Why The Force Awakens Leia Matters

So while the world is doing their best of lists and talking about resolutions…eh, I’m just gonna do my thing. And that means talking about something near and dear to my heart.

I saw Star Wars the day after Christmas. The short version is while I get what some people are nitpicking over, I personally loved it. Having been obsessed with the franchise as a preteen, then falling out of love with it for various reasons, it’s nice to see something that feels like the universe I love again. What’s amazing to me is to also see so much inclusiveness on screen. This is huge for so many different people. From my own standpoint, if I had seen this Star Wars when I was eleven, seen women fighter pilots and First Order officers and wise aliens, and a protagonist who was confused by trying her best…yeah, I wish I had had that movie. So to that end…

I woke up this morning to see Carrie Fisher firing back at accusations about her appearance in the film. Brava.  I love her so much for this, I can’t even tell you. It’s ridiculous that this is what people are focusing on, but it’s an unfortunately reality that she will always get more grief over something so silly over her male costars. Seriously? She looks great. She looks how many human women look as they get older, so way to go casting! I loved her in the movie. And to THAT end…

There’s been a lot of discussion online today about this topic. This blog post has been going around, and I did my own fb post before I knew that one existed (I’m taking the core of that fb post of mine for this blog entry). Because seriously, no matter what your feeling on the franchise or how episode seven was handled, Leia matters, now more than ever. She may not matter to those who think her purpose is to be smexy or arm candy for Han Solo, or for those who think she’s supposed to look a certain way, or to those who think it’s enough that she’s mouthy and can fire a blaster, but believe me, to a lot of us, she damn well matters.

For those who haven’t seen it, I’ll try to keep obvious spoilers to a minimum.

1. TFA Leia means that the Star Wars universe is potentially a place where women age naturally or are given that option, be they human or alien. The fact that Leia doesn’t look like a MILF or a Real Housewife of Corsuscant speaks about the type of universe she lives in and her/it’s priorities.Let’s take away what an older woman is “supposed” to look like for a minute. Leia has been through a lot in her life. She’s raised children. She’s fought wars. There’s conflict that’s happened off screen that we haven’t seen. She looks like a human who has had a full life. She still is elegant, but she’s worldly, haunted, experienced. Of course Leia looks the way she does in episode 7. She’s been through a lot. And she looks beautiful because of it.

2. Leia has been headstrong/outspoken girl, love interest, sex object, Jungian anima goal for Han Solo to reach/acquire to fulfill his goodness, and now we get to see her as mother and career woman/badass. She has always been a fighter (hi, wielding a blaster in New Hope, taking on stormtroopers in ROTJ, freakin’ killing Jabba…), but now she is no one’s reward. She’s her own woman.  This is a woman still evolving, still learning, still dealing with the universe, and still living with past decisions.

She appeals to all sorts of women – she’s done the family thing, done the career thing, and looks to still be in the trenches and at the top of her field.  There’s been some argument that she doesn’t do anything onscreen in her role as Resistance leader, but seriously, Ackbar sat in a chair through ROTJ. Dodonna and others stood looking pensively at the same screens Leia did in the originals. Basically the higher ups are there in the movies for exposition so yes, her title still very much matters and you could argue that she’s filling the same role those men did in previous movies.

She’s essentially ‘had it all’ yet still has struggled at it because obviously there’s not peace in the universe/there are family issues. She’s strong, soft, and human. Women of all types now have a version of Leia to look up to/relate to. There is some part of Leia’s life that any female can look at and feel a kinship with, which is awesome.

3. She and Han are still trying to make it work to some degree which means he hasn’t tried to replace her with a younger model. I mean hi, he didn’t seem to have a problem with her appearance and he’s the character that counts in her life. They still care about each other though they’re living separate lives to an extent. In a world where twenty something women are paired with men twice their age on screen (or more) this is what age appropriate casting looks like. This is also a realistic relationship and not some idealized OTP (one true pairing). This is a love story that doesn’t make me feel like it’s something that can never be realized or kept as I age. Love is work, yo, and if it’s not perfect, well it’s not perfect for Star Wars’ first couple, either.

3. It’s been weird for me that as I get older that most female leads in movies are now younger than me, and most women saving the world are teen girls. Nothing wrong with that. Yes, give younger girls some empowerment. But, I would like to add that I am still alive and it is disheartening to see that at a certain age I now have nothing but romantic comedies or movies about older British women reminding themselves that they’re not dead to  identify with on my aging process.  Now TFA, the biggest genre/action movie of the year, has not only given younger women Rey but they’ve given us more mature geeks back Leia. She’s not an 18 year old senator. She’s someone we either are or will grow up to be in a couple of decades. While she may have been aged somewhat inside EU book pages she has almost always looked in her late 20s on most of the covers.

Now I suddenly have a realistic fandom character to embrace For The Rest Of My Life. She’s a mom. She’s stayed true to her cause. She still has a love interest. She’s struggled. SHE’S A FREAKING GENERAL. She’s obviously done some stuff to earn the title between ROTJ and TFA. She’s her own woman, living with the decisions she’s made and working through them. Think of it. At some point it gets harder for some of us to embrace Hermione and Katniss et al because we’re just that far beyond their fictional ages. Now I’m always going to have this character out there as an active reminder that as I’m trying to adult and actualize my life, that I don’t have to be perfect. I can be strong. I can love. I can lean on someone. I can guide others. I can keep my ideals. I can fight for what I believe in. I can keep growing older and be amazing.

I want to sit and have lunch with this Leia and find out what happened between movies. I want to hug her and cheer her on and tell her that yes, it’s all right, you can save the damn universe again, woman, because you are Leia Organa and you are epic. And, in turn, that makes me realize that I can encourage myself more, too.

4. If I so choose, I could feasibly be Leia for Halloween/cosplay for like thirty more years. Think of a world where instead of girls being shamed for not looking ‘right’ in metal bikinis you go to a con and see a fleet of General Leias strutting around. Ladies, this means you are allowed to be Leia For the Rest of Your Lives at cons and have permission to look like a human. It’s now canon. You’re allowed. And seriously? The purple dress is gorgeous. Leia is gorgeous in all forms.

Seriously, think of what this means. Think of people who are of age and love the movie STILL getting to dress up as Han, Leia, and Luke. Think of turning down a hall and seeing a family with an older kid still getting to spend time together as Han, Leia, and offspring. That’s awesome (and potentially hilarious. Please someone do this).

That’s the world I want to live in. Instead of nitpicking someone’s appearance, I’m going to embrace TFA Leia as hard as I freaking can because this opens up so many implications for the character and the women who take hope from her. So, Thank You Carrie Fisher for being amazing, Thank You to Disney and TFA’s decision makers/creative team for letting this happen…and for God’s sake, let’s see Leia bossing around some soldiers and being awesome in episode 8, yeah?


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