In 1977 the world met Princess Leia Organa. In 2019, under JJ Abrams talented direction, the Skywalker story will come to an end, assuming Disney doesn’t change its mind. Again.
In the forty-two intervening years, we saw Leia Organa transition from a young princess,
angry and aggressive,
sweet…when she wasn’t standing as a warrior with the rest of the Rebel Alliance,
into a General,
calm and controlled,
sensitive…and still a warrior with the Rebels.
In May of 1977, I saw Star Wars with my father and sister. For a long time afterward, I was fascinated with the world George Lucas created. I liked Luke because he was the protagonist we all want to be, a normal guy who came out of nowhere and saved the day. I thought Han was the shit because of his mad skills and his supreme confidence. I loved Leia for her beauty and for always doing what needed to be done, for being a leader before I understood what that meant.
My fascination with Star Wars faded dramatically when Lucas started fucking up the movies with his remastering tricks. As with most Star Wars fans (and by most I mean ALL), the love affair ended fully and completely with The Phantom Menace. When Lucas wrote The Phantom Menace, he forgot what kind of movie fans wanted to see. We wanted an epic space adventure filled with action and suspense, a film in which our heroes are out-manned and out-gunned but who triumph against the galaxy’s ultimate oppressor. In the first three movies, that is what he gave us. Because he did, we tolerated the cheesy dialogue.
Famously, both Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness spoke publicly about the dialogue, calling it respectively, “…shit…” and, “…rubbish…” At the time, Carrie Fisher probably had similar thoughts about her lines. How could she not with clunker’s such as, “Governor Tarkin, I should’ve expected to find you holding Vader’s leash when I was brought on board.” But, Star Wars was a major role for the nineteen-year-old and just as the other actors did, she went with the lines Lucas purportedly refused to change. Despite their objections.
In 1983 Fisher told Rolling Stone magazine, “The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry.” I’m not sure if she was making a simple comment or if she was objecting to Lucas’ writing; the article doesn’t make that clear. However, by that point, her relationship with the role had become complicated. It remained so for many years and she was critical about other aspects, so it’s conceivable she made the statement as a criticism.
If it was, I have to respectfully disagree.
When I read the quote, I thought back to the moment Leia grabbed the blaster from Luke’s hands, and said, “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy.”
Her anger was right. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uou-ibEjaic
Leia was a young princess and therefore presumably (and logically), accustomed to having most people subservient to her wishes. She’d just watched her home world destroyed. She’s an integral part of a war that encompasses an entire galaxy. She has information that could potentially take down the Empire, and in doing so, seriously piss off Darth Vader, one of the “best” villains in filmdom…and now she is being rescued (badly) by one guy who wants a pay cheque and none of the accompanying Rebel nonsense, and a second guy who’s so hopelessly naïve he’s fallen in love with hokey religions, ancient weapons and a twenty second hologram.
Of course she’s going to be angry. She has a great deal to be angry about. Was there any other way for her to play it?
At its inception, Leia Organa’s role might or might not have required anger—in different hands, the role could have been written in any number of different ways. Carrie Fisher eventually became a writer and a script doctor. She had the talent and skills to write characters with more subtlety than George Lucas. Perhaps if she’d written Leia Organa’s story, for example, the princess wouldn’t have been as angry. Possibly Fisher would have made her strong in other ways. But back in 1977, Lucas was the writer and when it came to creating the strong female character he needed, he had no baseline. There was no precedent or knowledge or history for him to reference, on top of which, writing is not known as his strong suit. His genius lies is in his creativity. Fisher may not have liked that it took “anger” to create the strongest of female protagonists (long before “strong female protagonist” became the worn-out cliché it’s become), but Lucas did the best he could and in doing so he got it just right. Given Fisher’s comments, perhaps he achieved the character he needed inadvertently, but to suggest Leia’s anger was somehow wrong is disingenuous.
And, by the way, don’t bothering emailing me with righteous indignation…the need for strong female protagonists is reasonable and desirable but much of the noise surrounding the subject is unreasonable and ridiculous. We’ll talk about it more in the future.
The prequel trilogy of the nineties remains a horrible travesty, despite Ewan McGregor, who I think would be a fun guy to drink a beer with. The less said about those films, the better. I’d argue the first trilogy remain the best of all the films, particularly The Empire Strikes Back, even though the writing in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi is superior. I can’t wait to see how Abrams ends Leia’s character arc in Episode IX. One thing I can say for certain: angry or not, “to me, she’s royalty.”
I was sad to see you go, Carrie.
What about you? Did you grow up with a favourite movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark? Jaws? Or was it three unlikely heroes you remember…a farmer, a smuggler and a princess?
Thanks for listening. On October 3rd we’ll talk about customer service.
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