Portrayed by: Carrie Fisher and Vivien Lyra Blair
Film | Series: Lucas Film’s Star Wars IV-IV and Obi-Wan Kenobi
For many of us, Leia Organa was the first woman in a large franchise we all related to. She broke barriers and kicked things into motion for female characters who were much more than the hero’s prized girlfriend. She wasn’t just the princess, she was the heart, and until her final days, she continued to lead by example. She continued to be the human personification of hope, and she continued to be the layered badass so many women and little girls looked up to.
There has been (and still is) a lot of discourse on the internet about women in Star Wars, primarily from men who continue to view us as one-dimensional. There is too much discourse about what a strong woman should look like, but what that has often done is discredit and dismiss the plethora of work Leia (and Carrie Fisher) have done to carry so much on their shoulders.
This deep dive was initially a paper submitted for a Shakespearean grad course where the topic of female rage was the primary focus, and I chose to take the type of route that compared the various forms of anger. Lucius Annaeus Seneca’s winding Anger, Mercy, and Revenge could efficiently serve as the foundation for different character strengths, especially when taking apart media today. Pop culture’s strategic influence from classic Greek literature and Shakespearean texts is nothing new and presumably something that will never cease. From films like Disney’s Lion King being an almost replica of Hamlet to Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge representing a jukebox musical comprehensively inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice—the influences are often undeniable.
There is also the examination of George Lucas’ Star Wars films having direct influences from Greek mythology and could be tied to Shakespearean works upon close inspection as well. The transition of female characters has been altered drastically, but what has remained a constant has been the undeniable importance of a female’s role in any media. (And without question, there is a reason why Leia Organa paved the road for so many women in science fiction and fantasy genres.) Women have been looked to and criticized in a number of ways based on their positions during the time and their actions. And women were especially the subject of heavy criticism when they displayed any form of rebellion or rage. While feminist theory and societal influence have altered the way female characters are analyzed, when it comes to the display of madness, there is still a clear difference in how people judge them alongside men. This deep dive will examine Princess Leia’s adamant choice to walk with the light side, anchoring her heart in the rebellion despite the many challenges that continuously arose.
As the character with both agency and a type of divine influence (the Force), Leia Organa’s deliberate choice not to act on her anger through villainy is what we need to continually praise.
“Anger—a point I stress—has this particular evil trait: it’s unwilling to be controlled. It grows angry at the truth itself, if it appears to contradict its will. It pursues its intended victims with shouting and uproar, the whole body shaking, with abuse and curses added in. Reason doesn’t do this; but should the need arise it uproots whole households—silently, quietly—and destroys families that are a plague on the commonwealth, together with their wives and children, it overturns the very dwellings and extirpates the clans that are freedom’s enemies, doing all this without gnashing its teeth or tossing its head about or any other behavior unbecoming a judge, whose expression should be calm and in repose most especially when he is making an important pronouncement” (Seneca 58).
I can’t entirely agree with many notions in Seneca’s essay because it frames anger as one-dimensional, whereas today, and through a character like Leia Organa especially, rage is the reason she is the way she is. Anger does not have to go hand in hand with nihilism. To dismiss the absence of it in humans ultimately ignores universal emotions and unavoidable complexities.
Anger is a prominent emotion within the entire Star Wars universe; the battle between the dark side and the light is the essential battle between anger and reason. In The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master Yoda tells a young Anakin Skywalker, “fear is the path to the dark side, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Anakin’s separation from his mother is one of the likely triggers of his descent towards the dark side, which is a legitimate fear that could have later slithered into his daughter’s life despite the fact that she grew up in an incredibly loving home. But when audience members first meet Princess Leia Organa in A New Hope, she is not a cookie-cutter sweet princess; Leia is the heart of the rebellion and, thus, a prominent force behind the resistance. There’s plenty of rage and frustration already inside of her that allows her to lead.
“I don’t know who you are, or where you come from, but from now on, you’ll do as I say” (A New Hope).
Princess Leia Organa, the Inimitable Leader
The audience is introduced to a woman in a predominately male-centric world who is not afraid of standing up to them. They are introduced to a woman who does not swallow her words or sugarcoat her emotions. Above all, they are introduced to a woman who is clearly battling more than one thing at a time.
She is battling her own demons, the struggle to gain recognition, and the combat against the Empire. “Anger, by contrast, is put to flight by instruction because it’s a fault of the mind subject to our will. It’s not among the things that happen to use just because of our lot as humans, and happen, accordingly, even to the very wise; and among these things must be included the initial mental jolt that stirs us when we believe we’ve been wronged” (Seneca 62). The version of Leia the audience meets in A New Hope is not interested in holding her tongue, taming her words, or obeying anyone else’s orders. But that very Leia has only seen the beginning of the darkness that would likely fuel her anger further along with the struggles to control it.
Leia would then experience losing Han Solo more than once; she will learn about her brother, then lose him, and she will lose her only son and pass before she could see his redemption. And since the temptations toward the dark side run through her veins, her resistance will be her greatest character strength. As Seneca believes, anger weakens a person; thus, if his argument is taken into consideration, and because Leia Organa seldom acts on her anger through traditional nihilism, she can be deemed as one of the strongest female characters in the media. (And she is!)
Up until Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the audience was rarely given glimpses into Leia’s past as a child. (Since this is addressing the films solely, I’m not going to get into book context yet.) The Empire Strikes Back ends in a relatively hopeless tone, but the audience, given Leia’s admission of love, knows she is someone who will persevere. That very understanding serves as the first glimmer that this woman isn’t merely the Princess of Alderaan but rather a representation of something bigger. She is layered. She is multifaceted. She is many things.
Leia’s resilience is present in the original trilogy, but it isn’t until later films that the audience acutely understands just how much of her rage she has controlled. And though it isn’t until years later that audiences can see parts of her in Padme, it is relatively straightforward that her path is more than just the token female character in a male-centric franchise. The audience knows Leia is Force-sensitive after learning that she is Luke Skywalker’s sister and, thus, Darth Vader’s daughter. “You have that power, too. You’ll learn to use it as I have. The force is strong in my family. I have it. My sister has it” (The Return of the Jedi). To this, Leia responds that she has somehow always known, further authenticating Force-sensitivity and how it could work compared to divine intervention. In the Star Wars universe, the force can (and often has) been framed theologically.
Being a Jedi does not necessarily mean purely good as much as the fact that the Sith predominantly caters to the sides of evil. None of it is black or white. But what differentiates Leia, and where it is clear philosophers defining anger would agree, is how infrequently Leia uses the Force from what we have seen. And when they learn that temptation turned her son to the dark side, it is perhaps easy to understand why she would not use it in her everyday life (except if she needs to save herself when she is floating in mid-galaxy, such as in The Last Jedi). There is no evidence of Leia using the force as manipulation, but there is evidence perhaps of how often the Force, and as Yoda says, fear could have swayed her.
By the time Leia loses her son to the First Order, she is General of the Resistance. And now, people like Rey, an orphan, have entered her orbit. Poe Dameron, Finn, and Rose Tico, among countless others, all look to Leia Organa as their guiding light in every situation. (As does everyone around her, including the audience.) “I don’t really know how to do this. What you did. I’m not ready. I’m not ready” (Poe Dameron, The Rise of Skywalker). It says a great deal to the audience when a man as stubborn as Poe still seeks Leia’s guidance even after she has passed. Because even in the colossal loss of her son to the dark side, Leia Organa was unwavering in her love towards everyone around her. She would call out Poe Dameron when he was out of line, but she was loyal and nurturing when need be, consistently extending the love within her.
Leia especially takes on the role of a mother to Rey, an orphan who finds her way into the Resistance when she essentially commandeers the Millennium Falcon. And when Luke Skywalker can no longer give her the Jedi training that she requires, Leia does so in The Rise of Skywalker, even noting before they part one last time: “Rey, never be afraid of who you are.” Perhaps it is safe to assume that while the film audience is never given intel into just how much Leia knows about the Force, it was clear that she understood the profound weight of fear and anger. And perhaps this is where she differs significantly from various characters who hide so much of themselves. Instead, Leia faces everything headfirst; she loses her only biological child to the dark side but continues to fight.
While there’s no direct confirmation of what immediately followed Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side, understanding that it caused a tremendous rift between her and Han Solo explains how each of them reacted viscerally to the loss. However, given the canon world of the films, Leia Organa remained with the resistance and fought to the end. To presume that Leia was not angry but rather empathetic about what had happened would be denying the Leia that was introduced in A New Hope. A Leia that is very much capable of rage and spite, but a Leia that has now seen even more darkness than the one audiences were introduced to. It is safe to assume that while Leia might have given up her Jedi training (The Last Jedi), she could have still maintained exercise. It doesn’t leave her. That much is clear.
Upon looking at the things that could have contributed to Leia’s repressed anger, this deep dive could also look into why she is more sensitive to it than Luke, and thus why it is easier for her to resist, which in and of itself is poetic to her character. Seneca thus states that: “The anger of people whose makeup is predominately most grows gradually, because they don’t have a ready supply of warmth, and it’s gained only by movement. That’s why the anger of children and women is more sharp than grievous, and rather trivial at its onset. Stages of life that are dry have an anger that’s violent and strong, but without increase: it doesn’t grow because cold follows upon the heart which is bound to slack off” (74). From the moment she steps onto the screen, Leia has more to prove to the audience than her male counterparts. As a princess, she is already susceptible to ridicule given the history of how royals tend to behave, a detail which both Han and Luke note in needing to “rescue her” (A New Hope, Return of the Jedi).
Leia Organa is a princess, but above all, Leia Organa is a woman who’s grown up knowing heartache in her mother, a detail she notes in Return of the Jedi when she states she remembers sadness in her. And inadvertently, she has grown up attempting to not only prove herself in Alderaan, but to prove herself amongst the Rebel Alliance. While Leia’s position as a character was never a question of debate, she has had a tremendous amount to prove as a woman. In bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody, she quotes: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (8), and in using this to examine Leia’s character along with Seneca’s essay, we can understand that with the feminist movement, and Star Wars’tremendous success in the 80s, Leia had more to prove as the presumed token female heroine. She wasn’t just there to make Han or Luke look good in their adventures, but she was there to expose that there is always so much more that women carry when they decide to devote themselves to something.
While the Force can be seen as a divine influence, the Jedi can control it, too; thus, while it is there, she has the power to exercise her own decision-making, which is what the audience consistently sees in earlier films. If the temptation is there towards giving in to the dark side, the decision to turn away is also entirely up to the woman, and Leia, time and time again, has done everything to ensure that she chooses love above all things. She chooses the resistance. She decides to rise above.
Leia’s agency is not something that is often questioned because if this deep dive examines her through a feminist lens, she has done things that have traditionally been the male’s role. She is the first to tell Han she loves him. She is one to make crucial decisions with the Rebel Alliance and later the Resistance. And most importantly, she is the one who becomes General. While philosophers and even some fans believe that the heart weakens a woman, this deep dive will argue that Leia’s heart is what makes her strong.
Leia’s heart and complete devotion to what is good, hopeful, and that which benefits people is the very thing that indicates there is never-ending rage in her bones for how much the Sith have taken from her. And how much terror is in this world. Leia focuses on getting her son back, even though she sometimes states, perhaps without full conviction, that it is a lost cause: “I held out hope for so long, but I know my son is gone” (The Last Jedi). The keyword “know” is understood to mean more here because we can assume that as we advance, Leia does, in fact, believe she has lost her son entirely. He did kill his father, after all, and in the world of Star Wars, redemption is often tragically met at the hands of death. Thus, perhaps that is also what Leia meant in believing he was gone, knowing that even if Ben came back, he would die alongside Kylo Ren.
However, Leia is the same woman who states: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night” (The Last Jedi). In the Star Wars universe, hope is the universal language for success. Rogue One’s Jyn Erso states: “Rebellions are built on hope.” The Rebel Alliance and the Resistance—they all serve as emblems of hope in the Star Wars universe. And while A New Hope popularly refers to Luke Skywalker, the argument can be made that Leia is, in fact, the symbolic hope throughout the story. Where Luke gives up in The Force Awakens, Leia keeps going. Where Han runs off after Ben Solo’s turn to the Dark Side, Leia keeps working. Leia, according to Seneca, could perhaps be more vulnerable to rage because so much of her heart is on the line, but she is the one who is best at controlling it—especially in later films where the character has gone through colossal growth and more loss. Often, the characters who experience the loss are most susceptible to rage. Still, in Leia’s case, the darker her life becomes, the more reliant she is on hope—the more insistent she is on controlling everything around her without falling apart.
Finally, in Seneca’s essay, it is written: “Accordingly, we must struggle against the passions’ first causes. The cause of anger is a belief that one has been wronged, to which one ought not lightly give credence. One shouldn’t immediately assent even to what is clear and obvious, for some things that are false look like the truth. One must always take one’s time: the passage of time makes the truth plain” (77). The Sith have tempted not only Leia’s father away from her mother, thus inadvertently robbing her of knowing him, but they have successfully taken her only son, too. They have consistently brought destruction and darkness into her life; thereby, Leia has every right to believe she has been wronged. As the passage notes, she doesn’t immediately approve of anger (and even if she did/does, it’d be damn well merited), but she takes the time to understand that though she has been robbed of so much, though the Sith, and by extension, the First Order have caused so much destruction and chaos into everything she has tried to build, the plain truth is that if she fell apart, the entire Resistance would too.
Read that line over—the entire Resistance would fall apart, too. Leia has, and always will, carry this franchise into what it has become. She wasn’t just our first heroine in a role like this, but even today, she is hope and strength personified. She was a badass in every way, and Carrie Fisher embodied a force of a woman with just as much devotion and love for humanity.
In 2021, we are all angry and have a myriad of reasons to be, but how we choose to channel that rage says everything about us. Do we fight for equality and grow? Or do we cry woe is me when our actions harm others and ourselves?
Princess Leia taught us all to fight and to do so by taking care of people. Our strength isn’t determined by how much we can achieve physically, but our strength is determined by the love in our hearts.
Leia Organa was a Princess, a General, a mother, and the ultimate hope that every single person in the Star Wars universe relied on and will continue to rely on while she concealed so much of her pain to uplift them. We saw so much of it in glimmers because Leia was never afraid of being vulnerable, but there was always a fight to get to—there was always so much more behind this force of a woman. And what this tells us is that she is incredibly, or rather, otherworldly, in her strength because of the choices she continues to make. She is unmatched.
In honor of Deborah Chow’s Obi-Wan Kenobi bringing young Leia to our screens through Vivien Lyra Blair’s brilliant performances, it’s necessary to add to this deep dive by looking into the tiny warrior who became a leader. Obi-Wan Kenobi unravels and unpacks everything that the films gloss over by reaffirming precisely everything we’ve had to dig deep for. In Ben Kenobi’s direct words in Episode 6, Princess Leia Organa is “wise, discerning, kindhearted” just like her mother and “passionate, and fearless, forthright” just like her father.
The series does an incredible job showing us how Leia becomes the leader we know her as by showing us that she’s a product of all four of her parents and the brief time spent with Obi-Wan Kenobi. It reaffirms why she was the one to send out the distress call, and it continues to exhibit that in every area of her life, Leia Organa has put aside her desires for others. Leia’s goodness and her innate kindness as a product of the love that she’s seen extends toward leading by example. In Bail Organa’s words, she is just as important as Luke—the importance that this deep dive argues many don’t often see.
In people like Breha, Bail, Obi-Wan, and Tala, Leia Organa understands what it means to give every piece of herself to those who can’t fight for themselves. She’s beautifully curious as a child, putting one foot forward and choosing to trust people even while it backfires, and at the same time, the kind of person who gives way for those without a voice. In her love for Lola, we can fully understand why it’s so effortless to trust R2-D2 with the encrypted message in A New Hope. She’s resourceful, gentle, full of fire, and more compassionate than anyone else, which the series ultimately proves that Leia gives more than she takes. And, the kind of smart mouth you’d expect to one-up Stormtroopers when they’re holding her hostage. As we learn about the importance of Ben Kenobi in her life and it brings new meaning to the words “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” along with the detail that she names her one son after him, we could see how much of A New Hope ultimately puts Leia aside for Luke.
Leia loses far more after Obi-Wan’s death than Luke does, but still, she is the one comforting him. When Alderaan blows up and she loses her parents, she’s still the one carrying the mission on her entire back, putting one foot in front of the fire, fighting to push through. She loses her home and the people she loves more than anything, yet, Leia still fights. And that fight is also due to watching a woman like Tala break barriers. Leia’s resistance against the dark side is her hope. Leia’s heart is her anchor. She’s seen love in a world where there was more darkness and despair, but raised by parents who adored her with every fiber of their being, Leia learned how to stand tall even when she was a tiny little thing.
Leia Organa, from a very young age, was a caretaker. She could look into the eyes of an old man and not only see that he was hiding something, but she could also understand when he needed to be comforted. She could look into the eyes of a woman like Tala and know with every bone in her body that her fight was worth it. She could look at the face of a droid and feel when they needed to be treated with compassion. And she could resist—with every piece of her, she could look members of the dark side in the eyes and push forward. She could look at the faces of scared people and know how to distract them with her droid. She could understand fear better than anyone else because she feels it constantly slithering through her bones, and yet, amid all her darkness, she chooses to give her light to someone else. She’s curious, she’s compassionate, and she learns—day by day how to strengthen herself to be the kind of leader who could make an impact like all those who’ve come before her.
Someday, when she’s old enough to carry a blaster and after she loses everything, Leia allows the love of those who’ve come before her to fuel every battle line she crosses. She’s Force-sensitive, sure, but love is the anchor that keeps Leia grounded as she fights for those in need while never expecting anything in return. In her holster, right alongside the blaster, Princess Leia Organa carries her unwavering love for those who’ve shaped her.