Let me take you back to the hip times of the 1970s. It was totally cool and groovy, man. “The Boss”, David Bowie, and some kid named Michael Jackson were roaring on the scene. We had our first ever presidential resignation, Russia invaded Afghanistan, and the fashion was…questionable.
Carrie Fisher broke onto the scene and dazzled both male and female audiences alike. Lines such as “Into the garbage chute, flyboy!” and “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper” have been quoted from 1977 until today and will be quoted for decades afterwards.
In “A New Hope”, Princess Leia mocked Tarkin, stood up to Vader, formed rescue plans on her own, and helped the Rebel Alliance strike a lethal blow against the Evil Galactic Empire. It was rare to see a heroine like this and it helped pave the way for tough women actresses to this day. In “Empire Strikes Back”, Princess Leia gave a briefing to rebel pilots, helped coordinate a retreat in the face of an overwhelming enemy, and still has time to fire off witty remarks at Han Solo.
However, once they get off of Hoth, Leia’s decline is swift. The woman who heroically stalled for time by blasting stormtroopers so R2-D2 could escape was now nagging Han in the asteroid field. The princess who rescued her own rescuers on the Death Star was moping around Cloud City while Han was tortured. The heroine who preceded Ripley and Sarah Connor was having her hair done by the Ewoks.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Leia should have been the hero of the entire saga, charging ahead and coming up with a brilliant plan every time. Luke is clearly the main protagonist and Han the hard-charging, no-nonsense character we all love.
But notice that by Return of the Jedi rolled around, there just wasn’t very much for Leia to do. To be true, she helped free Han and killed Jabba…but that was Luke’s plan, not hers. When describing how the Rebels would attack the new Death Star, we learn that Han was made a General, Luke was revered as a would-be Jedi, and even Lando was made a General. The same Lando who wasn’t affiliated at all with the Rebel Alliance until the last two minutes of Empire Strikes Back was now leading the space forces? Leia is relegated to tagging along with the Endor band, contributing very little (if anything) to her cause that she was willing to die for in A New Hope.
Instead of being a pro-active heroine, she became a re-active wallflower. Instead of trying to escape from Cloud City or getting a distress call to the Rebel Alliance, she sat around and did nothing. True, she might not have been successful, but at least TRY to save the man you love and the brother you kissed (you can cringe now). Instead of using the Ewoks to try and find her friends and/or the shield generator, she got her hair done. True, she didn’t speak the language, but she demonstrated that there are ways to communicate that don’t require language.
Seriously, are there Ewok stylists? How does that work?
Leia’s ideas weren’t always the best, but they were quick, decisive, and showed her strength as a woman willing to take charge while the boys argued among themselves. Her decline was swift, going from a headstrong leader of the Alliance to a tag-a-long. In this way, the daughter takes after her mother.
But that’s a story for another time.