I have always had this habit of mentally rewriting stories I love to be about the female lead. If you were to hear me describe the plot of Disney’s Aladdin, you’d be pretty sure it should have been titled Jasmine. When I started binge-reading fantasy novels in middle school, man, the Belgariad was tedious until Ce’Nedra showed up. Bumbling farmboys bored me, but a red-headed princess? Sign me up!
But no story in my mind was more about the female lead than Star Wars. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I do this whole thing because of Star Wars.
My oldest sister showed me A New Hope when I was young enough that I don’t even really remember it. I drifted off during the opening and pretty much didn’t care until Luke showed up at Leia’s cell — “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?”
My eyes probably went very wide.
“Into the garbage shoot, flyboy!”
“Someone has to save our skins!”
Leia was a beautiful space princess who saved her rescuers when they didn’t really know what they were doing. She had better aim with a blaster than pretty much anyone else in the movie. There was a lot that I didn’t understand at the time — that she’d been tortured, for example, and still hadn’t cracked — but every time I watched the trilogy I appreciated her more.
She was smart and quick witted and took no crap. The dreamy scoundrel reformed and joined the rebellion for her, and then she went to rescue him from Jabba. Who, by the way, she killed with her own two hands and the very chains Jabba had put her in. She could ride a speeder and shoot storm troopers and she was named by Yoda as a potential Jedi — Luke wasn’t their last hope, because there was always Leia, already doing the most.
Of course the “I love you,” “I know,” exchange is the most iconic one between her and Han. But I think my very favorite moment with them is actually in Jedi, when they’re trying to break into the shield facility and storm troopers come up behind Han. She gestures slightly with her blaster, he sees it and grins and says, “I love you,” puts his hands up and steps out of the way, and Leia proceeds to shoot their would-be captors.
Han loves and respects and trusts her. She gets the job done.
I love Princess Leia.
And I imprinted on her.
My sister and I rewatched the entire original trilogy and The Force Awakens over Christmas, and early on, I tweeted, “I honestly wonder who I would be as a writer (and if I would be a writer at all) if not for Star Wars, and especially Princess Leia.”
Leia is the epitome of every female character I have ever loved. Competent and funny and tough, with a romance that involves bickering but also deep understanding and respect. She’s held captive at some point in all three movies of the trilogy, but she’s never a damsel in distress because she never lacks agency as a character.
Those are the traits I look for in the female characters in everything I read and watch. Not that I want everything to be a Star Wars knock-off, or for every female character to have the same personality. But I want them all to be treated with the respect Leia got; I want them to have that kind of agency. That’s what I strive for when I write. Without Leia, I probably wouldn’t have started putting my own stories on the page, and they definitely wouldn’t center around girls and women the way they do.
Look, I know — I swear I do — that actually the original Star Wars trilogy is about Luke Skywalker and his hero’s journey. Honestly, as an adult, I appreciate Luke a lot more than I ever did as a kid. But in my head, Star Wars was always the story of Leia Organa, the rebellion she led, and the dudes who helped her out along the way.
I cried in the theater — a lot — when I saw The Force Awakens. Rey was the character I have always wanted. Competent and kind and the actual protagonist and oh my god a GIRL JEDI!!!1. That meant more to me than I can really put into words — that within this franchise that literally shaped my love of fiction, I suddenly no longer needed to mentally re-work the story around the girl I wanted to be, because it was already hers.
There is so much more I could say, if I had the eloquence. How much I loved the vision of General Organa that TFA gave us; the idea that Leia, beaten down by yet another personal tragedy, retreated to doing what she was best at — fighting fascists and leading people who need hope. The way I sobbed when Rey and Leia got to hug; what a profound moment that was for me, getting just that breath of interaction between the character who shaped my love of narrative and the character who embodied everything I wanted.
And there is so, so, so much more to say about Carrie Fisher. A woman who was funny and brilliant, who struggled with bipolar disorder and as addiction; who was publicly imperfect and didn’t give a fuck; who was, herself, a great writer and a sought-after script doctor. I respect and admire and love Carrie Fisher for that, and I think the world is a poorer place without her, although better for having had her in it.
I don’t want to limit Carrie Fisher’s legacy to Leia Organa. But through Leia, Carrie Fisher shaped me. As a writer, and a person who loves stories. And as a human who believes in hope.
Thank you, Leia. And thank you, Carrie.