Apparently, a lot of people are upset about the new Star Wars trailer featuring a woman and a black dude. I know. Crazy, right? It’s like more than straight white men are allowed to be badass, Empire-stomping heroes. I think what’s so hilarious is that for me, Star Wars has never, ever been about Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. When the prequels came out, it was surreal to my teenager self to re-watch the Star Wars series because I remembered them so much differently. Was Luke Skywalker always such a whiny bitch? What was all this stuff about his daddy issues? Who is that zombie-looking dude in the cloak? It was like I had somehow blocked all that stuff out. For me, the story always was, and maybe still is, about Princess Leia.
I had two older brothers and we were one of the first families on our block to own a VCR. We had Star Wars on a perpetual loop in our house. I went to see Return of the Jedi in the theatre on base when I was just a wee babe, and I saved up my pennies to buy a Princess Leia doll at the PX. This tiny little action figure was the center of my whole universe for a summer, the leading lady in my own intergalactic feminist fantasy. For me, the Star Wars trilogy went a little something like this.
Princess Leia risks her life to send a message to a rebel jedi. Princess Leia throws shade at that snooty British dude. “Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” Burnnnnnnnn….
And then I think all women of my generation will remember the shot heard round the galaxy when Princess Leia, disappointed by the ineffectual pack of losers who came to rescue her, grabs the blaster and starts cutting down Stormtroopers. I was told my whole life how strong and competent men are, how if you’re pretty enough and valuable enough, someone will eventually come around and take care of you. Princess Leia kept it real. Ladies, if you want something done, you need to do it yourself.
And then there was that time Princess Leia orchestrated an attack on the Empire on the snow planet of Hoth. She stood in the middle of a circle of fighters giving orders like a boss. And of course, there was that one time she allowed herself to be vulnerable in front Han Solo, shouting out, “I love you!” in the midst of the Empire’s goons. And because Princess Leia is smart enough to know you can’t change a man, she never forced Han Solo to be anything else than a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.” He had to come to the realization about his own inadequacies himself.
But Princess Leia ends up saving Han, and when some giant turd dressed her up in gold foil underwear and licked her face, she choked that bitch. Sure in Return of the Jedi there’s some shit about the force and Ewoks (!!!!) and “Luke, I am your father,” and blah, blah, blah, but there’s also Princess Leia on one of those flying bikes, rocking milkmaid braids. Man, I wish my hair would do that.
I have a daughter of my own now, and while things have gotten better in terms of representation of women, I’m still disappointed by how few Princess Leia’s we still have out there. My daughter wants to be a hero. She puts on my son’s Spiderman mask and fights imaginary crime in the yard. She begs me to teach her my “ninja moves” from karate, and she loves playing boss lady “Ms. O” from PBS’s Odd Squad. When I see the new Star Wars trailer, I think how great it is that she doesn’t have to hack her way into a hero’s journey. She doesn’t have to conveniently erase the story of some man’s fragile masculinity in order to find a character who looks, thinks, and acts like the woman she might want to be someday. That woman is center stage now. And she is looking so fierce.