Posted by: kshayes513 | December 3, 2017

Waiting for The Last Jedi and Tracking Leia’s Story

General Leia Organa, The Force Awakens (photo: Disney/Lucasfilms)

The original Star Wars trilogy was a benchmark of my college years. After the overblown fiasco that was the prequel trilogy, I was thrilled when The Force Awakens brought back so much of what I loved in those first movies.

I love all of the new heroes of the younger generation, and I can’t wait to see their stories unfold. But the character I had waited for ever since I saw the very first stills from The Force Awakens, the character who holds me spellbound every moment she’s on screen, is Leia.

In 1977, Leia amazed me. In the middle of this macho adventure universe, she did all the things a princess and leading lady of the 70’s was not expected to do. She took over her own rescue in Star Wars*, then rescued herself from Jabba in Return of the Jedi. Stranger still, she wasn’t even in Star Wars just to be rescued, to be a plot device for the hero, or even to become the hero’s “love interest.” She was there as the leader of the good guys, the person who told the heroes what they were fighting for, kept them on course, and fought beside them.

The young Leia was outspoken about what should be done, and what she thought of the choices of those around her. Her response to incompetence, dumbassery or outright evil was cutting sarcasm. Fearless for herself, she showed fear only for those she cared about. And even then, she had the objectivity of the true leader: the ability to set aside personal desires, like wanting to save her newly discovered twin brother, in favor of larger strategic goals, like destroying the Death Star where that brother was a prisoner (Return of the Jedi).

Thirty years on, Leia is different in some ways, and not at all in others. Her entrance in The Force Awakens is the entrance of a great queen.  Both the camera and the characters pause and wait for her to appear.  And what an appearance! This woman, dressed with simple authority, has no great panoply of power like the costumes worn by her mother Padme as an actual queen. Leia wears all her authority in her  bearing, and especially in her face.

Is she beautiful? Not the way the young, apple-cheeked princess was. She is beautiful the way an elder goddess is beautiful, with all the lines of living etched in her face, and the wisdom of that life radiating from her eyes.

We know a little of her life in those 30 years, and can guess more. She is not just a general but the General, the commander of the Resistance. But she has also seen the Republic she fought to restore, first overshadowed, then smashed by the New Order that has replaced the Empire she overthrew in her youth.

Much worse, she has lost her child to the New Order, as Ben Solo became Kylo Ren and embraced the Dark Side that long ago destroyed her own biological parents. And as a result of losing her son, she has lost the rest of her family as well. Both her brother and her beloved have run away, unable to face whatever role they had in the making of Kylo Ren. Luke is hiding in shameful, self imposed exile; Han has fled to the irresponsible smuggler/con artist life that he came from. Leia is alone and abandoned by everyone she loves the most.

Yet Leia does not run. She stands fast, the anchor of everything and everyone around her. She stands fast to fight for the only thing that matters, the only cause she has ever cared about: restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. She alone of the three original Star Wars heroes has always acted like a true hero, fighting for something larger than herself, and leading others, including her two men, to stay the course in that fight.

And revealingly, General Leia Organa, does not need to be snarky or sarcastic, or  aggressive like Princess Leia.  That pushy, outspoken young Leia was still trying to find her authority, to prove to herself and everyone that she was worth listening to.

General Leia doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone.  She is the person everyone reports to for orders and for authority. She speaks quietly, always, because when she speaks, everyone around her listens. And when she asks something, no matter how difficult, people obey.

She doesn’t even need to prove anything to her beloved Han Solo. The two have suffered the worst loss any couple can experience – the loss of their child, by desertion and rejection. Imagine being legendary war heroes, and having your child grow up to become a war criminal. That’s what this loss must be like for them. And after that loss, Han ran. Yet still, after so many years of bickering, and even after that final devastating desertion, Leia now speaks to him with gentle and humorous affection. She knows what he is, in all his faults and weaknesses, and instead of being annoyed or furious as so often in the past, she only smiles and hugs him. She is big enough, brave enough, generous enough to embrace all of him.

The only person in this new generation universe who might match Leia’s authority is the movie’s other matriarch, Maz Kanata. And Maz, like Leia, speaks with humor and authority, and listens with deep insight and compassion. After so many iterations of actual and surrogate fathers and sons in the Star Wars universe, it’s as remarkable to see these two great matriarchs, as it is to have the new Jedi hero be a young woman.

I hope that Leia and Maz will meet on camera in The Last Jedi. These two extraordinary women would have a lot to say to each other – though I suspect they would understand each other so well, they might not need to say much. If the two of them teamed up, they could probably restore peace and justice to the galaxy over a cup of tea.

And now that we have lost Carrie, I hope even more that the Star Wars creative team has found a way to complete Leia’s story to do justice to the woman who has grown from a fearless, smartass princess, to a fearless, soft-spoken commander in chief, a true queen in everything but name.

*”Episode IV – A New Hope” –  feh! To me and to others of my generation, the first movie’s title will always be just Star Wars.

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