rey, look at them together, they’re magnificent, maybe, just maybe…

But no. I knew there was a whole other movie to go, and his refusal to help the Resistance fleet was no surprise. But his heartfelt plea to Rey, that she came from nothing, but she was not nothing to him–the vulnerability in his face was touching. He held out his hand to her. He even said Please. Part of me almost wanted her to take his hand. Clearly he’s in love with you, woman, take his hand and help this poor guy somehow, for God’s sake–but no. It’s wrong at this moment, not meant to be. Yet.

reygirloflight I needed to see this so I made it on my drawing app merging the - Ideas of Star Wars Kylo Ren #kyloren #sith #starwars -  reygirloflight I needed to see this so I made it on my drawing app merging the two images together.
Pleading Kylo

Rey’s rejection of him hardened him again for the first two acts of The Rise of Skywalker. He’s back to his cold, violent, Dark Side tricks. He’s still trying to get Rey to join him in the Dark side. He believes he can’t go back to the Light, so she must come to him. At this point, though, I know the flip-flop is coming, and–despite my earlier vow–I’m rooting for it. It’s all I’ve been waiting for, in fact.

At the very beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, we get an illuminating tidbit that turns out to be the key to the puzzle that is Kylo Ren. When he confronts the Emperor at Exegol, Palpie’s disembodied voice says, “I have been every voice that has ever been inside your head.”

To me, that’s like learning the devil has been whispering in your ear since birth. Ah, now it makes sense–why young Ben Solo abandoned his family and turned to the Dark Side. I get it now. And it’s a terrible revelation. I’m angry on his behalf. How dare he steal the heart and mind of Han and Leia’s son for his own twisted ends? Monster!

But we knew that.

It can be argued that Ben Solo had choices, as we all do in the face of evil. But really, if he’d been influenced since he was a young boy, what choice did he really have? He’d been shaped and molded by evil. He was the rope between the tug of war between the Light and the Dark, and the Dark won. Initially.

At any rate, an extraordinary confluence of events occured to affect the change from Kylo Ren to Ben Solo.

The first: his mother Leia calling out to him from across the galaxy, expending her last bit of life force to do so (and when Mom calls, you better answer!).

The second: Rey heals the fatal wound she gave him with his own lightsaber, and the words, “I wanted to take your hand. Ben’s hand.”

And the third: possibly the most touching scene in all of Star Wars, Ben’s conversation with his dead father, Han. Now, I don’t care what Han’s appearance may signify. Whether it’s Leia somehow projecting the image (she still hasn’t disappeared into the Force, mind you), or Ben’s memory, or a ghost or the boogeyman. The point is, it doesn’t matter. Ben is finally confronting the pain and guilt of killing his father. And when Han forgives him, we do, too.

"in this moment he’s not kylo anymore. he’s ben solo in kylo ren’s clothes
No more Kylo

And there I was in the theater, near tears, and eating a heck of a lot of crow. But you know what? It’s okay to hate Kylo Ren. I just wish I could have seen more of Ben Solo to love.

In all honesty, I find Kylo/Ben to be the most fascinating character in Star Wars, and I’ll be posting more of my thoughts on him in the future, including on “Bendemption” and “Reylo”.

In the meantime, how do you feel about Kylo/Ben? Post your thoughts below and we’ll talk about it!