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When I was growing up, I didn’t want to be the helpless princess in a tower waiting for someone to come rescue me. I wasn’t the Maid Marion or Snow White type. You’d never catch me in the forest chillin’ with the animals and singing “someday my prince will come.” Well, actually I did do that once, but it was straight parody. I wanted to be Robin Hood—or at the very least one of the Merry Men, the knight slaying the dragon, the spy defeating the despot, the rebel saving the galaxy from the Empire. I don’t meant to say that I wanted to be a dude—that was never the case. I grew up with brothers and cousins and now I have sons, and I am more convinced than ever that boys have cooties. But, in my mind, I could be a girl and a hero.
I credit this sensibility to my healthy diet of stories with strong female characters. For every helpless Disney princess, there was Eowyn, Wonder Woman, Joan of Arc, or Judith (who lobbed off Holofernes’ head in the Bible). Plus, God made man and woman equal, both in God’s image and likeness, and there were tons of kick-butt heroines in the Bible.
The Star Wars franchise portrays strong women in various ways throughout their movies. I particularly appreciated the roles of the Rogue One ladies. Lyra Erso was a wife and mother who believed deeply in the Force and tried to prepare her daughter for the likely return of Imperial baddies. When Director Krennic came and threatened her family, she didn’t cower. She died trying to protect her husband and daughter. Mon Mothma is the leader of the Rebel Alliance. She is a politician—a Senator of the former Republic—not a warrior, but a strong leader who tries to uphold a democratic process, even in the midst of the chaos of rebellion. Her strength is calm reason that helps keep people organized and grounded.
Then there’s Jyn. Essentially orphaned as a young girl and raised by an over-the-top rebel who, at times lost sight of what was right in the effort to defeat the Empire. Jyn simply tries to survive, not rebel. Perhaps she was disillusioned by knowing that her father was building a weapon of mass destruction for the Empire and by the corruption of the rebellion. But, when she learned that her father had been systematically betraying the Empire, her hope was renewed and she joined the fight. Her faith in her father and her desire to honour him by carrying out his plan was her strength. She became trusting, impassioned, hopeful, and committed; her sincerity was the spark that the rebels needed to obtain the plans to the Death Star. She was a terrific warrior willing to sacrifice everything for what she believed in.
But the gal who redefined for me what it was to be a princess of awesomeness was Leia. She wasn’t perfect, but she was an integral member of the rebellion against the Empire, the Force was strong with her, and she was brave and feisty. She risked her life, staying behind when Darth Vader caught up with the rebels so that she could ensure the safety of the plans to the Death Star, loading them and her famous hologram into R2D2. She knew she would be caught, and perhaps tortured, but made the safety of the galaxy more important than her own. She was way better with a blaster than any Stormtrooper (which I guess isn’t saying much), knew her way around a diplomatic situation, and wasn’t afraid to engage in battle.
When Han was frozen in carbonite and shipped off to Jabba the Hut, Leia developed a plan to save him which put her in direct danger again, resulting in her capture and unfortunate wardrobe change. She used the chains that were meant to shame her to kill Jabba and helped blind Han and the small group of rebels to escape.
Now that’s a lady to be reckoned with.
I could only mourn with her as she bore the loss of her son and the disappearance of her brother in The Force Awakens with strength and dignity. She never became paralyzed by her circumstances no matter how bad they became. With Carrie Fisher’s recent death, we mourn the loss of a beloved actor and the loss of an inspiring character (though Leia will live on in Episode VIII). It is these types of women who inspire me.
I’m glad that as long as the Star Wars franchise continues to make movies, every little girl who has the heart of a warrior will have a place to draw inspiration from. And as a mother of boys, I’m thrilled that they are seeing women in authority and capable of accomplishing the same things that any man can. I’m glad that they are not threatened by, but respectful of strong women and that they might look for companionship in a princess like Leia.
And while I may never have the opportunity to test my mettle in battle, the ladies of Star Wars encourage me to be brave and valiant in whatever circumstances I might find myself in… and ready for rebellion if it should become necessary.