Countdown to ‘Force Awakens’ Day 11: Princess Leia and the Women of Star Wars

By December 11, 2015
Princess Leia 1

For good or ill, the term “princess,” thanks mostly to The Brothers Grimm and early Disney animated movies, usually means a beautiful young woman in need of rescuing…not exactly a positive image, is it?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Cinderella and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty when I was a little girl (who didn’t want a gorgeous gown that changed from blue to pink and back again…oh, that was just me?), but I was happy when those princess characters were eventually balanced out by the likes of Belle from Beauty and the Beast, as well as Mulan, Anna from Frozen, and even Merida from Brave. But the princess who really shook things up for me could wield a blaster, lead a rebellion, and rock a pair of side buns like it was nobody’s business.

Princess Leia Organa.

I may have wanted to marry Luke Skywalker as a preteen (sorry Han, I was never really all that interested in scruffy looking nerf-herders), but I wanted to BE like Princess Leia (especially after it turned out she had the potential to be a Jedi – I got to be a Jedi Princess in my daydreams? Score!). Played by indomitable Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia leapt off the screen and into millions of girls’ hearts around the world. So of course, for this run and Countdown to the Force Awakens, I had to say something about it.

Star Wars rocked the boat in a lot of ways, but its near radical portrayal of the central female role has to be one of the most important. Especially considering how Leia was introduced in Episode IV: A New Hope – as a princess who is captured by the bad guys and, thus, in need of rescue…hey…wait a second…

But that’s when George Lucas got clever. By turning the tables on a traditional rescue mission, where the guy saves the princess and they get away (to most probably fall in love), Lucas got to mix it up in a truly satisfying way. Everyone involved in the Death Star sequence in the first movie; the guys, the girl, the Wookiee, and even the droids, played a role in the rescue, each doing his/her part. Leia had already made a great impression earlier in the film, standing up to Darth Vader, resisting the mind probe, and ultimately refusing to give up the location of the hidden Rebel base, but she displayed a fearlessness and ability to think on her feet during the escape that truly proved she was a force to be reckoned with. That and she called a seven and a half foot tall Wookiee a walking carpet Now that’s someone to look up to.

After making such an indelible entrance in Episode IV, Princess Leia continued to make her mark in The Empire Strikes Back, but it was in The Return of the Jedi where she solidified her place in popular culture. Now, a lot has been said about the “Slave Leia” bikini, and while, yes, there are issues with how an outfit like that can lead to the objectification of a character who is so much more than what she looks like, I prefer to hope that most people do look beyond the outfit and see the woman wearing it: the woman in on a daring rescue mission (what with Han now the one in need of being rescued) to save the man she loves (ah, role reversal!). Again, the rescue is a group effort, but though it’s mainly a showcase for Luke Skywalker as he takes on the mantel of being a Jedi Knight, it’s Princess Leia who kills Jabba the Hutt. Yeah, that’s right, Princess Leia takes down the most vile gangster in the Star Wars Universe.

Sorry Snow White, but this is how Princess’ should act.

The legacy of Princess Leia over the past thirty years is nearly impossible to boil down in one retrospective piece, but I think it can readily be seen in how, slowly but surely, more and more heroines have appeared on the page and screen – heroines worthy of being compared to Princess Leia in their strength, leadership, compassion, and, yes, ability to kickass. The Ellen Ripleys, Sarah Conners, and Furiosas of the world are the sisters of Princess Leia, but the place to really look to see if her example has taken hold is within the Star Wars universe itself.

Without Princess Leia, we wouldn’t have gotten Padme Amidala (Star Wars: Episodes I through III, The Clone Wars series), Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress (hey, villainesses are cool too!), Shaak Ti (The Clone Wars), as well as Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren (Star Wars: Rebels). Could there have been more strong female characters in the universe? Absolutely. Could some of these characters have been better served in their respective stories (cough, Padme, cough). Sure. But they all still made their mark.

Padme was a queen and senator, fighting for what was right.


Ahsoka Tano ended up being the heart of The Clone Wars series and gave viewers a wonderful arc of a character discovering what it truly means to be a Jedi.


Jedi Master Shaak Ti was all kinds of a badass (as was Asajj Ventress, for that matter) and the Star Wars: Rebels television series, currently in it’s second season on The Cartoon Network, stars a nicely balanced crew of misfits fighting as a part of The Rebellion. Their leader (and hotshot pilot)? Hera. Demolitions expert and ex-bounty hunter? Sabine.

maxresdefault (1)We’re getting there.

And the resurgence of Star Wars has furthered the trend started by Princess Leia, who will, of course, continue to add to the story in her own right – as a general, no less. Plus we’re also getting Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Whether she ends up being the daughter of Leia or not, it’s pretty clear from the promotional materials that Rey is going to play a huge part in Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Star-Wars-countdown--bo-staffThe additions of characters played by Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie in The Force Awakens, as well as a starring role for actress Felicity Jones in the Star Wars Anthology film, Rogue One (not to mention a couple of great female characters in some of the expanded canon universe comics and novels), are pretty clear indications that the galaxy we have grown to love includes plenty more kickass women for us to cheer on.

Oh, and one last shout out. Though the old school expanded universe novels, written by the likes of Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, and James Luceno, are no longer canon (they are referred to as Star Wars Legends), there is at least one female character who, in my opinion, nearly rivals Princess Leia in terms of complexity, bravery, and general awesome-ness. Mara Jade.

Mara_Jade_SWGTCGThe one time Emperor’s Hand and assassin (read the Heir to the Empire trilogy by Timothy Zahn if you haven’t already. Though the story is no longer official, it is no less brilliantly conceived and written) rises to the full potential of what female characters can be in our beloved galaxy far, far, away. Here’s hoping she is the inspiration for an upcoming Star Wars film.

Catch up on our other articles celebrating the ‘Countdown to the Force Awakens’ HERE

Rachel Cushing
Rachel is a television editor by day and either a Jedi knight, vampire slayer, or elvish warrior by night. In between she makes time for movies, movies, and more movies (plus a few books, television shows, and then…more movies). When she’s supposed to be sleeping, she writes about movies as well, both here on and on her own blog. Tweet her @RachelJCushing
  • J. Williams

    I hope they didn’t replace Carrie Fisher w/ a scantily-clad teen-age bimbo! That seems to be the direction too many actresses, of late, have been going in. It’s gross!