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.
So – 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.