May the 4th: Remembering Princess Leia’s Feminist Legacy

Princess Leia Carrie Fisher BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Esquire.

Growing up among male siblings is both a punishment and a blessing. Although I was never a fan of playing with dolls, the truth is that the repertoire of female characters in the children’s imagination of the 80s and 90s was not very interesting.

I didn’t want to be a veterinarian Barbie, and the closest I could feel to a cartoon character was to Velma Dinkley or Cheetara — and yet my physical abilities didn’t go that far.

When Dad introduced us to the world of Star Wars with Episode I, the magnificent world of Anakin Skywalker came with the promise of a Princess who had enchanted the previous generation — though perhaps for different reasons.

Princess Leia Organa, played in the films by Carrie Fisher, was introduced to audiences in the original Star Wars movie in 1977. She was the princess of the planet Alderaan, a member of the Imperial Senate, and an agent of the Rebel Alliance.

Before knowing the intricate history of Leia Organa’s birth parents, for a 10-year-old girl, the above description was enough to have found her new heroine.

This was a woman who, while fighting hand in hand with Jedi, who have the power of the Force, uses bravery and determination as her weapons of choice.

While my brothers vied to be Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, I finally had my character.

Princess Leia defied Vader, was key to the destruction of the Death Star, and in the sequels is commander of a Rebel base. It wasn’t until “Return of the Jedi” (1983) that George Lucas indulged his preponderantly male fan base with what would be the sexual fantasy of generations to come: Leia in a gold bikini in her role as “slave” to Jabba the Hutt, who holds her adored Han Solo prisoner.

The misrepresentation of the role from heroine to slave subjugation proved a slap in the face for girls like me and Carrie Fischer herself.

“There are a lot of people who don’t like my character in these movies; they think I’m some kind of space b–,” Fisher told Carol Caldwell in an interview for Rolling Stone just before “Return of the Jedi” opened in 1983. “She has no friends, no family; her planet was blown up in seconds — along with her hairdresser — so all she has is a cause. From the first film [‘Star Wars’], she was just a soldier, front line and center. The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry. In ‘Return of the Jedi,’ she gets to be more feminine, more supportive, more affectionate. But let’s not forget that these movies are basically boys’ fantasies. So the other way they made her more female in this one was to have her take off her clothes.”

It was no longer about the hero’s arc or the character’s gradual transformation into the person she was meant to be. For teenage girls who wanted to be Princess Leia, our heroine was a sexualized object, and getting her costume in children’s stores was virtually impossible.

However, growing up to be a feminist from such a young age was made easier by the legacy of Princess Leia — and Carrie Fisher, in particular.

The daughter of established Hollywood celebrities Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, fame was no stranger to the 20-year-old Fisher after the success of Star Wars.

She faced gender double standards, ageism, and the oblivion of one who no longer fits into a golden bikini while battling addictions and a difficult mental illness.

And yet, she persisted.

By the time “The Force Awakens” came out in 2015, Fisher was back as Princess Leia, but this time she was General Organa. Our heroine showed those of us, well into our twenties and about to have an identity crisis with adulthood, what we could become.

Meanwhile, new audiences felt it only natural that Daisy Ridley would play the new heroine and Jedi promise, without much consideration for the fact that she was a woman.

And without the people’s Princess, we would have had little chance at all.