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She’s Not a Jedi Yet?

carrie-jj

I remember reading with interest the rebirth of the Expanded Universe with the release of the Thrawn trilogy. We were going to find out what happened with our favorite characters. And I was sure that we were going to see the tales of adventure that two young Jedi would have – the adventures of Luke and Leia. Because, of course Leia would be a Jedi. That was basically Yoda’s dying request to Luke – “pass on what you have learned! There is another Skywalker!”

Zahn didn’t go that way. Leia had undergone some nominal training, but the realities of politics in a galaxy far, far away (literal politics – not gender politics but organizing a new galactic government) stood in the way. It actually was a theme of the trilogy – the fact that Leia wasn’t making time to learn, that Luke felt fears about training her. She did learn a bit. Zahn did a great job with that bit of character development. But then, in the rest of the EU, she just stopped learning. For something like twenty odd years. So many of the stories just wouldn’t move on to Leia finally becoming a Jedi.

Then we had The Force Awakens come out. J.J. Abrams has said that part of what drove the creation of the story was answering the question, “who is Luke Skywalker?” Fair enough – interesting entry point. But now things would be fixed, because surely, this time around, Luke would do what Yoda said and train his sister. Except, once again, those in charge of officially telling the story decided that Leia wasn’t going to be a Jedi. She’d be Force-sensitive – we see that in the film – but Leia appears to have purposefully not trained as a Jedi. Her talents thus remain latent, never reaching their full potential.

It’s not as though Leia is dismissive of her talents. She sends her son off to train with Luke precisely because she knows the power and danger of these talents. But even that seems somewhat odd to me – this is Princess Leia, queen of the hands-on, do-it-yourself approach. She’s getting rescued? Hand that blaster to me, I’m fixing your plan on the fly. Into the garbage chute, flyboy! She’s running the evacuation and the defense of Echo Base. She’s going undercover to rescue Han, she’s helping to make Ewok allies and storming the shield generator. She’s not exactly a delicate flower of abstract perfection.

And yet, this Leia, who is the most versatile character in Star Wars, who has the broadest set of talents… doesn’t develop her Force skills. When, to the best of everyone’s knowledge, she’s the only other person besides Luke who has them? Why? Why in all the myriad worlds of a galaxy far, far away would she not?

I don’t have any solid answers for this. And this is not meant to be an accusation against Abrams or Zahn or anyone at Lucasfilm. I liked Leia in the new film – it makes total and complete sense that she would go and organize a Resistance to an evil government when the Senate is unable to openly do so – that’s a great extension of everything we’ve seen of her character. It makes sense that she would be a General…just, why not a Jedi General? Why would she go forth to war without all the tools and weapons at her disposal? Maybe this will be something that will be answered; maybe it’s something as simple as she loves Han and Luke wants celibate Jedi. But without any explanation or justification, it just baffles me. Some folks wonder why Luke would run away after things broke apart. That’s not the mystery to me. I wonder why Leia didn’t burst in and learn the Force skills she’d need to fix it herself.

endorleiaSo – why does this matter at all? It’s been an accepted fact that Princess Leia is one of the most important characters in history – revolutionary. At least I thought it was. All this “Where’s Rey” toy controversy seems utterly stupid to me. As a boy who grew up playing with Star Wars action figures, of course boys would play with a Rey figure, because thirty years ago the Leia figure was vital for any adventures that unfolded when my cousins and I would play Star Wars in the basement. Who else was going to make the critical decisions so that our heroes could escape? Who else was going to rally the troops and inspire everyone? Who else was going to shoot the stormtroopers off of Han? Princess Leia (in that awesome Endor outfit) was going to save trenchcoat Han’s bacon – that’s just how it worked.

At least that’s how I saw Leia as a child growing up with Star Wars (born in ’77). That’s all part of who Leia was. Of course, that sort of makes me wonder – is that still how we view original trilogy Leia? When I was six and the Return of the Jedi action figures came out, there was Leia as a bounty hunter (vital for secret missions) and there was Endor Leia. That’s what you needed for all your adventures in a galaxy far, far away. Yet now, if folks talk about a Leia from Jedi, it’s a debate over whether she should be “Slave Leia” or “Huttslayer Leia”. In the past thirty-three years, did we somehow reduce Princess Leia to gold-bikini eye candy? I guess when it boils down to it, I’m just a bit worried that we in fandom have reduced a wonderful character down to retro eye candy. That Leia should be back in the shadows not to let a new cast step forth and be the new generation of heroes, but because that’s where we as a culture relegate the women who can’t fill out a gold bikini anymore (regardless of how stunning they still look – seriously, the folks who complained about Carrie Fisher’s appearance, I don’t get it – but maybe to me she’ll always be royalty).  I hope that wasn’t it – but I’m worried that it was.

Because I don’t think that was the intent. I don’t think what they did with Leia’s character was intentionally sinister. And the message in The Force Awakens wasn’t that a girl is only worth her curves or that she can’t be a hero. Without a doubt my favorite moment of the film is when that lightsaber flies into Rey’s hand, and the Skywalker theme swells in the background, and all of Rey’s fears and denials get pushed aside. Someone’s got to do it, and that someone is Rey. It’s a wondrous moment. The high point of the movie. And I sure it will inspire a generation of kids, boys and girls, not only in their play but in their lives. It will inspire my kids. But as a kid who was inspired by Leia, I’m left wondering why she didn’t get a moment like that of her own. She deserved one.

9 thoughts to “She’s Not a Jedi Yet?”

  1. I definitely think that at some point in the next two movies, Leia will reveal that she is trained and will unleash some kick ass Force abilities to beat the hell out of someone. She may not be a full Jedi, but she’s more than just Force sensitive.

    One of the elements of both the OT and the ST were older characters revealing that they were complete bad asses. In Attack of the Clones you see decrepit 875 year old Yoda, hobble into the room, drop his walking stick and become a fighting machine. Even more surprisingly, in Jedi the Emperor, who up to that moment (in 1983 at least) hadn’t shown any abilities, suddenly blasts Luke with Force lightning and shows us why he’s Vader’s boss.

    Unless Rian Johnson & Colin Trevorrow decide to go off book, I definitely see this theme recurring. In the Star Wars universe, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme

  2. Well-written, but frustrating.

    There are two approaches we can take with the whole ‘Leia not being a Jedi’ thing; in-universe and out-universe.

    Out of the Star Wars universe (our own sad reality) Leia was never a Jedi because she never had a chance. After Episode VI, there were no more opportunities for Carrie Fisher to play the role of Jedi. By the time Episode VII rolled around, it was time for the new generation of actors to step into their roles. By mere fact of having Daisy star as the new Jedi, to have Carrie Fisher in that role would be confusing to audiences, to say the least.

    In-universe, it’s been clearly and repeatedly spelled out why she’s never been a Jedi. She had (or has, depending on how the new Canon rolls) the weight of the entire galaxy on her shoulders. Sure, she’s used a lightsaber and fought with several baddies, and also called on the Force when needed, but Luke would have cried if he had to deal with the political crises Leia did.

    Personally, I find it tiresome when it’s argued that “characters deserve [blank]”. If every character was granted what they deserved, stories would become endless wish-fulfilment merry-go-rounds. Leia would be a Jedi and kick-ass, Joffrey would be impaled by Sansa, Harry would marry Hermione, and so on.

    I understand that you were inspired by Leia, and you’d like her to inspire your kids as well. But consider this: Leia is one of the characters who most embodied the concept of sacrifice; she could have been one of the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy, yet she chose to lead the Rebellion, the New Republic, and the Resistance. She could have taken Ben and Han and lived a quiet, smuggler’s life. But she sacrificed and allowed Luke the opportunity to train her son. She could have asked Han to avoid Ben, but she sacrificed her partner for the chance of her son’s redemption.

    Leia not being a Jedi is significant, because it shows how much she has spent her entire life in service to the cause. That is far more powerful than her swinging a lightsaber could ever be.

    1. I think there’s something to the idea that being a Jedi isn’t necessarily the ideal outcome for every Force-sensitive character. It’s hard to blame people for being disappointed for the OOU reasons you mention, but IU you certainly can’t argue that she’d have been more important or influential to galactic events—or happier, for that matter—as a Jedi. That said, I do personally prefer to think she had a degree of basic Force training over the years; enough that she still can handle herself in a fight, but not to the point that she could train Rey or Finn herself (because she damn sure doesn’t have that kind of time).

      1. I think within the Universe and without there are plenty of fine story reasons to not have Leia be a Jedi — especially in universe with the direction the story tellers want to tell. Chief of these is simple — the new movies aren’t fundamentally *Leia’s* story — and if having Leia be a Jedi would in anyway detract from the current story, you don’t have her be one (just like you don’t have Luke Skywalker speak a single word in this movie if that would diminish from the story you are telling right now). And actually, I don’t think the Force Awakens is diminished by having her not be a Jedi.

        And I do think the idea of having and exploring non-Jedi force users is a great one (I’m eager to see Maz’s deleted scenes).

        However, I think if we look at Jedi, everything in there pointed to Leia becoming a Jedi. Think of the scene where Luke reveals that she is his sister — it’s in the context of her training to become a Jedi. If something happens to me you’re the only hope for the Rebellion. No, you have a power I don’t understand… no, Leia, you have that power too.

        And while we in Star Wars fandom, who love tearing into the Universe can see so many fun places to explore… really, the center of the story at its base is about the Jedi. Sorry Karen Traviss, but the Jedi are the point… and the idea that the Jedi are the point was clear even in the trailers and build up to… the FORCE awakens. In fact, in the last trailer, what do we hear? We hear, as the clue that there will be a new Jedi for Luke to train, Luke’s very words to Leia: “You have that power too.”

        Now – with all that said – what comes out yesterday? News of Claudia Grey’s Bloodline (you can see here at Club Jade: http://clubjade.net/?p=68128 ). I’m totally jazzed for this book: Lost Stars was perhaps my favorite Star Wars book ever, and I completely trust Grey’s ability to handle the topic of Leia between Jedi and TFA.

  3. I actually wonder if in part it’s just a reflection of the prequels, in that politics and Jedi just don’t mix. That’s in the Zahn books, albeit softer, but Leia has always been a political figure and a politics-oriented leader. Given her position in the scramble to reorder the galaxy after Endor she’d likely be an incredibly prominent figure. Throw in that first year she’d also be pregnant, then a new mother, and learning to use abilities that just HAVING would require a lot of coming to terms with a lot of things would get pushed back and back and then suddenly Luke’s gone, her son’s a dark Jedi, her husband’s left, and the Empire’s grandchildren are making the old Empire look like moderates (which by comparison they were)…especially when her son decides that he’s just like his grandfather (and we have rather skipped Leia coming to terms with THAT being true) she may have ‘gone back to what she did best’, which didn’t include tampering with the Force. If her son (1/4 Vader) could go bad, what’s the risk to her? Leia had in many ways even more emotional baggage than Luke when he meets Yoda. She may have actively chosen to stay with what she knew she could do–lead an alliance against a dangerous power and overwhelming odds.

    And I remember as a little kid playing with Leia figures that had nothing to do with Slave Leia. For ME, Leia in ROTJ was riding a kickass speeder bike and going hand to hand WHILE DRIVING with stormtroopers. I actively resent being told I somehow didn’t grow up with any ‘real’ strong female characters. My childhood princess role model took over her own rescue and mouthed off to Darth Vader. (Note: using the latter act as a role model when dealing with a witch kindergarten teacher is not recommended.)

  4. I guess you could see it as a measure of Zahn’s influence on the EU over that of Anderson in how Leia’s Jedi heritage and skills were handled.

    Zahn had Leia have some Force skills but not be fully trained. In contrast, Dark Empire and Veitch had Leia as a full Jedi, which Anderson picked up in Jedi Academy but after that? It withered away.

    I also like your point about the change in perception of Leia over time and the reduction to how she was enslaved by Jabba then killed him. It doesn’t make much sense to me given Leia’s role over the OT, but then all kinds of badly thought out crappy positions get advocated in the name of representation. (Representation remains a great tool for analysing culture but I’m sceptical that people have picked up on its nuance and depth.)

    I’d like to think we don’t end up with a Rey vs Leia approach, as that seems like such an own goal, however, given the internet, it could happen.

    1. Ew… now I might go re-read dark empire. Shudder. =o)

      Rather than Rey vs Leia it’s the simple point that for the new characters to shine, the older ones must fade. That’s what happens with a *new* generation.

      It’s like the quote on the liner notes of John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album – There is nothing more sad or glorious than generations changing hands.

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