I figured something out a month or two ago: Princess Leia does not get to live a happy life.
Popular culture has always defined the term “princess” as a helpless or hapless royal heroine, a damsel in distress, a fashion model. And pop culture dictates that a princess must go on to live “happily ever after,” either by marrying a more or less royal Prince Charming or by asserting her female independence. The term “Princess” looks superficial on Leia, but she lives up to her title in so many ways.
In 1977, Star Wars came out, and along came Princess Leia with the awesome hair and the bad attitude. True, she had to be rescued, but she was royally candid about her rescuers’ lack of an escape plan. Then she picked up a blaster and started shooting back. And she led them all into the garbage chute. I have always admired Leia because she fought back, because she could rescue herself. That was a cool idea to me when I was a preteen. It’s still cool now. But now I’m a lot older, of course. We just had The Force Awakens and Bloodline come out. I already knew that there was a lot more to Leia’s character than just her resourcefulness. But I’ve come to see her sadness, too. When Return of the Jedi came out it looked like she got the happy ending she wanted. There wouldn’t be much of a premise for a sequel trilogy if that had held true, and from the canon material that has been released it looks like, for a few years, she did get to be happy, but that only lasted for so long.
Leia’s birth parents, of course, are Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker. Luke gets Padmé’s loving nature—and some of the determination, too. Leia gets Padme’s brown hair and brown eyes and determined spirit. She’s the kind of woman who can take care of herself and who wants to use her political influence to make a difference. From Anakin she gets a short fuse, the spit that flies in the face of Grand Moff Tarkin and the wits that match with Han Solo. Leia is a perfect storm of female sass.
Leia was adopted by Bail and Breha Organa, the Viceroy/Senator and Queen of Alderaan, and their royal status notwithstanding they were the two of the best people possible for the job. They didn’t raise her to be just any princess. They raised her to be a politician and a diplomat, someone who could participate in the political process. She was an aide to her father in the Imperial Senate before becoming Senator herself. From a young age, she was trained to fight to not only protect herself but to defend others. She would help her parents work to overthrow the empire and in the meantime resist it as much as possible. On the one hand, this kind of upbringing made her a great person. But on the other hand, it didn’t give her much of a purpose when the fighting was over, which I think explains why we see her so frustrated with the New Republic and with herself in Bloodline.
Leia makes a cameo in the second season of Star Wars Rebels. We see her working as an agent of the Senate but trying to avoid disclosing her work for the Rebel Alliance to the Empire. Not only does this give her a chance to do good for the galaxy from inside the system, being a double agent hides her better from the Sith and the Imperial authorities.
Though you don’t think about it that much, A New Hope marks a turning point for Leia in numerous ways. Held prisoner aboard the Death Star, Darth Vader brings an interrogation droid to her cell. We see the needle up close and personal. We see Leia afraid. But then the camera cuts to the guard leaving. We don’t get to watch the details of the torture and what the mind probe’s drug did to her. But she remembers it in Bloodline. She remembers how much it hurt, how sick it made her, how much she hated Darth Vader for what he did to her. She resisted it, but it was difficult.
And then Alderaan. Friendly reminder that Leia was the princess of that planet. She knew about its customs and culture and history. She was its patron and champion and representative in the Senate. It was her home. Her friends and family were there. All of that was wiped out in seconds. Gone. No one pauses to give much thought about Alderaan getting blown up, but when you think about it, it’s awful. Imagine how awful it was for Leia. It’s ludicrous to expect that just because it wasn’t shown that she got over it quickly. Fandom fills in her mourning offscreen. In Bloodline we see how she’s dealt with it over the years, the intense psychological pain that she has carried around but doesn’t talk about, that only comes out on very rare occasions.
After A New Hope, Leia no longer has to fill the roles of a senator and Princess, so she goes to work full-time for the Rebel Alliance. I like to think is Bail and Breha would have wanted her to continue fighting for freedom, and Leia may have felt the same way.
But her hardships are not over. In The Empire Strikes Back, Leia is captured by the Empire at Bespin. She gets tortured, and then she has to watch Han and Chewie get tortured, and then she sees Han put on carbonite. In Return of the Jedi, she’s Jabba’s slave—we don’t really want to stop and think about what she went through in that situation, but it must have been terrible. All of this grief and pain coupled with the battles she was in during the Galactic Civil War is tantamount to PTSD.
Bloodline informs us that Leia was told by Bail Organa that she was a war orphan. I imagine that after Alderaan was destroyed, Leia must have wondered if there were any relatives from her birth family left and if she would find them, if she ever got out. That kind of makes it funny that Luke was the person who got out of her cell. But Luke telling her that Darth Vader is her birth father—the goon responsible for the destruction of her homeworld and the torture she went through—is the last thing she wants to hear. Both Bloodline and the EU/Legends books depict Leia having a hard time making her peace with this. Bloodline makes the point that Leia didn’t get to witness Anakin’s redemption the way Luke did. He’s still a villain to her, and she doesn’t want to identify herself with him.
I think one thing we earthling fans kind of lose sight of is that to people in that galaxy far, far away, Darth Vader is the bad guy. In the real world we see Darth Vader on our t-shirts and coffee mugs and socks, and you can buy an adorable plush or bobblehead version for your enjoyment. In the Star Wars universe, Darth Vader massacred innocents or approved of the deaths of billions. Darth Vader stood for the repression of the Empire. He was the Emperor’s enforcer. He is not cute. He is EVIL. People over there hate him and see him as a symbol of a regime that destroyed their freedom.
Leia cherishes her relationship with Luke because he’s the one person in her birth family who not only isn’t dead but who has always been good to her. But sometime between Bloodline and The Force Awakens, her son turns to the Dark Side. And in Episode VII, he murders the love of her life. The Leia Organa we see in The Force Awakens is a great leader, but like many great leaders she carries a burden of great sadness. She presses forward in spite of that burden, and under her leadership the Resistance scores its victory against the First Order. The people in the Resistance follow her because she is living proof that evil can be overcome by good.
I have not yet put the “Mormon” in Geeky Mormon, but on this occassion I am reminded of President Uchdorf’s talk to the Young Women of the LDS church in 2010:
“For a moment, think back about your favorite fairy tale. In that story the main character may be a princess or a peasant; she might be a mermaid or a milkmaid, a ruler or a servant. You will find one thing all have in common: they must overcome adversity.
In stories, as in life, adversity teaches us things we cannot learn otherwise. Adversity helps to develop a depth of character that comes in no other way” (emphasis added).
We love Star Wars the same way we love other favorite stories and fairy tales because the heroes in that galaxy far, far away overcome adversity in one way or another. And we love Princess Leia because she has earned her place among our favorite heroines in the same manner.
After everything she’s been through, it would please the fans for Princess Leia to see her live happily ever after. Sadly that’s not the case. But she does continue to make a difference in the galaxy in spite of everything bad that happens to her. And in the long run, that is a lot more important. And I agree with the assertion in Bloodline that even though she’s left her royal lifestyle long behind her, Leia is still a princess. True nobility comes from the heart.