There are thousands of articles, essays, and tributes from women describing why Princess Leia is so important and influential. Like most geeky women, I found her to be formative of my understanding of capability – and, for better or worse – how women relate to men. She’s the first female character I remember in a live action film. While I knew how important Princess Leia was to me, I had no idea how impactful General Leia would be as well.
Characters are important. We assign meaning to them, and if we’re lucky, the best of them shape us.
And while I never stopped loving Leia and what she represents, I had no idea how much I still needed to see her on screen again until I did: Carrie Fisher brilliantly resumes the role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the princess has become a general.
I’m mid-career and in my 30s now, and I LARP (live action role play) in a fantasy setting as a former princess who is now a politician (and to a limited extent, an official figure for morale and battle). Like Leia, she fights against darkness and destruction, has a brother (though she didn’t kiss him, I’m happy to say), and has a love interest who impacts her story.
And I didn’t envision any connection at all between the two characters or what I’m possibly striving to be myself until I saw General Leia: commanding, respected, and always surviving despite a difficult past. I got that familiar feeling you get – the first time you’re truly amazed by a character. Wow. How can I be like her?
Rey is completely flippin’ awesome and a character we need. I would have loved her more as a younger viewer, though. I found that I still related to Leia – and wow, for once there is a woman older than me who I can look up to in a movie.
I may be thirtysomething, but I know myself well enough to understand that positive role models still help me make better choices.
General Leia: One Woman, Many Roles
General Leia is effective at her job, but that’s not her only role in the film. She’s a woman still in love, a confidante and mother figure for Rey. As a 34 year old, I notice that women my age and older especially are depicted as just one thing in movies: a mom or a career woman, for example. When I think about the women in my life, like my mom and grandmother, I realize that they were never just one role, and neither am I.
This is particularly distressing with mom characters. Having a child changes your life, of course – but these characters often set the expectation that mom is the only facet of a woman’s identity once she becomes a mother. And while it’s certainly important, and likely on the forefront of her mind, that’s not the only thing she is nor the only thing she’ll ever be.
Leia exemplifies this in so many ways, and it’s clear that no one is harder on her about what happened to her son than herself.
Of course, some of the male characters, including C-3P0, still have a bit of difficulty understanding this. “She’ll always be a princess” is meant as an honor, not an insult, but it carries with it so much gravitas. Her beloved Alderaan is long gone; her relationship with Han Solo is strained. And while others may mourn her youthfulness as part of their own difficulty in accepting life as it is, Leia doesn’t – and neither does the man who loves her.
A Role Model for Rey
Leia and Rey’s understanding embrace is juxtaposed by the celebratory rebels. While they respect Han and his sacrifice, the victory was immense. But the solidarity between the two women, who both mourn, is especially prescient.
I also enjoy how a role model can rely upon a role model. Rey and Leia don’t compete – there’s no time for that when you’ve got a rebellion to run. They support each other. And it’s excellent that younger viewers get to see their hero Rey work with Leia; they don’t threaten or thwart one another.
What did you think about Carrie Fisher as General Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Let us know in the comments.