“Star Wars” legend Carrie Fisher has died at the age of 60. To honor a woman that has shaped and influenced so many lives, let’s look at some of the most memorable moments of Leia Organa of Alderaan, a character she embodied to the end.
I never saw the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters because I wasn’t born until 1984 and I wasn’t a fan when the Special Editions came out (although after seeing A New Hope on video I took my Pocahontas doll and styled her hair into two cinnamon buns). However I will never forget the time when I sat in a theater watching Revenge of the Sith and heard the audience’s gasps and “ahhs” when Padme (Natalie Portman) gave birth to twins and with dying breath, says “Luke” and “Leia”. Then the scene where Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) hands baby Leia to his wife and we see her looking up at her new parents as John Williams plays her memorable theme. Such is the magic of good filmmaking.
One of the things about Star Wars that impressed me when it first came out was the way it broke away from gender norms by having not only a woman who was brave, smart and politically savvy but male heroes who weren’t muscular, hypermasculine and callously violent. Leia reflected on the big screen what many women were fighting against in the 70s and 80s: an unequal, patrifocal society not all that different from the Galactic Empire, while Luke and Obi-Wan were a far cry from their macho, cynical, anti-hero contemporaries (i.e. The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Rocky, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, etc.). Even the much more traditionally masculine Han Solo and Lando Calrissian had to learn to soften up a bit.
I point this out because in all honesty, Leia was never my favorite character in the Original Trilogy. My favorite character was Luke Skywalker because he got the lightsaber, got to fight Darth Vader, got his own starship and the trilogy was focused on his hero’s journey. Leia, on the other hand, has no female rebel officers to converse with onscreen, the introductory scroll to TESB credits Luke as leader of the Rebel Alliance instead of her and Han is the one chosen to lead the Endor Strike Force even though she’d been with the Rebellion a lot longer and was among its top leadership.
But despite these setbacks, there are moments when Leia shines as a shero. To honor Carrie Fisher, here are 18 moments from Star Wars films, books and comics where Leia Organa, senator, princess, rebel, wife, mother and daughter proved that she was the #1 female icon of Star Wars.
1. Leia Lets Darth Vader Know Who She Is
A New Hope
For all the hemming and hawing against the prequels “focus” on politics, people forget that the original trilogy also touched on politics at times and it occurs immediately after C-3PO and R2-D2 escape from the Tantive IV. Leia, surrounded by stormtroopers tells Vader “the Imperial Senate will not sit still for this!” “I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan”. Right away, she lets us know who she is. She sees herself as a senator and diplomat first and foremost. Never for once does she tell anyone that she’s a princess.
2. Leia Tells Han to Knock It Off
A New Hope
Han at this point is selfish and haughty and not making it easy for Luke and Leia. Leia has had it. “Listen! I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on, you do as I say, OK?” Leia gets bonus points for demanding, “will somebody get this big, walking carpet out of my way?”
3. Leia Comforts Luke
A New Hope
Not after Obi-Wan dies but after Han walks away from the Yavin IV mission. Luke is feeling down and tells Leia about his disappointment. I love Leia’s response because it’s something we should all remember when we don’t agree with someone’s choices: “he’s got to choose his own path, no one can choose it for him.”
4. Leia Gives Orders to the Troops
The Empire Strikes Back
Another scene that shows Leia’s leadership skills is before the Battle of Hoth where she stands in the midst of a group of rebel pilots and briefs them on how to fight Vader’s troops. Notice how no one questions her experience, or her sex.
5. Leia Rescues Luke
The Empire Strikes Back
The earliest hint that Luke and Leia are twins. Defeated, crippled and desperate, Luke is hanging on for dear life (literally). He calls out for Obi-Wan, then, through the Force, reaches out for Leia. The camera pans over Leia’s blank expression when she realizes that Luke needs her. She orders Chewie and Lando to go back and rescue him.
6. Leia Kills Jabba
Return of the Jedi
You’ll notice that ROTJ has the most entries of the three movies. That’s because I believe, as character, Leia shines the most in episode 6 (she also stops wearing white all the time). After fooling everyone with her bounty hunter disguise, she’s captured by Jabba and forced into a “dancing girl” outfit as his prisoner. This famous bikini has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years as a sexist example of the male gaze. Even Fisher has admitted she didn’t like wearing it when she was filming Jedi. However she also had some choice words for a dad who criticized the outfit as a bad example for little girls:
“Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.
She’s a prisoner of a giant testicle who has a lot of saliva going on and she does not want to wear that thing and it’s ultimately that chain, which you’re now indicating is some sort of accessory to S&M, that is used to kill the giant saliva testicle. That’s asinine.”
Exactly. Part of the reason this outfit has stayed popular with female fans over the years is because they see it as a symbol of empowerment. A woman forced into a “sexual” situation she had no control over, who turns the tables on her captor and indirectly avenges another captive’s (Oola the Twi’lek) pointless death. What woman wouldn’t identify with that?
7. Leia Befriends Wicket
Return of the Jedi
Some stuck up fans would rather blast an Ewok into the stratosphere. Not our princess. She strikes up a friendship with one of them, Wicket (behind the scenes Carrie Fisher gave Wicket’s actor, Warwick Davis, cookies and chocolate milk. Yum). She goes back with him to his village and even wears a dress they made for her. Thanks to her diplomatic skills, she gets the Ewoks to help the rebels and we get two made-for-television Ewok movies, comics and a cartoon series. Take that snobby fans!
8. Leia Learns About Her Heritage
Return of the Jedi
The most poignant scene in the Original Trilogy. Luke asks Leia about their biological mother, the fact that Leia has gotten visions of Padme proves she’s Force sensitive. Then Luke tells her that Vader is his father. Shock #1. Next he tells her that he’s her brother. Shock #2. Next he tells her he’s turning himself in for the sake of the rebellion. Shock #3. Is it any wonder she collapses from grief into Han’s arms?
And speaking of Han…
9. “I Love You”, “I Know”
Return of the Jedi
Are you surprised I didn’t list that immortal exchange from TESB? Ha! I never understood why people swoon over that scene. After constant pestering from Han about her feelings, she finally admits that she loves him. But Han never tells her how he feels about her. We had to wait until the next movie. During a shootout at a shields base on Endor, Leia gets shot but is able to shoot a trooper, prompting Han to say “I love you” and Leia to respond, “I know”. I wish more his and her merchandise had this exchange instead of the other one.
10. Leia Reassures Han About Their Relationship
Return of the Jedi
Yet despite Han professing his love, he’s still not sure if Leia still loves him. He thinks she loves Luke. But unlike the Han from ANH, the new Han proves his true manhood by not slut-shaming Leia and promising that when Luke comes back, he won’t get in the way. Fortunately for him, Leia reveals that her love for Luke is familial and her love for Han is romantic.
11. Leia Reveals The New Symbol of the Rebel Alliance
The Force Unleashed
A 2008 multimedia project that includes a video game, a comic, a novel and an action figure line, TFU bridges the gap between episodes 3 and 4 and tells the story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Galen Marek, who is assigned to hunt down any remaining jedi but instead sacrifices his life for the Rebellion. To honor his memory, Leia and Bail Organa open a sheet found in his childhood home decorated with the Marek family crest. Leia announces that this symbol will now stand for the Rebel Alliance. You’ve seen it on lots of Star Wars merchandise.
12. Leia Stands Up For a Caamasi
Star Wars Tales #15: First Impressions
An anti-speciesist story. Leia is visiting Coruscant for the first time with her father and observes a Caamasi get arrested for buying a drink. She loudly protests this injustice to no avail and nearly gets arrested herself. She tells Bail that she will complain about the matter to Palpatine but doesn’t out of (justifiable) fear. Bail teaches her that sometimes change has to happen subtly. He then reveals that he’s arranged a release for the Caamasi and that Leia can go to meet him. His name is Eg’ros Akala.
13. Leia Rebuffs Xizor
Shadows of the Empire
Falleen prince, leader of Black Sun and really gets around thanks to his pheromones. He likes to seduce a female (of any species), bed her and then dispose of her when he gets bored. So it should come as no surprise that between plotting against Vader and plotting against Skywalker, Xizor becomes infatuated with Leia. He nearly succeeds in seducing her but she knees him in the groin.
Xizor: You’re refusing me?
Leia: You got that right.
14. Trioculus “Woos” Leia
Zorba the Hutt’s Revenge
Another lousy suitor, another lousy prince. Except this one thinks he’s the son of Palpatine and wants to be his successor. Since every king needs a queen, he believes Leia is the pick of the litter. After capturing her, he professes his love for her and proposes. She responds with a slap.
15. “I Would Be Pleased If You Would Join Me”
Sean Cooke, artist who’s done a few Star Wars covers for Dark Horse
I once came across this hard to find picture online and posted it on my Tumblog. I will never forget the way it captures a tender moment between an icon of evil and an innocent little girl. I’ll let the caption speak for itself:
She pulled the comb out of her hair and tucked it in her sash, then went to watch the rest of the sunset from the Great Hall, through the arch.
Lord Vader was already there, standing at the center of the door, a black mountain against the vivid red of the sky. He was aware of her presence, though she wasn’t sure how, or how she knew it.
Well, she wasn’t going to miss the sunset just because he was in her favorite spot. She wasn’t afraid of Lord Vader and it wasn’t bravado, like Father thought.
“Good evening, Your Highness,” he said, “I would be pleased if you would join me.”
You can view the picture here.
16. Prince Isolder Wants to Marry Leia
The Courtship of Princess Leia
Another romantic rival for Han but this time, he’s a good guy. Set four years after ROTJ, Leia, wanting to add more star systems to the fledgling New Republic, opens talks with the Hapes Consortium. However there’s a catch: the Queen Mother wants Leia to marry her son, the dashing Prince Isolder. At a royal dinner Han asks Isolder why would the Queen want Leia for a daughter-in-law when she has no planet or royal house to hail from. Prince Isolder shocks everyone in the room: marrying Leia was his idea. Why? Because he was so impressed with her diplomatic skills.
17. Girls’ Night Out
The first novel in The New Jedi Order series. Leia is riding in a starship with her daughter Jaina and sister-in-law Mara Jade. Jaina is training under Mara and at first she’s a little jealous of their rapport but also realizes that her sixteen year old daughter is becoming a young woman. She later confesses her feelings to Mara, who in turn confesses her yearning for a child. It’s heartwarming to see some female bonding in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
18. Leia Trains With Yoda
Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back
What if Luke Skywalker never survived that blizzard on Hoth? With dying breath, Luke tells Han about Yoda and Dagobah. Han relays the message to Leia, who decides to visit this “Yoda” character – and ends up training as a jedi instead.
I will conclude this tribute with a quote from Tricia Barr who wrote a recent article about the Alderaanian princess in Star Wars Insider issue 144:
“Princess Leia has never quite been embraced by the feminist movement in the same way Wonder Woman has, perhaps because of the perception that Star Wars was a boys’ franchise rather than a pro-feminism vehicle.”
Ah, but how many little girls became avowed feminists after viewing Star Wars for the first time? The intergalactic saga definitely made me a feminist and I believe that George Lucas, in his own way, has contributed to women’s rights as much as William Moulton Marston has. And Lucas could never have done it without the wit and talent of Carrie Frances Fisher.
Goodbye and God bless, Ms. Fisher (and you too Ms. Reynolds). And May the Force Be With You.
Now, it’s your turn. What Leia Organa, Carrie Fisher or Debbie Reynolds memories would you like to share? Sound off in the comments!