“Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited.” – Princess Leia
Although Star Wars does not pass the Bechdel Test (in fact there is not one single scene in the entire trilogy where two women have a conversation alone) what we do have, particularly in Princess Leia is a great role model, and not a typical Princess. I have previously looked at the character of Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark and her decline from a strong independent woman to damsel in distress, however this isn’t something we see in Leia throughout the trilogy, which is in some respects, astonishing. Lucas has employed other stereotypes in Aunt Beru as the mother figure, and Oola as the whore, but even other female characters such as Mon Mothma have greater gender equality than most women in film. Even Luke Skywalker has his own stereotype as his journey can be seen to reflect the Oedipal Complex.
“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you’ll do as I tell you, okay?” – Princess Leia
Hollywood constantly reinforces gender stereotypes, and the ‘roles’ men and women play; husband, father, protector; wife, mother, care-giver. Women constantly need to be rescued and only men have the power to do so. The way we are introduced to Leia offers conflicting ideas about what to expect from her – she’s wearing white which historically symbolises innocence, virginity and naivety while on the other hand she has put herself in danger to retrieve the stolen plans of the Death Star to send back to the Rebellion. We soon learn she shows no fear from the way she talks to Vader and how she handles herself when in danger. It’s true that in every film she has to be rescued, but she in turn is also the rescuer. Not only does she imitate a bounty hunter to rescue Han Solo from his carbon cell (Return of the Jedi) she also saves Luke with twintuition (Empire Strikes Back) and chokes Jabba the Hutt to death (Return of the Jedi) – which receives no recognition from the other characters later in the film.
Is her status as a Princess a reason for her authority amongst others, and their respect for what she has to say? Maybe, but it is obvious she is a valuable member of the Rebellion because she wants to be involved in their missions, and not just from a safe distance. Something else which is interesting is that there is never any discussion or resistance of her facing dangerous situations. In Return of the Jedi she volunteers to go to Endor as part of Han’s crew and there is no opposition from anyone, not least the man she loves! This seems incredibly progressive for a Hollywood film. What we see is that she is respected, she gives commands, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She is passionate about the cause and she is part of The Force.
“Well somebody has to save our skins. Into the garbage, fly-boy!” – Princess Leia
I talked to someone the other day about this and how important Alien is in terms of it having the first female lead in a sci-fi film. He said “Well what about Sarah Connor in the Terminator films?” But when I asked him to name the actress who played her he couldn’t. When you think of Terminator you think Arnold Schwarzenegger, when you think of Alien you think of Sigourney Weaver. Maybe things are changing slowly, Sandra Bullock in Gravity is an example of this and we do get plenty of great female actors in the genre.
So how will Leia’s character fare in the upcoming Star Wars film? I’m not sure if I will find out but I can’t imagine she’s lost any of her passion or spirit.