Before I’d ever even seen Star Wars (which I begrudgingly admit was less than 48 hours ago), your character was my entry point into the story. As the only little girl in my neighbourhood, when the boys wanted to play Star Wars, I always had to be Princess Leia. I wasn’t a fan of dolls, or dresses, or princesses. Princesses sit around in castles looking pretty, waiting for princes. I wanted to be the Bionic Woman. But when the boys told me Princess Leia was smart, and she gets to shoot a gun, fight bad guys and tell Han Solo off, it seemed like a gig I was born for.
I have a feeling you know what I’m talking about.
Coming to the Star Wars universe at this very late date has had its disadvantages. Even though I’ve only seen the first film in the series, I’m all-too-aware of the plot, the characters, the relationships, and the minutiae. The franchise’s popularity is just too ubiquitous not to. When I sat down to watch Episode IV for the very first time the other night, I knew I would struggle to maintain objectivity. So I imagined myself as a kid in the Seventies (which I was), seeing Star Wars for the first time. What would I have laughed at? What would I have found exciting, or scary, or confusing? Would I have understood the stakes? The relationships? The very concept of The Force? Who would I consider the hero of the story?
Here’s how my kid-brain would have broken it down: Droids and Wookies = funny, Darth Vader = bad, Obi Wan = pretty much Santa with a light saber, Luke = kind of goofy, Han Solo = kind of a dick, Storm Troopers = useless, Cantina Bar = cool, The Force = …uh, I’m still not really sure what the Force is. But then there’s Princess Leia, and Princess Leia = awesome! Seriously. Right from the get-go she insults Darth Vader, she cleverly plans her own rescue by hiding a message in R2D2, she gets tortured but doesn’t give anything up, and when she gets out she chides her rescuers for sucking at rescuing her. Then, when they’re stuck in the trash compactor, she figures out how to brace it open, and when her planet gets destroyed she keeps calm and carries on, shoots tons of bad guys, and, yes, she tells Han Solo off. A lot. She’s in control, she’s a rebel, and she’s got attitude.
Obviously, she’s the hero.
To be honest, over the last several decades, I never really felt I was missing out by not seeing the Star Wars movies. I appreciate their pop-cultural significance, I respect the ingenuity that went into them, and I understand why they are so beloved by so, so many. I love great sci-fi, and action movies, too, and I now know why this one is considered to be the ultimate. It was fun, and thrilling and I really did feel like a kid watching it; I managed to experience the excitement, suspense, and camaraderie of joining this ragtag group of misfits as they tried to take down a ruthless dictator intent on world domination.
As far as stories go, however, these aren’t necessarily the ones that grab me by the gut. I’ve always been more intrigued by reality—in seeing the good and evil of regular people played out in all its awkward, hilarious, pathetic wretchedness. I have a feeling you know what I’m talking about.
Viewing this movie for the first time as an adult means that it comes with a little bit of backstory. Through your hilariously frank autobiographies Postcards From the Edge, and Wishful Drinking, I know about your upbringing, your bipolar disorder, your drug addiction, relationships, and unease with your Star Wars related-fame. As much as I tried to watch A New Hope through a kid’s eyes, I couldn’t separate what I know about you, the person, with what I saw in your portrayal of Leia. And maybe that’s why I loved you so much in this role.
You were 19 years-old when you made this movie, with many of your life’s biggest obstacles and triumphs still ahead of you. And yet you were able to give Leia a sophistication, determination, and playful cynicism that was well beyond your years. It’s a role that, for better or for worse, has defined your career, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else coming even close.
I do plan on watching The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (in their unadulterated, pre-’97, VHS versions, by decree of C. Redmond, C. Tourangeau, and J. Young), mainly because I want to see what else you bring to Leia. I may even watch the rest of the series, if only so I can get to see you play Leia in The Force Awakens with some context. Or instead I may just continue to follow your brilliant, DGAF publicity for the movie.
Either way, it’s obvious to me that you’re still the hero.