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Monday, January 1, 2018

Woman of the Month: Princess Leia Organa

Princess/General Leia Organa from Star Wars
Sometimes these entries chose themselves, and I always knew that Princess Leia would end up the first Woman of the Month in 2018. With Carrie Fisher's last performance in The Last Jedi finally released in cinemas, it's a good time to look back at what this princess really meant to people.
I watched the original Star Wars trilogy when I was still young enough to take Leia for granted: the white robed, cinnamon bun hair-styled princess wasn't a feminist icon or a subversion of the distressed damsel – she simply was. It wasn't until I got much older that I realized how game-changing she really was.
When you strip away all the sci-fi trappings, Star Wars is essentially a fairy tale: there's an orphaned hero, an evil dark lord, a wise old wizard, a magical sword – and an imprisoned princess. But although Leia narratively embodied the role of a princess in terrible danger, she certainly didn't act like one. From the moment we see Darth Vader confront her on board Tantive IV, her spunk, self-possession and bravery is made clear.
As the trilogy continues, we discover her wit, her temper, her gentleness, and her leadership skills.
But if there's one thing that's always bugged me, it's when she's described as "a woman who didn't need rescuing." This completely ignores the fact that... um... yeah she did. The entire second act of A New Hope revolves around Luke and Han's liberation of her from the Death Star, and to say otherwise is to rob Leia of her vulnerability and the value of teamwork.
Luke gets her out of the cell, she gets them out of the corridor, and the droids get them out of the trash compactor. To deny Leia her need to be rescued is to ignore the secret of her appeal: that she's traditionally feminine and masculine; her own ying and yang. Here is a beautiful young woman in a white flowing dress and fantasy hairstyle who bosses the boys around, openly insults those who oppose her, and competently wields a blaster in her own defence.
The woman who sneers: "I recognized your foul stench coming off the elevator" at Governor Tarkin is the same as the one who gently talks down a jumpy Ewok by offering him something to eat. She's as tough as nails, but that doesn't rob her of kindness or vulnerability.
And then, thirty years later, we saw the return of Leia not as a princess but a general: still sharp, still in charge, but with an additional sadness to her. It's a mixed blessing every way you look: she lost her son to the Dark Side, but gained a surrogate son in Poe Dameron. She watched the New Republic fall, but carries hope into the future with a new generation of Rebels. She's suffered endless losses, but the fact she's still standing is a testimony to her equally endless strength.
And as divisive as The Last Jedi has proved to be, I don't think anyone could fault its final scene: Leia and Rey on board the Millennium Falcon, surrounded by a motley crew of rebels, pilots, droids and aliens that make up the last of the Resistance. Leia's final words on screen are directed as much to the audience as to Rey: "we have everything we need."
Thank you Princess, thank you General, thank you Carrie Fisher.

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