Image Used Courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
When I was growing up, my perception of womanhood was shaped by classic Disney movies. Snow White, Cinderella, and Maid Marian were my teachers. In my child’s mind, these animated women taught me that women were beautiful, demure, and often required a man to rescue them. No one was around to discuss how Snow White was incredibly brave to try to escape the huntsman, how Cinderella was a faith-superstar because she kept right on believing her life could get better despite the fact that her stepmother worked diligently to make it a living hell, and how Maid Marian stood up to Prince John and admitted her love for an outlaw despite the fact that it would likely mean joining Robin in death. As a child, my view of what it meant to be a woman was pretty simplistic. It wasn’t until middle school that I remember seeing the original Star Wars trilogy and being introduced to a character that would shatter my childhood perception of womanhood. Princess Leia had many of those same qualities as the Disney princesses of old. She was beautiful, and she could occasionally use some help in the rescue department, but she also spit insults at Darth Vader and Tarkin, blasted stormtroopers who got in her way, and led her own rescue once she was out of that pesky cell. This was a much different princess, a different style of woman than I was used to seeing in the media.
Looking back, Leia may have had a bigger impact on me than I thought because my wife resembles her in many ways. Some of our happiest times together are when we are engaged in a bantering battle of wits that would make a certain smuggler and Alderaanian princess proud. My wife has experienced devastating moments of hardship and despair where it seemed like her whole world exploded, but she kept going to work and living her life because that’s what needed to be done. She leaned on me when she needed to, and in my stupider moments, I may have been more like Han when she needed to lean on someone else. My wife is the general of my life, calling me back towards the better parts of myself when I sometimes get too wrapped up in the distractions that the world offers or in my own neurosis. She’s to me exactly what Leia was to Han and Luke. She’s not the princess to be rescued; she’s the partner who convinces me that there’s always a way to blow up the Death Stars that appear in my own life and the friend who makes traveling through asteroid fields and to new planets fun.
It was inevitable that my daughter would meet Princess Leia. Each time she found me reading a Star Wars novel or comic and each week she sat in our laps as my wife and I watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars brought her closer to Leia. It may have been in Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess that she first met Leia. She laughed as Leia told Darth Vader, “From now on, you do as I say, okay?” She got cranky with Vader when he showed Han the carbon-freezing chamber that awaited him if he broke Leia’s heart. It wasn’t long before we had purchased a Leia costume sweatshirt (complete with cinnamon bun hair on the hood!) from Her Universe because my daughter wanted to play Princess Leia. She wanted to be a self-rescuing, bantering, tough princess. As years have passed and my daughter has become her own little Star Wars scholar, she has taken on the role of padawan because of Ashley Eckstein’s portrayal of Ahsoka and scavenger because of Daisy Ridley’s Rey. Ahsoka and Rey have had an impact on her view of what it means to be a woman, but it all started with Leia.
Princess Leia was like my fairy godmother because through the magic of Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of her, I learned lessons that brought me to my wife, and we have taught those lessons to our daughter. Leia can be her fairy godmother now. When she encounters hardships, she can think of Leia and Leia’s spiritual descendants in the Star Wars Universe and take comfort from the fact that they faced adversity and overcame it, too. When she ventures forth to find love, she can make my heart beat to the maddeningly fast rhythm of of the Modal Nodes by bringing home a scoundrel because she knows that he’s got a good heart. She can do all these things because her mom and I have taught her lessons, and she’s got an Alderaanian fairy godmother up there to teach her, too. Thank you, Carrie. “May the Force be with you, always.”
How has Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Leia affected you or someone in your life? Share with me on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 and with Far, Far Away Radio at @farfarawayradio.