On Dec. 28, Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60. The world has been mourning her heartbreaking loss — not only because Fisher's star-making turn as Princess Leia Organa inspired a generation of aspiring princesses, but also because generations of little boys were inspired by her badassery.
I am currently raising three boys. Leia is a positive role model, the one girl in the sci-fi series who can take care of herself. My three little boys need to view women as smart and capable, not as frail, fragile beings who need rescuing. Leia teaches them that girls can't be tamed, not really, and that they're just as capable as boys — and if boys fail, they can step up to the plate (Yoda's "there is another" quote is widely supposed to refer to Princess Leia).
The first time we see Princess Leia, she’s a typical damsel in distress. Dressed in white, projected from R2-D2, she begs, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” But that's the last time Leia comes off as weak in the Star Wars movies. She’s got a snappy comeback for everything: When Luke shows up to rescue her and dresses as a Stormtrooper, for instance, she asks, “Aren’t you a little short?” Upon seeing her rescue ship, the Millennium Falcon, she says to Han Solo, “You fly in that? You’re braver than I thought.”
Throughout the series, Leia proves that she's more than a typical Disney princess (even though she later became one when George Lucas's film company, LucasFilm, was bought by Disney). She gets a blaster almost immediately and keeps it for the whole series. She disguises herself as a bounty hunter that even Boba Fett has to respect. When Jabba the Hutt tarts her up in a gold bikini, she strangles him with her own chain. She’s an integral part in leading the Rebellion, and like Luke, she’s Force-sensitive: she can feel the Force like a Jedi (which she finds out when Vader cuts Luke's hand off and he clings to the metal scaffolding calling for her to save him).
Basically, Leia is a badass.
The Leia so many of us grew up with is completely at odds with the typical movie princesses, the type who spends the whole story waiting for a man to come and save her. Of course, Leia marries Han in the end, but not until after they destroy the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor. By the end of Return of the Jedi, it's clear they're still together, but there’s no big, princess-like wedding. In fact, all we see of their marriage is the reunion in The Force Awakens. They clearly still love each other, but after what’s happened to their son Ben (AKA Kylo Ren), they couldn’t bear to be together.
Leia and Han have a real relationship, not just a storybook romance, and unlike most princesses, who sit in a tower waiting to be rescued, she's just as active a participant in their love story as he is. Leia proves that men don't have the right to marry whatever woman strikes their fancy; instead of being a passive participant in her own fate after she's captured by Jabba the Hutt and stuffed into a bikini, she strangles the man who puts her there. That's feminism. That's what I want my sons to learn.
My husband grew up with two religions: Presbyterianism and Star Wars. For him, every year Christmas meant a Star Wars movie marathon, and Leia was the first princess he was exposed to. She was the ultimate example of a princess to him: a smart, capable woman who got things done, which is why he had no fewer than three Princess Leia figurines growing up.
Like his father, my son is a huge Star Wars fan. If you ask him, he’ll say his favorite movie is The Empire Strikes Back, because it has some of Leia’s most badass moments in it. I asked him today what he thought of Princess Leia. “She’s really good with a blaster,” he said. “As good as me. If there was a Stormtrooper behind me I could spin and pow! Pow! Just like that in three seconds.”
I pressed harder. What else did he like about Leia? “When she chokes Jabba the Hutt,” he said. By then, he was busy with an imaginary light saber, and later, he went to play with his Lego Star Wars, his favorite set of which includes Leia in her white Hoth get-up.
That’s a princess to him: someone who kicks ass and takes names.
Clearly, my son sees Leia as someone self-sufficient, who could use a blaster and take care of herself. That’s a princess to him: someone who kicks ass and takes names. She’s the first princess he'll ever know, the princess he’ll always carry in his already nerdy little heart. In a world that is dominated by rape culture, I need my sons to know women are strong and capable. I need them to know that women are not weak, and they are not there for my sons' amusement. And I am so grateful that Princess Leia is there to serve as an example.