“Someone’s got to save our skins!” (Princess Leia Organa, Star Wars: A New Hope)
I really can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to profile Princess Leia as a Danger Gal Friday. When Star Wars came out I was knee-deep in pixies and dragons and unicorns. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I still enjoy reading about pixies and dragons and unicorns. But Princess Leia Organa was the first princess I’d encountered who was a damsel but not in distress. Not to mention that Han Solo so ousted Princess Aurora’s (Sleeping Beauty) Prince Philip as my McDreamy. So much has been said already about what a watershed moment the original Star Wars trilogy was for the boys growing up in that generation, but less has been said about the girls. There are fewer of us, and my tastes in Science Fiction have changed since then, but the few female characters have matched the positive impact that Princess Leia had on how women are portrayed in Science Fiction and leadership roles in general for fiction. Along with watching the original Star Trek episodes at this time, Star Wars kicked off my interest in Science Fiction because there was as character I could identify with.
The only thing I would have changed about Princess Leia is to give her a lightsaber, and I’m still disappointed that there was no female Jedi as a main character in the Star Wars prequels. There are female Jedi, however, and characters in some of the books/comics (Mara Jade comes to mind immediately, but she’s a future Danger Gal post), but Iâ€™m still disappointed.
Deb Taylor at Mookychick summarized Princess Leia Organa beautifully:
Princess Leia was a strong and fearless character, who stood by her beliefs and fought for them. Whether it was saving the galaxy or the man she loved. She was more than willing to risk her own life for the struggle and never demanded that others do the same. Though she appreciated it when they did.
An important facet of Princess Leia’s story is that she not only had a career, but was at the top of the heap in her chosen profession, and she also didn’t have to sacrifice her love life for it. She fell in love with a rogue who decided to fly the straight and narrow path after experiencing her and Luke’s examples. She didn’t take a bad boy and change him, he chose to change himself.
Not only does Leia take charge, but people follow her commands. She also rescues the heroes several times over. She doesn’t fall prey to the SF stereotype of a scantily clad female until Return of the Jedi — and even then she’s saving all the guys, not to mention strangling her monster captor with her own shackles. Princess Leia challenges the stereotypical spacebabe when as a chatteled half-naked female turns the tables by slaying the monster herself. (Meanwhile, the guys are trying not to fall into a giant vagina dentata, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
No character is perfect, but a perfect character is boring. Real people are torn between social, political and religious issues and are not totally consistent in their opinions on those issues. Some have found fault with ways Leia could have subverted traditional feminine roles further and we should examine those. Mariana at Gatochy’s Blog makes a very good point about female Jedi in general and Leia in particular:
The Star Wars trilogy is generally great in keeping women in their place, because have you noticed how there’s not one. Single. Female. Jedi? Not one? Not ever? Puppets, yes. Samuel L. Jackson, sure, in the movies that followed. But women can’t handle that kind of power. And that’s where Princess Leia comes in: to show us how even if you do supposedly have the Force in you you simply can make no use of it unless you’re a man; and that even if you do hold a position of great power because it was handed down to you on a silver platter, if you’re a woman, you’re bound to be hopeless at it. In fact, you will notice it’s her twin brother, who she didn’t even know she had, who saves the universe, not her.
I couldn’t agree more (and I’ve made a similar complaint in the past), and there are many problems with other female characters in Star Wars as well. However, for the time she was written, this was a great step forward. Princess Leia became a template for later heroines and we continue to build on this new archetype in fits in starts, one step forward and sometimes four steps backward. Part of the motivation for me writing this blog is to highlight the great and not-so-great qualities in characters like Princess Leia so that we can discard the old, useless and degrading qualities of female stereotypes.
When as a kid in the 1970s I played Star Wars in the backyard, my version of Princess Leia indeed had a lightsaber and was a powerful Jedi. After she defeated the bad guy, she rode off into the sunset (the Tatooine binary star, mind you) in her landspeeder (or dragon or unicorn, sometimes) with Han Solo.
And, yes, she was driving.