Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and Feminism

By: Lessa Leigh

My parents never took me to see the Star Wars movies when they first came out in 1977, 1980, and 1983. Despite this, as a seven-year old girl at the debut, I was well inundated in the Star Wars universe. How could I not be? Everyone knew about Star Wars. Everyone knew that the Empire was evil, that Yoda was wise, that Han was the best pilot, and that Luke was a decent-enough Jedi. As for Princess Leia, she was incomparable. She was a princess at a time when being a princess wasn’t an aspiration of every little girl, but she was a princess we could all understand, admire, and respect. Unlike the clueless Luke or the self-serving Han, Leia was attempting to save the universe. She was far better than any of the men around her, with the exceptions of perhaps Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Chewie, and as a young girl, I recognized in her what every girl experiences eventually: The fact that the boys will take all the credit for the hard-work and planning of the girls.

Think about it. Luke wouldn’t destroy the Death Star without Leia’s smuggling of the plans in R2-D2. Han would never have thought to jump into a garbage chute to save everyone’s life. The Rebel Alliance wouldn’t have stood a chance without her connections and fortitude. Almost every success is achieved through some help from Princess Leia, but we all knew to jump up and down for our heroes, Luke and Han.

If at the ages of seven and ten, Princess Leia provided a quiet, shy, bookish girl with a heroine for the ages, imagine my distress when I was thirteen and Return of the Jedi opened.

At a time when puberty was ramping into high gear, and I was mistrustful of my own body, as it betrayed me in a multitude of ways daily, seeing Princess Leia in a bikini and chains was distressing. Oh, it was bad enough that the repulsive Jabba the Hutt had enslaved her to do his bidding. It was even worse to see Princess Leia as a sexualized being. The worst part, though, was the lust she evoked from all the thirteen-year old boys around me. Suddenly, in their pubescent and hormone ravaged minds, Princess Leia was suddenly “cool.” She was “worthy”. She was, in fact, “fuckable.”

I didn’t have much time to be grief-stricken because despite Princess Leia’s new eye-candy status, she still had a world to save, Hutts to kill, and Han to free from his frozen state. A true princess, she got to work, did the job with grace and dignity, and changed into appropriate attire to once again take down an Empire.

The damage was done, though. Thirty-five years of hearing men, whether they were geeks or jocks, slobbering over the sexualized “Slave Leia”, took its toll. Women, no matter how smart, capable, or bad-ass, were designed ultimately for the pleasure of men first. Saving the world was secondary to masturbatory lust. Lesson learned.

Despite what Carrie Fisher was most famous for in the minds of many men, she was just as much of a brave warrior in real life as in the Star Wars trilogy. She was born into Hollywood royalty as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Her young life was blown into scandal when her father left her mother for her mother’s best friend, Elizabeth Taylor. She grew up in Beverly Hills, never finishing high school as she became an actress. Once cast into the role of Princess Leia, she was instantly iconic.

She continued to act and to write and to speak out. She owned her story in a way that few achieve. At a time when drug abuse was a topic that was barely whispered about in polite company, she wrote about her experiences in the semi-autobiographical, Postcards From The Edge. In later years, she spoke widely about her struggles with mental illness, humanizing a disease that is often misunderstood at best and demonized at worst. She advocated for bravery in the face of the disease, saying, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

She lived unapologetically. She owned her self, slave to no one. She was kind. She was funny. She was creative. She was irreverent. She reveled in her sexuality. She honored her body and mind. She mentored younger women (and men) in the ways of being a force, not just using the Force. She was a feminist in the truest sense.

In 2015, she returned to the Star Wars canon, appearing in Episode VII The Force Awakens. As is appropriate to her stature and her true role in the Star Wars universe, she is now known as General Leia.

When interviewed about The Force Awakens and the request that she lose weight to reprise her role as Leia, she said, “They want to hire part of me, not all of me. They want to hire three fourths, so I have to get rid of the fourth somehow. The fourth can’t be with me. I made a joke.”

We mourn the death of Carrie Fisher, who departed from the mortal coil far too soon for comfort. We honor the life of Carrie Fisher, who lived a life on her own terms. We aspire to be like Princess Leia, who was from start to finish never helpless and was always prepared. As feminist role models go, we are grateful that Ms. Fisher showed us the way, both on film, in writing, and by living fully.

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