The woman known as Leia is a character that has gone through many identity shifts throughout the timeline of the Star Wars saga. Leia starts off as a stereotype, a princess needing to be rescued. But from the moment she appears onscreen in A New Hope, it is clear that she is no damsel in distress. The character of Princess Leia shatters many stereotypes and cliches throughout the saga. And there are few characters in the Star Wars universe as beloved as Leia. From princess, to rebel leader, to general we take a look at the life and legacy of Leia Organa in our ongoing series that profiles the women of Star Wars.
The Character of Leia Is The Soul Of The Star Wars Saga
The image of Leia from A New Hope is iconic. Dressed in flowing white robes, a hood hiding her face. Her famous hair buns that had to muffle most sounds (probably not the best hairstyle for a spy – which is what Leia essentially is when we open on her). Leia is the the main character who appears in the first scenes of the first Star Wars film, sneaking the plans for the Death Star out at great risk to herself. We understand her fiery nature and bold attitude when she talks back to Darth Vader. This is a woman not to be underestimated. A woman who is ready to sacrifice herself for a greater cause. Despite Leia’s shifting identities over the years and various Star Wars films, these character traits remain true.
Leia is in fact the catalyst for all that happens in the original Star Wars trilogy. It is her message to Obi-Wan Kenobi that gives Luke a reason to leave his home behind and venture out into the stars to find his destiny. But Leia’s own destiny is just as important as her twin. Leia is the heart and soul of the rebellion, without her there would be no Star Wars.
The Origins of “Princess” Leia
Image via Lucasfilm
Born Leia Amidala Skywalker (I’m guessing she never found out what her middle name was). Leia was separated from her twin at birth. She was hidden in plain sight from her her father and the Emperor. Adopted by Rebellion founder and senator Bail Organa, Leia was raised as royalty on the planet Alderaan. Leia learned to walk and talk at an early age, although she did not display any Force sensitivity as a child (much to the relief of her adopted parents). However those Force powers would eventually manifest after coming into contact with her brother Luke. In the end, it is possible that she was as powerful as Luke in the ways of the Force (as we will delve into more detail later on). Leia may have inherited her Force powers from her biological father, but she is far closer to the character of her biological mother.
The Queen and The Princess
The character of Leia takes after her mother Padmé in significant ways across Star Wars canon. From a young age she asserted her rebellious streak, abandoning her etiquette lessons to train with weapons. (Okay, maybe that behavior is closer to Anakin’s character). At one point, Leia ran away from home and spent a week wandering the forests of Alderaan. According to official canon, Leia’s adopted mother once told her the story of her Padmé Amidala, in a comic titled So Much More, although she does not learn that Padmé is her birth mother at this time.
However, in the Claudia Gray novel Bloodline (which takes place after Return of the Jedi) it is established that Leia knows about her birth mother and has spent time researching her life. In the comics, Leia senses Darth Maul’s presence through the Force when she visits the palace on Naboo. She also uses an expensive dress collection of her mother’s in a later comic to commit a Star Wars heist in a sequel-era story.
Leia Goes From Princess To Politician
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Trained in politics from birth, Leia became a junior legislator in the Senate at the age of 14. Some of her youthful adventures are chronicled in Star Wars: Rebels, where she has the upper hand with the Empire even then. Leia was also the youngest senator ever elected (following in Padmé’s footsteps as the youngest Queen of Naboo). When introduced to Emperor Palpatine, she was struck with horror at the aura of evil he exuded. She also encounters the character of Darth Vader many times, who somehow never recognizes her as his long-lost daughter.
Despite her young age, Leia quickly became a popular and beloved public character throughout the Star Wars galaxy. She concerned herself with mercy missions to the Outer Rim and humanitarian efforts. She often spoke out against the corruption of the Empire, making herself a target before she officially joined the Rebellion. Leia appears at the end of the prequel Rogue One, having received the data on the Death Star schematics from Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor. (Thanks to CGI face-swapping technology.) This is where Leia’s role in the Star Wars saga truly begins, as this leads directly into the beginning of A New Hope.
Leia Organa’s Character In The Original Star Wars Trilogy
Star Wars likes to talk a lot about ‘the spark of rebellion’ but it is important to note that the character of Leia was the spark for much of the action in the original trilogy. Not only did she spur Luke’s departure from Tatooine, she was also one of the reasons that Han Solo kept coming back to join the fight. Leia was an inspirational figure to everyone in the Rebellion, and her leadership was necessary to keep the organization alive.
We also see how tough she is from the very beginning, as she resists Vader’s torture and the mind-probe droid. She is forced to watch the destruction of her homeworld. But she never lets her grief slow her down or affect her judgement. Leia takes an active role in her own ‘rescue’ at the hands of Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan. She leads the way out, protecting the others and proving she was never a damsel in distress. After the destruction of the Death Star, Leia officially becomes one of the Rebel Leaders and leads various missions against the Empire.
Leia’s hair and dress in A New Hope also signifies her role as a princess of Alderaan. Those elaborate hairstyles (like the infamous hair buns) are actually a traditional part of Alderaanian culture. It is significant to note that after the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope, Leia’s garb and hairstyles change significantly. No longer a princess of a destroyed planet, this is one visual marker of a shift in her identity. Although she still holds onto some of the elaborate braided hairdos, her clothing becomes more of a uniform to signal her place in the Rebellion.
The Mercy and Anger of Princess Leia
Empire Strikes Back opens on Leia in command of the Echo Base on Hoth. After escaping the Imperial blockade on the Millenium Falcon, Leia demonstrates the versatility of her skills when she assists in repairing the ship. In Cloud City, we see Leia once again dressed in finery befitting a princess. However this does not stop her from taking action when Vader freezes Han in carbonite, and he is taken away by Boba Fett. Leia also shows mercy to Lando after his betrayal. She lets him live to escape with them in the Millenium Falcon. It is at the end of Empire that we first see Leia’s Force powers in use. She can psychically hear Luke’s call for help, and turns the ship around to rescue him.
The Courage of Leia
Leia then enacts a daring plan to rescue Han Solo, disguising herself as a bounty hunter to infiltrate Jabba the Hutt’s palace. She is the one who frees Han from carbonite. Although she is captured and forced to wear a humiliating outfit, Leia gets her revenge when she kills Jabba with the very chains he used to keep her enslaved. This act gave her a new title among certain factions in the galaxy: Leia the Huttslayer. In Bloodlines, some nefarious characters afford her respect (tinged with a little fear) for killing Jabba. It’s also mentioned that, in that moment, Leia felt the pull of the Dark Side. (Though, despite all of her loss, pain, anger, and grief, never once is she tempted by this evil, like so many other characters in the saga.)
In Return of the Jedi, we also see Leia’s diplomatic skills come into play when she befriends the Ewoks. She takes an active role in fighting the stormtroopers, and perseveres despite a blaster injury. After learning that Luke is really her brother, she becomes more aware of their Force connection and knows that Luke is alive after the second Death Star explodes.
The Shifting Identities of Leia
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Over the course of the original and sequel trilogies we see Leia’s character shift identity several times. From privileged princess, to Rebel Leader, and then officially General. Somewhere along the line she also took on the roles of wife and mother, but these roles came second to her public persona. We know that she married Han Solo after Return of the Jedi. But their complicated relationship was doomed from the start. They spent much of their marriage long distance, not living together. At some point, Leia turned the care of her Force-sensitive son over to her brother Luke for training.
A Rebel Leader
After the seeming fall of the Empire, Leia was the one everyone turned to for leadership. Her service to the greater good meant sacrificing the personal roles. It is unclear how much Leia knew about Ben’s tendency towards the Dark Side of the Force. But we do know that his fall was immensely painful to her. And for many years she worried that he was irredeemable. Yet, ever the hopeful optimist, she used the last strength she had to make one final attempt to reach out to her son (and it worked).
Leia threw herself into her work, transforming the Rebellion into the Resistance and leading the way. She did all of this alone, after separating from Han, losing her son to the Dark Side, and her brother to the hermit’s life. We know that she befriended Admiral Holdo, and in many ways she treats Poe Dameron as a surrogate son. The Resistance became Leia’s entire life, and the rebels were her family.
Leia Could Have Been ‘The Last Jedi’
In Return of the Jedi, Yoda tells the Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi that Luke is not their only hope. “There is another,” he says. As Luke’s twin, Leia should have the same amount of Force strength as her brother. As much as we dread to bring up the subject of midichlorians, if we look at the science then both Luke and Leia should have an equal amount of the Force-sensitive cells. Leia is the opposite of her twin Luke in many ways. Where he is hot-headed, she is the level-headed one. While he is impulsive and emotional, Leia is cool and calculating. In many ways, Leia’s royal training better prepared her to become a Jedi than Luke’s upbringing did. But this was not to be.
Still, just because she didn’t spend her days traveling the cosmos looking for Jedi relics and swinging around a lightsaber, Leia is no less of a hero. From Bloodlines to Resistance Reborn, we see that Leia uses the Force in subtle ways. It helps her be a better diplomat, and it comes in handy during “aggressive negotiations.” Her efforts to foster peace and equality while standing up to evil is no less heroic because she did it wearing the robes of a senator instead of a Jedi.
Leia’s Strength In The Force Can Be Seen In The Sequel Trilogy
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After Return of the Jedi, we know that Luke began training Leia to in the ways of the Force. But a vision halted her training. She stepped away from becoming a Jedi when she foresaw that it would end in the death of her son. Tragically, this would come to pass anyway.
However Leia’s strength in the Force cannot be underestimated. She can feel Han’s death at the end of The Force Awakens. She is often aware of her son’s presence in the Force, and their Force bond is undeniable. In The Last Jedi we see Leia use the Force to protect herself when sucked into the vacuum of space. In The Rise of Skywalker she is able to Force-project, using the last of her strength, to Ben Solo’s mind. This sets into motion the events that bring down the phantom menace of a rejuvenated Palpatine.
Flashbacks in The Rise of Skywalker show her training with Luke, and besting him in combat. She trained enough that she could act as mentor to Rey after Luke’s death. Essentially this means that if Rey was still a padawan, then Leia was a de facto Jedi Master despite the lack of title (or lightsaber). Her final act was also that of a Jedi, reaching out psychically to her son Ben in one last attempt to redeem him. Despite never completing her training, Leia lived a life of service to the Republic that she believed in. She lived the Jedi ideals, and fought to defend democracy and justice until her dying breath.
The Character of Leia Was The Hero of Star Wars All Along
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From acting as the spark of resistance for so many characters, to leading the troops into battle, Leia has done it all. In many ways, Leia is the unsung hero of the Star Wars universe, a character who definitely deserved her own movie that sadly never came to pass. Without her to keep it all together, Luke and Han would have fallen apart or been killed many times over. She kept hope alive in the galaxy, and never stopped fighting.
Leia was also an inspiration to generations of young fans watching the Star Wars movies. Young women especially looked up to her as one of the few female role models in science fiction. Credit must of course be given to actress Carrie Fisher who imbued Leia with the same fiery spirit that lived in Carrie. It is widely known by now that Carrie doctored many of the Star Wars scripts. She also wrote much of her own dialogue. Thanks to Carrie Fisher, we have in Leia a complicated and fiercely independent woman.
Leia is not without her flaws, but time and again we return to her as the classic example of a strong female character in science fiction. She stands as an example to all who come after her in the Star Wars universe. Leia is our hero, the one who never stopped fighting, the one who never let failure set her back. Leia still inspires, and gives us hope long after she is gone.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.