Leia Organa, Double Agent

Hope Prevails

I was 37 years old the first time someone told me that Star Wars (my favorite movie) is the story of Luke Skywalker. I was blown away. What movie had they watched? Star Wars is the story of Princess Leia, the hope of the rebellion. She is, after all, the only named character in the opening crawl. This is her story.

She was adopted as an infant, this much she has been told.

Her adoptive parents were her real parents, this much she knows.

Her mother — her real mother, Queen Breha of Alderaan — died when she was small. She remembers her in flashes of memory, uncertain which parts are real memories and which are stories she’s been told so many times that her mind created memories. She remembers a kind, beautiful woman overwhelmed by sadness — but she has been told so many times that her mother was joyful and strong; is she remembering her birth mother, Amidala? How could that be?

Her father is Bail Organa, former Galactic Senator and friend to her birth parents. He teaches her to read, teaches her to fend for herself — but he also tells her great stories of adventure and of the Jedi, brave knights who protected the old republic. Her father knows that she is more than the sum of her parentage, but he knows, too, that she comes from noble lines by birth as well as by adoption. She is a royal princess on Alderaan but a Jedi princess too. She is the daughter of a Senator and Queen and a Jedi Knight, and sooner or later that will matter to her destiny.

The force is strong in Leia, but she is guided by her mind.

Only a teenager when she begins working with the rebellion, Leia takes her father’s seat in the senate to get close to the enemy. When her father secures documents that will eventually enable to rebellion to take down the Empire’s greatest weapon, she is the one he trusts with them. She is on her way deliver them to the rebellion when the Emperor’s puppet, Darth Vader, captures her ship. But Leia is ready. She remains calm while formulating a Plan B, hiding the only hard copy of the plans in her colleague’s astromech droid and dispatching them off-ship, hoping that their escape would go unnoticed.

“I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.”

She stands up to him without flinching, hoping all the time that the droid she sent off in an escape pod to the nearest planet will make it to Obi Wan Kenobi, an ally she has only ever heard of in her father’s stories; hoping that he is a friend; hoping that he is still there. She puts thoughts of her plan failing out of her mind and worries only about distracting Vader long enough for it to succeed.

But then she is taken to the great weapon itself and Grand Moff Tarkin changes the rules and threatens to shut down the rebellion and kill her father and millions of innocents. It almost kills her but she doesn’t break; she names Dantooine, a former stronghold of the rebellion, hoping to buy time.

Tarkin destroys her home planet and makes her watch.

She doesn’t let herself cry; there is time for that later, maybe, if she survives. Instead she formulates plans and calculates contingencies until, finally, sleep wins out.

She wakes up to a rescue attempt by a little boy disguised as a stormtrooper. Surely she is still asleep. But no, he says he is with Kenobi; these men always think they know what they’re doing and now here he is, the last place that droid should be when it contains such valuable information. She knows it is a waking nightmare when the rescue is joined by a smuggler and a Wookiee.

They have no plan.

She takes charge and manages to get them off the detention level. Of course they complain that the only way out was down a trash chute.

Impossibly, they escape the Death Star. The smuggler’s ship is worse than she could have imagined, but he is brave and impulsive and the Wookiee is loyal to him.

The kid acts on emotion, which might be dangerous. Not only that, but he thinks he is going to become a Jedi knight now that he has lost his family and his mentor. Leia knows a thing or two about losing people, and she knows that he knows nothing, but she is too kind to tell him so, and instead comforts him. Something about him is so familiar.

When they are chased by fighters, the smuggler and the boy take the gunner positions, even though she is the best shot. And when they succeed, they take credit for an escape that Tarkin clearly allowed. She knows the empire is tracking them. Keep your enemies closer. She lets them follow her, hoping that the plans will reveal a weakness her people can exploit.

Hope is what gets Leia through.

The smuggler smells good; she must resist distraction. His greed makes that easier than it might otherwise be.

They make it to Yavin, with the Death Star swiftly approaching on their tails. Hyper speed travel bought more time, but time is a commodity with an expiration date. Her engineers analyze the stolen plans. Her mission is complete, if the pilots can execute the plan in time. She readies no escape ship; if the rebel base is destroyed, she will be destroyed with it.

She doesn’t allow herself to be disappointed when the smuggler takes off to save his own skin.

She does allow herself to rejoice when he comes back in time to save Luke, who fulfills her mission and blows up the Death Star.

Leia takes no credit but gives it where it is due: to Luke, Han, and Chewbacca.

Leia Organa won the battle by relying on the right people. Leia Organa never stops fighting, even once the war is won. She knows that she can never let her guard down, so she doesn’t. She allows herself love, she allows herself family, but she also becomes a General and keeps resisting.

Leia Organa is the hero we need, but we don’t deserve her.

Star Wars, Tropes, and Girls

Contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Joseph Campbell was an asshole.

I saw Star Wars Episode VII on Christmas morning, and I’m still digesting it. I know I loved it, but I haven’t had time yet to form full thoughts about it. Thus far, all of my responses look an awful lot like my face with cartoon hearts coming out of my eyes while I sigh, “Rey!” (For illustrative purposes, please picture Finn thinking about Poe. If you need further help, may I direct you to the shippy heart of the internet?)

Because the world can be terrible, I have already encountered, secondhand, a fanboy telling a woman that her worldview is invalid, and that Rey is missing from the vast array of The Force Awakens toys not because she is female, but because she was not the star of the movie. If you are baffled, as I was, he helpfully continued by explaining that the story was about finding Luke Skywalker. It is, of course, Rey who finds him, after two hours and fifteen minutes of adventures. By this logic, Episode IV is not about Luke, but is about getting the Death Star plans to the rebel base. (Here’s a helpful hint: Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker’s hero’s journey, which culminates in him saving the day by blowing up the Death Star.)

Of course, the hero’s journey is almost exclusively for boys. Girls and women are simply not allowed to have a hero’s journey. I find the entire concept flawed (eff you Mr. Campbell), but it is widely accepted as The One Way to make a hero. And it is a path that is walked by men and boys. Women and girls are there to make their journeys possible, often by dying to inspire the men to change their lives (this trope is known in comics as women in refrigerators and if you think they don’t end up in actual refrigerators you’re mistaken). On the rare occasion that a woman or girl is a hero, she starts out that way.

The hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” In other words, Star Wars.

Episode IV (or A New Hope or whatever you want to call it) begins with the famous opening crawl, text that describes the rebellion and names a single character: Princess Leia Organa, the heroine of the movie. She is risking her life and her position in the senate to transport the stolen Death Star plans to her rebel leader father on Alderaan; when she is about to be captured by Darth Vader, she manages to smuggle the plans off her ship, taking a calculated risk by sending them to someone she has never met and only hopes is an ally. She lies under duress, accepts her death sentence, and takes over her own rescue when Luke and Han don’t have any idea what they’re doing. With the arguable exception of trying to save Alderaan, she never makes the mission about herself — she rewards the pilots who carried out the plan that she made possible. And she does all this without being a chosen one, without being called to the mission. She does it because it’s the right thing to do.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Leia once again protects her people and the mission by ordering the blast doors closed while Han and Luke are out in sub-zero weather conditions that will surely kill them; she doesn’t want to, but she does it because it’s the right thing to do. She is a leader and she leads. (She is not allowed many more notable moments of leadership in the original trilogy — there apparently wasn’t room for her anymore in Luke’s journey — but she does single handedly take out Jabba the Hutt. Nothing to sneeze at.)

More recently, Imperator Furiosa heroed her way into cinemas (and my heart) in Mad Max: Fury Road. She betrayed her boss, Immortan Joe, the dictator of a corner of the postapocalyptic world, by transporting his beloved (and enslaved) concubines to freedom from him. It is implied in the movie that Furiosa went through at least part of the hero’s journey, refusing the mission before agreeing, reluctantly, to help the women escape. But the Furiosa that we meet is already resolved to do the right thing, and while she meets setbacks along the way and has to strengthen her resolve, she does not go on the full journey on screen.

Even more recently, Jessica Jones stormed her way onto the small screen in the groundbreaking Netflix original series, Marvel’s Jessica Jones. If girls are not allowed a hero’s journey, they are really not allowed to be antiheroes. Girls have to be likeable, unobtrusive, and already capable (but not toocapable). Jessica is a fucking mess. She also goes on at least a partial hero’s journey to destroy Kilgrave and become a hero. It’s revelatory.

And then there is Rey (pardon my heart eyes). Rey is somewhere in the middle. By my reckoning, she does not have the full hero’s journey as Luke did, but she does follow some of the path, hesitating when asked to do more than survive. She is willing to do the right thing, to protect BB-8 and to go after Finn without hesitation when the droid tells her he stole Poe’s jacket — but she is, admittedly, afraid to leave Jakku. Once she does, though — and even before her iconic escape on the Millennium Falcon — she shows time and again that she is already capable; that she is a scrappy fighter, a whiz-bang pilot, a good planner; that the force is so strong in her that she can use it without training, something Luke could not have imagined in his wildest dreams.

Rey seems to be on track to be another chosen one. Everyone once in a while, there is a female chosen one (though she usually still needs to be rescued by a man, and/or exists to further his story, as in The Fifth Element). Rey certainly seems poised to balance out Kylo Ren’s dark side with her bright, shining light. And she meets the #1 requirement in the Star Wars universe: she comes from a desert planet. But in The Force Awakens, at least, that is not her story.

Rey doesn’t need a hero’s journey to be the hero we need. She doesn’t need to be an antihero, refrigerated, or the chosen one. She was the hero the moment BB-8 rolled up to her.