Leia in The Last Jedi represents more than a powerful female character; she represents all my aspirations as a teacher and human. After watching The Force Awakens, I feverishly penned a thank you to Carrie Fisher. As a geek woman, I can never thank Ms. Fisher for everything she gave all of us through her portrayal of our esteemed General Princess nor all she did to advocate for mental health.
However, Rian Johnson did so much more with our beloved Leia in The Last Jedi than any writer had before.
And this is where I’m going to warn you that there will be spoilers.
What? I mean, clearly, if I’m going to be delving deeply into this then I’m going to have to reference the movie.
This is the last pre-spoiler sentence. Then you’re going to see a big picture that says “Spoiler” and then you’re going to be on your own if you keep reading.
Why Is Rian Johnson’s Plot So Important?
Sitting in the theater, seeing Leia on the screen for possibly the last time, I hyperfocused on Leia’s scenes. I watched her hypervigilantly. Watching her fly through space, I felt a moment of “are you kidding me?” followed by “she looks like a superhero.” Many people may argue about the CGI being a bit awkward visually, but in that moment, Leia flew. She was Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Black Widow all rolled into one.
The more I cogitated on the movie, the thing that got me, however, was how Rian Johnson’s throughline of learning from failure made Leia into everything I strive to be as a parent and educator.
What Jedi Masters Teach
Throughout the Star Wars universe, Jedi masters stand as educators in the Way of The Force. Luke’s entire storyline relies on him failing as an educator. He made assumptions about Ben that led to creating Kylo Ren.
Teaching and parenting come with failure. It comes with your own failures and the failures of your students or children. When teaching, my failures become those of my students. Our ability to teach lies in our willingness to try something and fail. If we fail, we need to be able to change and evolve.
Deep in his own head, Luke refused to change. He admitted to failure, but he never attempted to diverge from the Jedi way. This is why, of all the lines in The Last Jedi that carry a message, the most important comes from Jedi Master Yoda’s Force ghost,
The greatest teacher, failure is.
This line cut me to my core. Yoda speaks to Luke not just Jedi to Jedi but teacher to teacher.
I often tell my students, as well as my child, that making mistakes is unimportant. A person’s response to the mistake is what matters.
Luke made a mistake and wallowed in the consequences of that action. He did not grow from it. He remained in a hermit stasis, fearing himself.
Leia in The Last Jedi, however, understands the value of evolving from a mistake. Leia understands that failure and success are unclear. As Poe turns off his communictor, Leia watches the fly boy take down the Dreadnaught recognizing that the win comes at a great loss.
Just as a teacher must support risks, so did Leia. She watched, stoically, as the Resistance fighters around her whooped with joy. She also ensured that Poe recognized that despite his win, he had to value in the cost.
What General Leia in The Last Jedi Teaches
Generals make life or death decisions. However, they also understand the value of failure. Poe fails, but General Leia remains supportive of him.
Admiral Holdo speaks to Poe condescendingly. Used to being Leia’s right hand man, Poe interprets this treatment as Holdo being a traitor to the Cause. Leia engendering trust in Poe allows his hubris to grow but also his ability to analyze outcomes.
The problem is that every good student needs to be supported in their failure. The right teacher helps lead the student from the fail into the success. Leia has prepared Poe to take on greater responsiblity, but while she lies in a coma, he feels adrift. He has not yet been able to truly learn to trust himself. He relies on her approval to feel a sense of success. Without her, he continues on the same path of reckless behavior in an attempt to live up to his internal expectations.
In doing so, he puts more lives at risk.
As Leia and Holdo speak privately about their admiration for the fly boy, Poe lies unconscious. Upon awakening, he reels from this failure because those he loves have been risked.
The greatest teacher, failure is.
On the evacuation ship, Leia counsels Poe. This is her moment. This is the moment in which the Princess General becomes a Jedi Master. Poe, normally the one who refuses to listen to others and reassess his point of view, looks at Holdo on the ship under siege. In that moment, Leia has taught him that his failure to readjust his sense of self has led to more loss and death.
This is how Poe manages to go from seeking the glory of battle to following a bunch of little crystal dogs through a cave. Leia has taught him to think, analyze, and change. In this moment, our General becomes a Jedi Master. She may be strong with The Force, but she is a master Jedi because she can teach those around her to better themselves.
Why Rian Johnson’s Leia in The Last Jedi is My Hero
Our Leia has always been the one who exceeds expectations. She took on a gigantic alien slug using a metal bikini. She saved men more than once. She leads the Resistance. She mourns as a mother, wife, and sister.
However, previous iterations of this character have never given her this kind of strength. Leia has saved lives in the past. However, thanks to Rian Johnson we have a Leia who saves souls.
As a teacher and parent, my purpose is to make myself irrelevant. Every time students walk into my classroom, I try to explain to them that failing in a supported environment is the way to growth. I try to tell them that their assignments have no right or wrong answer.
Every semester, I get students who fail and refuse to readjust. They repeat the same mistakes. The choose to use failure as a crutch, just as Luke did. They blame themselves, or they blame me, just as Luke blamed himself and teh Jedi teachings.
Leia, however, used supported failure as a tool to make her people better. She showed them that the failure was not in the mistake but in the response afterward.
This is the power of Leia in The Last Jedi. Her power comes not from her being the strongest Force positive character. It comes not from people believing in her. It comes from her being able to make people believe in themselves.
For the first time in Star Wars history, we finally have a Leia whose power as a character matches the Carrie Fisher who inspired us.
Why Leia in The Last Jedi Is the Representation Fisher Deserved
Carrie Fisher stood as a beacon for women. She was Leia, both in character and in person.
Fisher, like Leia to an extent, acted as a “fixer.” Her ability to fix screenplays quietly helped others take their mistakes and learn from them. Her writings consistently expounded on her failures to overcome addiction. Her advocacy helped people see that their mental health problems were not things to be fixed but moments of quiet strength.
Women often find themselves in these situations. We are the moral core. We do the work behind the scenes. We do the planning, and we find that this work is often overlooked. The emotional work of being a woman takes energy. Rian Johnson’s Leia is the most feminist version of this character that we have been given because it recognizes that strength comes not from physical power but from emotional support.
The Leia that Rian Johnson gives us in The Last Jedi is the Leia that honors the woman as well as the character.
The greatest sadness I feel after seeing The Last Jedi is knowing that I won’t be able to read Fisher’s insights into this iteration of the iconic character.
I like to think that somewhere Carrie Fisher is looking down on us and smiling. She’s looking at Leia’s agency in this movie and reminding all of us that