I got off pretty lucky in the parent department. Neither my father nor my mother thought gender was a limit, or even attempted to impose ideas as to how I was supposed to behave just because I was a girl. Indeed, my mother tells me I was very much like a stereotypical little boy as a young child. Since I could explore the world without blue or pink glasses, I was free to pursue whichever occupations or hobbies interested me most. The message was clear, I could do anything I set my mind to.
I was also fortunate that I was somewhat oblivious to the messages of the entertainment world. No one could tell me what a girl could or could not do. Particularly not after my first experience watching Star Wars.
I was about seven I suppose. Star Wars had come on the television and my parents quickly set me down to watch it. I don’t know if it was because they knew it would be right up my alley, or they already understood the importance of the now ridiculously famous classic. But I will never forget seeing Leia for the first time. She was unlike any other depiction of a woman I had seen in visual fiction. Finally, a female character I could relate to.
Don’t get me wrong, I had read about wonderful female characters, but they didn’t show up in the TV or in the movies much. (Unless, of course, you watched the news.) But I didn’t really notice that women were depicted as weak. It was kind of hard to see things that way, with the Iron Bitch* running the country. Still, I never felt like I could relate to any of the women on screen. I didn’t feel left out, I just had a tendency to identify with male characters more. Because no one told me I couldn’t.
But Leia was different. Even as she made a distress call, she maintained her poise and dignity. When faced with the Empire’s most fearsome warrior, she was utterly fearless. She did not back down. She did not cease to have faith in her ideals. Not even torture could break her spirit. In short, she was a total bad ass. My love of Leia continued throughout the films. She was strong, capable, brave, and as we know from the ending, more powerful than she realized.
I was too young to understand any kind of feminist implications of the film, so in return of the Jedi, the slave Leia costume only had one impact: I wanted it myself. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. But more than that, even in her capture, she was bold, brave, and without shame. I loved that she got her vengeance. Strangling Jabba the Hutt with the very chain he held her by? It would be the first time I came across the idea of being hoisted by your own petard, a story element I quite enjoy using to this day. And it was to me, the sign of her unyielding fierceness. I will repeat, nothing broke her.
Perhaps it was the force, but in her seemed to be the faith that things would eventually work out in her favor. It something I carried with me for a long time. That same faith. But like the actress who played her, I would one day face an enemy that could not be defeated.
Both Carrie Fisher and I have bipolar. It’s a condition you have to fight every day, and being strong just gets harder. And there was a point I did break. I collapsed over and over again. I entirely lost my faith that things would ever work out again. I eventually found it once more, a story for another time, but now that I am re-watching the original Star Wars it is exciting to see a hero whose actress and character both resonate with me.
It is my hope the the new films provide a female, or perhaps several, who can lead the hearts of little girls, in the way Leia lead mine. May the new characters help others face their futures without fear as I once did, and do so again. May brave, bold children see themselves in the characters. And take hope, we can all be as strong as the women from Star Wars.
Times are changing, women to identify with are popping up in entertainment, I know. But there is something special about the magic of Star Wars that I really hope this new film captures. Because so far, the galaxy far far away is very impressive. It has a chance to sweep us away and inspire future generations. Just thinking of the possibilities, I can almost feel the force myself.
Thank you Leia, and thank you Carrie Fisher.
*AKA Sodding Thatcher.