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In the three decades that passed between Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens, the trio of main Star Wars characters were up to their old tricks. Han remained wry and aloof, and Luke (from what little context we had) once again seemed moody and insecure. And both seemed to continue their tradition of fleeing at signs of resistance, whether personal or galactic.
Leia, too, spent her thirty-year hiatus doing the exact same thing she has always done: She grew.
In A New Hope, we were first introduced to Leia Organa as a princess, imprisoned by an intimidating group of men with an affinity for capes and Imperial control. In The Force Awakens we are reintroduced to General Leia Organa, the founding general of the main adversaries of the First Order.
As my colleague Graeme McMillan pointed out, Leia is the one audiences care about, because at certain times Leia is the only one who seemed to care, at all.
Since audiences have known her, Leia has seen her home planet destroyed in front of her. She choked out a warlord by using the very chains that he was using to hold her captive. She has lead an Alliance and started a Resistance. She became a mother and then lost her son (metaphorically speaking). And she lost the love of her life (in both the metaphorical and then the literal sense).
Leia has always been a fighter, both onscreen and off. She fought against the Empire and then the First Order. She fought against the incest jokes brought about by expository plot points and the voyeurism that was a byproduct of impractical wardrobe choices. Leia fought to grow into something that couldn’t be captured in a hologram or contained by a cell or even a galaxy.
And, in a big way, Leia’s proclivity for change is emblematic of the greater Star Wars universe. Lucasfilm and Disney are barreling forward with a new film a year, looking to its past to inform its future. As the galaxy is getting bigger, it’s getting more diverse — both in character and in story. Moreover, it’s audience has reflected this growth, with the assimilation of new generations and demographics into fandom that refuses to stagnate.
Leia outpaced stereotypes of women in film. She picked up a blaster and paved the way for the likes of Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and, of course, Rey. Leia, and the sci-fi and fantasy heroines that followed her, owed her revolutionary aspects of her character to the brilliantly outspoken actress who played her.
Carrie Fisher, who died Tuesday morning at the age of 60, has always been so much more than Princess Leia, and Leia wouldn’t be anywhere near the beloved icon she is without Fisher.
Fisher, forever wary of celebrity and the pedestal on which she was often thrust, was unrelenting in her reminding of fans that, above all else, she was human. This commitment to establishing her own humanity — whether it be her struggles with bipolar disorder or Hollywood sexism — bled over into her most beloved role, grounding it, and giving Leia the fighting spirit for which she is revered. Because the human reaction to oppression is not to run or to brood, but to resist.
Since Fisher’s passing, it’s natural for fans question, “So, what now?” Episode VIII has wrapped production with Fisher, with Leia said to be taking on a larger role in the installment (her Force Awakens role was largely expository with just a few minutes of screen time). Leia’s future is uncertain, but that’s nothing new, it’s always been a galactic question mark. One thing is for sure, she’s not going down without a fight. Because that is what Leia’s always done — she’s endured.
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