Han Solo was toast. Well, more like he was wall decoration. He stood, frozen in carbonite and left for dead at the start of Return of the Jedi. A brave bounty hunter sneaks through the darkness of sluggy space criminal Jabba the Huts’ lair and presses a button that releases him. Han melts out of the carbonite and falls to the ground, wiped out and disoriented. The bounty hunter helps him to get his bearings and when he asks who his rescuer is, they take off their helmet and familiar braided brown hair is revealed. “Someone who loves you,” says a surprise Leia. That was my moment. That was the moment I fell absolutely head-over-carbonite in love with Princess Leia Organa. Before Star Wars, I had never heard of a Princess who left the tower to be the one doing the saving. And she was doing a lot of saving.
Princess Leia has always been one of the most beloved characters from the Star Wars franchise for obvious reasons. Don’t get me wrong: I love Han and Chewie and Luke, but I never had that ‘a-ha!’ moment where I knew I would carry their personas in my heart forever. Leia undoubtedly has that. As my own personal way of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Trilogy I reached out to some of my biggest Star Wars friends to ask them if they also experienced any moments when they knew they would always serve the Princess.
My best friend of over fifteen years and her youngest brother are the Star Wars fans I have known the longest. In high school when I would visit their home you could usually count on her brother being dressed in his Jedi robes or carrying his lightsaber around just in case. When I asked them about why they love Princess Leia they both pointed to scenes in which the Princess was less than sweet (which turns out to be most of them). My best friend quoted, “Somebody has to save our skins!” in reference to the Princess using her quick-wit to get the Rebels out of a jam with Stormtroopers in A New Hope. My friend is as close to a Disney princess as I know in real life. Growing up she was always partial to a good fairytale. Even so watching Princess Leia reminds her that we women run the gamut of expression–you can be a Princess without having to carry the assumptions being a movie ‘Princess’ gives: the idea that she is the prize to be won or a package to be delivered safely. For her Princess Leia is as much of a fighter and an adventurer as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, if not more. She has never relied on anyone else to fix her problem. My friend’s brother says he fell in love the moment Princess Leia forever labeled Han Solo a ‘scruffy looking nerf-herder’ in Empire Strikes Back. She never hesitated to put Han in his place when he thought he was able to charm her with looks and constant smooth talk. Too often when women fall in love in movies they become passive and defer to their beau, usually the beau who is attempting to rescue them. Leia and Han vex each other just as well as they work together on every step of journey. They always treat each other as equals–and most of the time as debate opponents.
My roommate who is teaching me the unlimited book lore of the galaxy far, far away told me his Leia moment happens the minute she arrives on the scene in A New Hope. She is one of the first main characters we see and despite being the only woman on board the ship she doesn’t run for safety during the opening battle like an audience would assume–in fact, she never runs for safety. Not only that, she successfully passes on a critical secret message and takes out a Stormtrooper with a blaster before being captured. When questioned she does not crumble or cave–she doesn’t even blink at Darth Vader: a figure that makes others cower at the thought of him. She shows herself to be an integral leader of the Rebel Alliance from the beginning and her dedication to the cause is never questioned. Out of curiosity I asked a close friend of mine who grew up more into Star Trek than Wars if she had a Princess Leia moment and she did. For her, it was General Leia Organa’s appearance as the leader of the Resistance in The Force Awakens. Intelligent, defiant, and capable older women can be hard to come by on screen. General Organa’s role in the latest Episode harkened back to her very beginnings–it is no surprise that the Princess would still be leading the rebellion and dedicated to the takedown of the Empire. It is also no surprise that she would still be annoyed by Han Solo.
It really struck me that in only asking a handful of people we managed to hit every Episode that Leia is in. She is such an iconic character because the audience has the ability and opportunity to fall in love with her over and over again. The role of Princess Leia defies any stereotypes and expectations–not only of being a Princess, but of being a woman. Throughout the space opera we have come to love so much she shows the audience that women can be both unyielding and loving, both aggressive and respected, and both a Space Princess and a Space Knight.
Between the revival of the Star Wars story to the big screen and forever missed actress Carrie Fisher’s return to the Universe, Princess Leia has orbited back to her rightful place at the forefront as a symbol of strength and resistance. Her character has instilled many things in me that have shaped me into who I am–including the unafraid persistence to stand up for what I feel is right. And that sometimes you have to save your partner from carbonite. I know that most Star Wars fans can say the same and owe at least some of the flame in their nerd fire to Princess Leia. As Star Wars celebrates its’ 40th anniversary many people will be doing a full rewatch of the series, some for the first time in a long time, some for the first time period. I challenge anyone who does to find their moment or moments–the one when they also decided would forever serve the Princess.