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Leia Organa: Undercelebrated badass

Leia Organa often gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop where the casual Star Wars fandom is concerned. Most attention focuses on the cinnamon-roll hairdo and/or the bronze bikini. (I myself have been known to highlight the Slave Leia Tendency, even pledging money for every Slave Leia spotted at Dragon Con, but that was more about the lack of creativity than anything else — y’all, you’re in a photo with forty other Slave Leias.) In honor of last night’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Nicki Salcedo gives Leia her due, celebrating her uncelebrated badassitude. (And providing me with my new rough-day mantra: Was your home planet just destroyed? Then pull it together, young Jedi.)

The first time you see Leia, she is being a spy. The second time you see Leia, she is toe-to-toe with Darth Vader. She is the only person in the movie who gets away with sassing him and rolling her eyes. Everyone else suffered the Dark Side choke hold, but not Leia.

Of course, her sass resulted in the Death Star doing something dramatic to her home planet Alderaan. I turned to my kids during the movie to explain, “Only then do you see her panic. She never cries.”

When my kids start having a meltdown, I try to put their hysterics into perspective. “Was your home planet just destroyed? Then pull it together, young Jedi.”


It looks like Leia is playing second fiddle to these men, but she’s playing first chair violin. She isn’t afraid of heights or diving into a trash compactor. She will kiss a mercenary and dress as a bounty hunter. She gets to rock a sweet metal bikini at precisely the moment when her boyfriend is blind.

“She is a sexual being without having to rely on her sexuality to save her,” I say as she is choking Jabba the Hut with her chains. My kids groan. They do not like me using the words sex, sexuality, or sexy. Did anyone notice that she is saving herself? The men in “Star Wars” don’t even worry about her.

Luke is thinking, “She’s got this.”

Han is thinking, “Ditto.”


Go see “Star Wars.” Go see it for Leia. You’re her only hope. No other character gets to be spy, diplomat, rebel, and Jedi. Not bad for a princess.

12 thoughts on Leia Organa: Undercelebrated badass

  1. Awesomely true! I’m ashamed to say that as a kid, I did not recognize Leia’s awesomeness, because I was so heavily identified with Han Solo and I was the only girl who wanted to play Star Wars, I was always being told to be Leia and I didn’t want to. But I was wrong! Another awesome thing about her: when Luke and Han rescue her, she is totally ungrateful. Now that I’m an adult, I love that. She doesn’t simper, she upbraids them for not having planned things better. She takes them into the garbage dump. She insults Han and Chewbacca. She’s kind wonderfully nasty.

  2. Although my only disagreement with the quoted essay is the implicit contempt for crying. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with crying when something lousy has happened or you just feel bad. I don’t think that crying is weakness. I think that the idea that expressing sadness through crying is weakness is tied up with misogyny and notions which emotions are superior and which are inferior. Leia could’ve cried. She would still have been a badass.

    1. Yeah, I flipped out over the “She never cries” comment, too. WTF?? A planet-full of people — your people, BTW — wiped out, and you’re not supposed to cry? What kind of monster do you have to become not to cry at that?

      IMnot-so-HO, the whole article is an example of the way our society privileges “masculine” traits and has contempt for “feminine” traits. We aren’t supposed to value Leia for kindness or to consider her “girly” qualities worth while. No, we’re supposed to think about how “bad-ass” she is. Keep in mind who’s the logical extreme of “bad-ass”-ness: Darth Vader.

      It’s not enough that half the population of the planet has been being bullied into becoming little marines, little Rambos — little Darth Vaders — as if there weren’t enough callous exploitation and gratuitous murder going on. Now we have to bully the other half into being that, too?

      (I’m reminded of The Gate Into Women’s Country)

      But there’s another toxic aspect to this: what about the people (of both sexes) who can’t be bad-ass and cannot force themselves to want to? Whose nature lies in kindness, compassion, nurturing, empathy, healing, peace-making, etc.? In looking pretty and bringing joy? Isn’t the constant emphasis on being “bad-ass” telling them that they’re worthless?

      I don’t know about anybody else’s feminism, but a large part of mine is trying to get “feminine” characteristics to be as valued as “masculine” ones.

      1. Love this comment, AMM. You’re completely right, in my opinion. Kindness, compassion, nurturing, empathy, healing, peace-making, even beauty–these are all valuable, far more valuable to humanity than the ability to kick and take names. We need to encourage and celebrate these traits, and undo the fetishization of toughness.

      2. I mean, I cried when they told me my baby had been intubated in the NICU. Does that somehow make me weak? Or just a person who was scared and upset?

  3. Not sure if you’ve seen this, but I loved this quote from Carrie Fisher:

    The father who flipped out about [the bikini], ‘What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?’ Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.

      1. I’m excited for you to see it! I’m hopeful that you (and everyone) will like it as much as I did!

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