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 were 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. I love how she tells Han to shut-up (“I don’t know who you are or where you came from but from now on you do exactly as I tell you, ‘kay?”). How she gives military instructions to the pilots on Hoth before they fight the AT-ATs.
When we get a first glimpse of Leia’s jedi potential as she “feels” an injured and devastated Luke reaching out to her through the Force.
And let’s not forget the death of Jabba the Hutt when a scantily clad Leia took her captive’s chain and with all her might strangled him to death succeeding where trained assassins failed.
I will conclude this essay 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 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.