Sunday, July 5, 2015

Leia On the Line: A Character Study of Princess Leia [Contributor: Lynnie Purcell]

When Luke Skywalker was looking at the duel moons of Tattooine and whining about how all of his friends had left to become pilots in the rebel army, Princess Leia Organa was getting stuff done. In A New Hope, when she ends up in a battle with the Galactic Empire’s mothership, after stealing plans for the brand new Death Star, she is barely nineteen years old.

At nineteen, she is a spy, an ambassador for the planet Alderaan, a princess, a member of the Imperial Senate, and a rebel leader. She uncovers information for the rebels to use against the empire via her ambassadorial status, fights and kills who she must, and deliberately pursues any mission that could lead them to victory. It would have been easy for her ignore the Empire, live a semi-peaceful life on her home planet, have gotten married, and had babies. That would have been the end of it. Because of her bravery, sense of duty, compassion, and indomitable will to fix what was broken with the galaxy and help the people in it, she started a series of events that ultimately led to the downfall of the Empire.

Her ship is attacked by Darth Vader in the opening scene of A New Hope, and her soldiers desperately try to fight off the Stormtoopers who, well, storm inside. Leia knows before the others do that the ship will fall. It’s possible she’s seen her soldiers’ aim before. Knowing her fate is sealed, she thinks fast and rationally, playing to her strengths and the weakness of others.

While the galaxy thinks of droids as nothing more than a step above slave labor, Leia sees them as allies. She decides to place her trust in one; her decision to believe in a tiny droid with spunk saves countless lives. She downloads the blueprints of the Death Star to R2D2’s memory bank and records a message, pleading with Obi Wan Kenobi to take the plans to her people and help the alliance fight once more.

The audience is given a glimpse of Leia’s grit for the first time as she records the message calmly and with dignity, even as her ship is overrun by enemy forces. She is rushed and cornered, but she is still a princess. Once recorded, she sends R2D2 on his way and prepares a distraction to keep them from looking at the droids too hard. She fires on the Stormtoopers, well aware that they could kill her for it.

She is subdued and taken to Darth Vader. He has already snapped the neck of one man, but she does not back down when she faces him. She is definitely afraid of him, but she keeps her chin lifted and her spine straight. It is indicative of the Leia to come in the following fight against the Empire.

The majority of hard choices in the Star Wars series fall on Leia. Though raised to lead, she doesn’t settle for peaceful complacency. She chooses to fight. While Luke is depending on Han, Chewbacca, and Obi Wan to get him out of the toughest jams, she’s figuring her own way to survive, sassing the leader of the Imperial Army, defying expectations, and enduring torture and mind-altering drugs. Even Darth Vader is surprised by her ability to resist his methods of torture. Her grit means that he is forced into an alternative means of getting information from her – such is the force of her mind.

Still feeling the effects of the torture, she is pulled into the Death Star’s command center and shown the power of its weapons. The capability is staggering, and she is given a choice: reveal the rebel base or watch her people die.

Leia is met with an impossible choice. Revealing the rebel base ends all hope, and will most likely result in double the casualties over the years, or watch her planet burn. She is smart enough to know that the commander of the ship, Tarkin, is not to be trusted. She gives him the location of a long-abandoned base, and he taunts her with her trusting nature. He blows up her planet as she is forced to watch in horror.

Watching your planet, your parents, your loved ones, and your people disappear in a flash of light is enough to send anyone down into madness. While her anguish is intense, the violence perpetuated against her people only hardens her resolve. She knows that whenever she gets a chance, she will return the favor.

And she does.

In perfect symmetry to what she lost at the beginning of the movie, her blueprints of the Death Star, battle plan, and command of the rebel army ensure that the Death Star, and everyone on it, blows up in much the same way her planet did. This only happens after she actively takes part in her own rescue, makes the call to flee down the garbage chute, and singlehandedly assures that the group of would-be heroes doesn’t die trapped on the detention level.

Every second of her prison escape, she maintains her wit, fire, and driving will to accomplish the mission and end the empire. She is the ultimate soldier and spy.

While the majority of the second movie focuses on her budding love interest with Han Solo, Lucas never makes her into a true damsel in distress. If Han is in trouble, so is she; if he has a pistol to fire or a surge of anger, so does she. She is held by the empire yet again, after Lando Calrissian's betrayal. She is forced to watch as the man she is falling in love with is brutalized and tortured for no apparent reasons. She offers him all of her strength and tenderness, knowing full well that there are not very many options for escape. Her only hope is Luke, and Vader has set a trap for him. Her lack of hope does not prevent her from putting on a brave face and consoling Han.

To further her anguish, Han is used as a test subject for the carbon freezing chamber. As she realizes her total love for him, he is pulled away from her. They are separated by the war, by Vader’s evil, and the betrayal of a friend, but they have finally found their way to one another. It is an eye-opening moment for someone who has always depended on herself. She is no longer scared by the prospect of loving a scoundrel - maybe because she realizes that she’s a bit of a scoundrel as well. She makes hard calls, and she makes them efficiently. Han is no different.

Leia is also blessed with compassion, heart, and love. While steely on the outside, she loves completely. She sees to the heart of the matter, and knows truths whether she should know them or not. She sees to the heart of Han, and it makes an already strong woman stronger.
She can lead an army and love a man with equal fortitude and heart.

While a big deal is made of Luke’s training, it is Leia’s empathy and open mindedness that saves his life. She feels the threads of the force without guidance or a tiny Yoda to give her vague advice and impractical tasks to complete. Luke may have called to her, but Leia was the one who had her ears open and mind willing. In the midst of her personal heartbreak, she became a hero yet again and saved the life of a friend.

In Return of the Jedi, it is Leia who first goes into Jabba the Hutt’s stronghold, posing as a mercenary, and it is she who finds Han, alive and well, if not still frozen in carbonite. Taking such a risk was surely advised against by her equals in the rebel army, but she did it anyways. Leia loves with her whole being, and no risk is too big to save the love of her life.
She’s captured, publicly humiliated, and further tortured by having to sit at the tail of a creature, who potentially has some of the galaxy’s most rank farts, in a metal bikini and a chain around her neck. A princess has been turned into a slave, yet she endures the indignity and waits for the right time to act.

When her moment comes, she strangles Jabba to death with the very chain he sought to humiliate and shame her with. Her weakness becomes her weapon, and she wields it wearing only a bikini. She is violent and murderous, but she is also all woman. Nothing is done to hide either side of her, and it is glorious.

Leia recovers from the chaffing caused by the bikini and goes on to help organize an attack on the Empire. They are finally taking the fight to them, to disable the newest Death Star being built and do as much damage as they can against the empire’s armada. While the other heroes end up captured, she manages to use her kindness and compassion to convince the Ewoks that she is a friend. The others are brought into the camp in chains; she is brought in and pampered as a princess.

When the bombshell that she’s Luke’s sister is dropped, she does not freak out. Her instincts, her connection to the force, and the fact that kissing him was probably a lot like kissing a brother, all tell her the truth long before the words leave Luke’s mouth. She knows because she listens, and she listens because she is a good leader.

Then, because there is no rest when staging an uprising, she sets aside the personal revelation and goes to war. She fights with Han and the Ewoks to defeat the Stormtoopers that have invaded the Ewoks’ ancestral home, preventing mass genocide, gentrification (probably), and the Empire from gaining a stronger foothold in the galaxy. Her victory is won in the most primitive of places, without starships or a large army at their backs, and it has a good deal to do with Leia’s bravery.

She takes part in the defeat of the Empire, undergoes a full recovery from her injuries, and then immediately goes back to work repairing the galaxy, helping her people, and leading as best she can.

All of this is done before she’s twenty-three.

Leia may not have been the main protagonist of the Star Wars series, but without her, Luke would still be whining about his fate on Tattooine, Han would be dead ten times over, and the Death Star would be keeping all the planets in the galaxy in a constant state of fear and oppression.

She is a hero, and just the woman the galaxy needed.


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