There is no question of Leia Organa’s importance to the Star Wars saga. She’s the heart of the rebellion, uniter of farm boys and scoundrels, a brilliant tactician, a brave soldier, and a survivor.
She is, at age nineteen, when her brother is still moisture farming and whining incessantly on Tatooine, already a senator and spy. She faces Darth Vader down when the majority of others (mostly grown men) are quaking and mewling and scraping. She retains the ability to quip under torture.
And somehow, she still ends up with the most boring comic of the bunch, and that’s a cautionary tale for women in comics, and for all of us.
Princess Leia picks up at the end of Episode IV’s medal ceremony with Leia presiding while the surviving Alderaaneans in the audience pick apart her performance in the face of their planet’s destruction. They call her all sorts of lovely things (“ice princess” for example) while she struggles to keep herself together and forces herself to continue the fight her parents started (as, I’d like to point out, they would have wanted, whatever that means).
The thing is while they’re attacking her personally, these same Alderaaneans, and Evaan in particular (in shock to no one, another woman), are making significant demands of her vis a vis the preservation of Alderaanean culture. By significant demands, I mean they are insisting she, in addition to bringing down the Empire, stand as the last bastion of everything their people were.
Not that they’re offering to help or anything.
All of the pressure. None of the support.
And how typical of comics, and media, in general, that it should be one woman having unreasonable demands of another that, instead of supporting one another, they should quickly be brought into open conflict.
Leia takes Evaan’s criticisms to heart and sneaks away from the rebel forces with her. Evaan joins her not out of any desire to assist but because her princess ordered it, so they can unite the remaining pockets of Alderaaneans around the galaxy. No easy task because apparently Alderaaneans are a bunch of racist jerks who have disowned any subculture not ethnically pure.
One of the survivors decides she isn’t going to stand for integration and gives Leia up to the Empire. There’s a lot of self-blame on Leia’s part for things that the “real” Leia Organa would know weren’t her fault.
She and Evaan develop a mutual respect by the end of the adventure, but Leia has to earn it with blood and a willingness to die for the satisfaction of Alderaan. Leia presents herself to the Empire, gets out of it, and brings the factions of Alderaaneans together in cooperation if not acceptance.
Look, the glimpses at Alderaanean culture are interesting but beyond that, we don’t get much new. Luke, Han, even Chewie are getting new stories. Fleshing out, adding on, gap filling. In the Star Wars comic, even the deceased Obi-Wan gets an entire issue to tell the story of what happened to him after he escaped Order 66 and brought Luke to Tatooine.
The Vader comic is bringing subtlety, logical motivation, and, dare I say it, grace to a character who was previously nothing more than the Platonic ideal of the big bad.
Leia, as always, is getting the shaft. She doesn’t grow in this comic. She doesn’t change or develop. She makes some new friends, sure, but there isn’t any real weight to any of it.
She is the same person she has always been. While I like and admire that person very much, I want more. I want some internal monologue, some breaking with character, if only in private moments. I want to see her utilize her legendary temper to her own advantage or even to see it get her in trouble.
I want more of the Leia we see in Return of the Jedi, the one who’s an impulsive trouble maker and a diplomat, a lover and a sister. The hero, the rebel, the princess.
The imperfect, human person.
Leia is put up on a pedestal the guys somehow manage to avoid. She is a paragon while they are rogues and chosen ones. She is an icon and an idol while they get to live.
That isn’t fair. It isn’t right.
It does Leia Organa and those of us who admire her a disservice.
So let’s see her get dirty and screw up and implode her own mission once in a while.
It makes for a more interesting, and more satisfying, narrative and much happier readers.