Of the “Big Three” characters of Star Wars, Princess Leia has the smallest profile and least exposure in tie-in products. This strikes us as very odd, because Princess Leia was the most revolutionary of the three main characters of A New Hope: the gritty mercenary with the heart of gold and the heroic youth were pretty common archetypes. Leia was something different though – she was a princess, but she didn’t play a passive role even during her own rescue! We hope that we really don’t have to sell anyone on why Princess Leia is awesome, because that should be blindingly self-evident. Leia’s a princess turned senator turned resistance fighter – how does that not make for an extremely compelling backstory?
But for all that, she’s shockingly underused compared to the other two parts of the Big Three. Luke Skywalker is in practically every OT-related Star Wars work and is prominent in the Legends EU, while Han Solo gets his own Anthology (sorry, “A Story Wars Story” – gag!) film and helmed two book trilogies in the Expanded Universe. Leia certainly has a strong role in many EU books, but rarely gets to lead her own stories. There’s no reason why that has to be the case. Indeed, there have been some great Leia stories recently. The late Legends Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells was an excellent Leia-led book, though we were a little disappointed that Leia couldn’t even get her own tale without Han and Luke as supporting cast. Mark Waid’s recent Leia miniseries was excellent (and should be revisited or made an ongoing!). We’ve also raved about how well Alexandra Bracken is writing Princess Leia in her upcoming The Princess, the Smuggler, and the Farm Boy and how we’d love for her to author more books about Leia. So there are plenty of avenues to tell more stories about Leia, and we’d be over the moon to see more Leia-led comics, novels, or video games. But without hesitation, we’d say that Leia could not only support a Star Wars anthology film but that she deserves one.
A Leia-helmed film would be an excellent opportunity to continue the good work that Kathleen Kennedy has started in her quest to diversify the faces of Star Wars and make sure that it reflects its audience. Just this weekend, the first cast photo emerged for Rogue One and the photo made very well-received strides in the diversity of its cast. I’ll briefly drop into first person as I do whenever I want to make emphasis on a point: I am very happy at the diversity of the Rogue One cast. But people asked the question: where are the ladies? Felicity Jones has a central role, but it’d be a misstep to have only a single main or secondary female character in a Star Wars film – it’s a step backwards in an otherwise triumphant march that Kennedy’s set the franchise on. Let’s not have any more #WheresHera or #WheresBlackWidow moments. Star Wars should show the franchise has truly evolved to reflect the scope of its audience. Just look at the success of Her Universe for goodness sakes! Moreover, films like Mad Max: Fury Road prove decisively that films with powerful female roles appeal to all audiences. But we truly digress – let’s just say that a Princess Leia Star Wars film is a great way to realize Kennedy’s vision.
Finally – let’s just see more Alderaan! Alderaan has so many storytelling possibilities, and the ability of Princess Leia to support a story that could both be action-oriented and filled with high political drama or royal intrigue underscores how much of a missed opportunity it would be *not* to give her an anthology film!
Action, Politics, you name it and Leia can do it
It’s hard to speculate exactly on why Leia so rarely headlines Star Wars products. Certainly, it’s easy to see why Han and Luke do: Han’s roguish personality is a lot of fun, and Luke’s the farm boy hero that the audience can project themselves into. But it shouldn’t be difficult to use Princess Leia because she’s a pretty versatile character. She can be as idealistic as Luke Skywalker and wisecrack like Han Solo. She can excel in an action role just as easily as she can in a dialogue-heavy role.
Princess Leia first impressed audiences with her take-charge attitude in 1977, where she showed her skill and poise at handling action situations. Her slaying of Jabba the Hutt and the whole speeder chase sequence confirmed her action bona fides in 1983. Leia has more of her real father in her than Luke does in many ways: she is aggressive and bold, like Anakin. Leia can handle herself, and there wouldn’t be any problem with Leia playing the leading role in an action-oriented film. Recent movies like the Hunger Games adaptations and Mad Max: Fury Road show that movie audiences are receptive and eager to see female-led action films: and Leia was arguably the prototype for these characters. It would be great to see that torch returned to her.
But let’s not forget the other traits that make Leia such an interesting character. Leia’s a diplomat and a leader: her take-charge attitude extends to the passion she brings to the cause of the Rebel Alliance. She conducts risky missions on behalf of the Rebel Alliance, the sort of diplomatic or mercy missions alluded to in A New Hope. The EU told us that Leia often journeyed to different worlds to convince them to join the Rebel Alliance. One must imagine that Imperial agents are everywhere, and these missions would be pretty risky: Leia’s bravery and skill with a blaster would come in handy here. We wouldn’t want Leia’s combat skills to overshadow her diplomatic talents – talents that are unique to her among the Big Three – but honestly, they actually complement each other.
Politics in Star Wars films have a pretty bad reputation, given the oft-derided dismissal of the prequels and their use of trade route taxation and senatorial corruption as the impetus for the plotline. That’s an unfair criticism but even taking it at face value, the kind of politics Leia’s involved with are far from the boring sort. Leia is an idealist in an era where having ideals and values gets you shot, arrested, or worse: her diplomatic missions are risky, high-stakes affairs. There is plenty of room for action and drama amongst the diplomacy and intrigue when Leia’s involved, and she can support both plot elements. This happened on occasion in the EU, with Leia arcs in Dark Horse’s Empire, Jennifer Heddle’s Insider short story “Constant Spirit,” various Tales comic arcs, and Leia political subplots in novels from Shadows of the Empire to her role as the leader of the EU’s New Republic. It can happen in a Leia-led movie, too.
Imagine if you will, a high-stakes negotiation on a world that has something that’s vital to the Alliance for whatever reason. This could be a mission that took place during the original trilogy, or it could be one of Leia’s early diplomatic missions before she was caught by Vader where she’s still an Imperial Senator. The Empire might have some suspicions of her, and Leia might have to convince a reluctant planet to pledge support to the Rebellion, free an imprisoned Rebel cell leader, or do … anything, really. Star Wars films haven’t had high stakes drama plotlines before – if Rogue One brings the hard military movie, a Princess Leia anthology might bring the political drama that is such a staple of cinema. Leia would show she is a character of daring, gravity, and finesse – something we already knew, but would be great to see reinforced in her own film.
Hey, Alderaan’s kind of awesome
One of our biggest regrets about the prequels is that it didn’t make much use of Alderaan, which would’ve really helped underline the emotional impact of its destruction in ANH. We can’t complain too much though, because we love Naboo and because Alderaan’s appearance in Revenge of the Sith was breathtaking. We still think that Alderaan has plenty of scope for more storytelling and it’d be ideally suited for a young Leia anthology film.
Many of Leia’s strengths described above could work here. Leia’s a great action heroine – where did she get those skills from? She was probably trained on Alderaan. Leia developed her political skills on Alderaan, as well. What avenues could Alderaan provide to tell Leia’s story?
Some people might suppose that Alderaan wouldn’t be a great setting for a movie with any action, because Alderaan has no weapons. Well – we don’t think a Star Wars film without action would be the worst thing in the world, but it is called Star “Wars” and we do want to see Leia’s skills so we’ll put that aside. Instead, consider Leia’s words carefully: Alderaan is peaceful and has no weapons? That to me says that they lack a military. A planet that is pacifistic instead of martial still has need of police forces, and may still have criminal elements that regularly use weapons (it’s hard to imagine idyllic Alderaan as having crime, but let’s break lazy stereotypes here!).
Imagine a film where there’s an assassination plot against the Organas. Perhaps a rival Alderaanian house wants them gone, or better yet, perhaps the Empire’s hand is behind it all and wants to obtain a more pliable Alderaanian senator than Bail Organa or Leia (depending on when exactly the film was set). Perhaps the assassination plot is against Queen Breha Organa herself, a character I’d really like to learn more about and I want to know which of Leia’s traits stemmed from her adoptive mother instead of her adoptive father. Either way, we have another opportunity for genre experimentation: a spy/intrigue film helmed by Princess Leia would both be new for Star Wars, and an exciting way to use Princess Leia that plays to her strengths even if folks don’t see Princess Leia and think “spy movie.”
A young Leia film might also show the awakening of her political consciousness – perhaps there is some sort of atrocity on Alderaan, or on another world that Leia travels to while learning the political trade from her father. Leia’s not one to stand by and let things just happen, and drama ensues.
A young Leia film would be an interesting take on “Mr. Smith goes to Hollywood” – either traveling with her father, or after taking over her father’s seat in the Senate, Leia might learn just how difficult it is to get anything done in the Senate. Yes, few people were enthralled by the Senate scenes in the Prequels (we liked them, but we admit to being weird) but a fiery Leia giving what for to Imperial bootlickers might be fun. And the previously mentioned Imperial spy/assassin plotline works here, too.
Let’s forget the fan service or the misogyny though
There are a few things we wouldn’t want to see in a Leia movie. These would be the results of marketing demographics or any logic which says “well, she can provide sex appeal for the boys and girly stuff for the girls” — there’s nothing wrong with either sex appeal or with being girly, but there is something wrong with treating a character like Leia as a way to tick off checkboxes. Leia CAN have sex appeal, CAN be girly, and can also kick butt, negotiate, and lead rebellions: when her value as a character is reduced to just the first or second thing as a reason not to highlight the rest, then we have problems.
Let’s not have any “metal bikini” or “nexu slash” style of fan service – there’s nothing wrong with Leia being a pretty character and there’s nothing wrong with thinking that’s a positive, but the really blatant stuff is just awful. And emphasizing it, or putting it on all the marketing, just really undermines everything else that Leia is great at. The line between fan service and responding to fans is a narrow one, but we all know fan service when we see it. The costumers who enjoy that outfit and keep on doing what they love, and folks have talked about how it can be an affirmational symbol of Leia taking charge after being victimized: and we could have a separate article on that entirely. But suffice it to say that it shouldn’t be the sum total of her character, and so we hope that a Leia film wouldn’t zero in on that as the primary interest of the movie.
Let’s also not have a film where Leia gets the Agent Carter treatment – for those unfamiliar, it’s when the lone female character in a group of male characters gets treated poorly because of her gender. There’s value in showing women standing up for themselves, but in a setting a setting where institutional misogyny isn’t a thing, having characters encounter misogyny just as a part of the window dressing doesn’t make the point that folks might think it makes. Instead, it’s just… misogyny for misogyny’s sake. So let’s not have the Rebel troopers make comments about Leia’s ability to contribute just because she’s a woman: there should be Rebel troopers who are women already. (As an aside, we actually like the show Agent Carter and think she’s a strong character, so don’t take this comment the wrong way. We also think the attitude actually fits in the 1940s setting).
And while we’re at it, let’s not have Leia as the only woman in the film. Rogue One is already running into the issue of the very common trend in films to have a strong effective female, but to have only one and call it a day – it’s the “team and the girl” framework that’s all too common. The end result is “the girl” ends up being the character’s identity, as opposed to just one of a set of characters. A Leia film should have other women in it – Queen Breha or some handmaidens if we’re on Alderaan, like… y’know, Winter (that’s for you, Bria!). Or she might have other colleagues in the Senate or the Rebel ranks. It could be anybody, really. This shouldn’t be too hard.
One last word on this – both Waid and Bracken showed excellent ways to do the misogyny thing right, without falling into the Agent Carter trap. Waid showed Rebels – men and women alike – treating Leia as a bit of an icy, distant royal for not expressing too much emotion at the loss of Alderaan. Leia had good reasons for it, but people took it the wrong way. That’s the gendered “ice princess” stereotype, but it’s one that doesn’t feel out of place for the setting. Bracken showed Leia’s frustration at the Coruscanti newsmedia focusing excessively on her choice of fashion instead of her political stands, as well as her annoyance at being treated like a species of ornament by her father. Here, it’s not just because she’s a woman – but a woman of a particular social role, with particular societal expectations we’ve seen in the setting. Both Waid and Bracken show why these expectations are wrong, and how Leia works to defy them. So it can be done right: if the movie wants to employ misogyny, employ it as part of the narrative and part of Leia’s struggle instead of just a series of one-off lines. In that way, its depiction of misogyny will actually relate to real-life issues and successfully engage the issue instead of using it for atmosphere.
And to be perfectly honest, a Leia film that experiments with genre and shows her varied strengths will do a lot to combat misogyny. Points can be made effectively through narrative, especially when directly addressing them does a disservice or says the opposite of what was intended because of a failure to follow through. Princess Leia is a one-person argument for the invalidity of misogyny.
So let’s just do it!
There’s little reason why there shouldn’t be a Leia film, and many reasons why there should be. The young Han film already breaks the barrier of casting a younger actor for one of the Big Three. That’s the only real obstacle that we can see. The benefits of a Leia film are too many to see: from giving Leia the due she deserves, to recognizing the huge and important role female fans play in Star Wars, from enabling a wide variety of genres in Star Wars, to combating any persistent misogyny left in the fandom. We haven’t even touched on the post-Return of the Jedi potential for Leia stories — after the release of The Force Awakens, there’s potential for Leia to headline stories as a New Republic leader or a Jedi (one hopes!) depending on how plot developments transpire. But the bottom line is that Leia’s a great character, a fun character, and one that can absolutely carry a Star Wars film on her own without Han or Luke. Let’s make it happen.