With the recent news that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher for Star Wars Episode IX, I would like to advocate another controversial position: I think Princess/General Leia Organa should be recast. Not because of any disrespect to the late Carrie Fisher, who I adore for her honesty, for her writing talent, and, most of all, for her advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill.
But even Fisher acknowledged that her presence at fan conventions has taught her how much Leia (the character, as opposed to Fisher, the actor) meant to women of her generation.
It wasn’t Leia’s first appearance at the beginning of the original Star Wars that made an impression on me. No, that was just another scene of a woman being captured by an evil lord, thus kick-starting the story of the (male) hero.
Not that I could articulate this at the time—I was 11—but thought I knew this story. I knew Leia would be a bystander. I wasn’t even disappointed. That was the status quo. Even Leia’s defiance of Vader was lip service—she was still a prisoner waiting for rescue.
But the moment her cell door opened on the Death Star, and Leia gave the heroic Luke an appraising glance and commented, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” That’s the moment my love for Leia Organa began. It soared higher when she promptly took charge of her own rescue, and fought for herself all through the hallways of the Death Star.
For the first time on the screen, I saw a woman who was a part of the story, not as an object in a quest.
For the first time on film, I saw that I belonged.
Oh, sure, there are problems with Leia’s narrative. Of the three prominent characters from the original trilogy, she receives the least amount of character development. She has her moments, but even those are a mixed bag. Yes, love her rescuing Han solo from Jabba. Boo for Luke needing to then come to rescue her. Yay for Leia being the one to choke Jabba the Hut to death. Boo for the decision to put her in a gold bikini while she does it. (I mean, I know the reasons. Generations of fanboys whose eyes went wide at that moment know the reasons.)
But still: Leia was there. She was part of it. She belonged. That’s a huge message to see on the big screen—the same revelation that struck me when Batgirl showed up—theme song and motorcycle in tow—on the 1966 Batman television show. Girls could be super-heroes. I imagine people of color experience a similar feeling of belonging when Uhura and Sulu appeared as heroes in the original Star Trek.
That feeling of belonging, a feeling of being included, cannot be understated.
What’s more, Leia’s presence normalized the inclusion of a woman as a central part in a science fiction story for generations to come (if we’re talking more than one woman, well, that wait has been longer). When it came time to introduce my children to the Star Wars saga, we started with A New Hope, and they had the same reaction to Leia—they loved her. Both my girls and my boys. They took it for granted that she deserved a large part on the story.
And that’s why I’m in favor of a recast.
There is much more of Leia’s story to be told, some of which was hinted at in Star Wars:Bloodline, a recent, excellent tie-in novel by Claudia Gray. Deciding to truncate that story by snipping her out of the story or giving her an off-screen death in Episode IX, as speculated by fans, seems wrong, and a waste of her potential.
We rarely see older woman with prominent roles in science fiction. Leia is 60, like Carrie Fisher was; here’s a chance for those of us nearer to Leia’s age than we would like to admit to also have a place in the genre, just as Han Solo had a place in The Force Awakens and Luke will undoubtedly have in Episode VIII.
Not to mention that finding work as an actress over 60 isn’t easy in Hollywood. Male action heroes can continue to get work at that age, but there’s a different standard for women. There are likely hundreds of tremendous actresses 60 and older who could do a terrific job portraying Leia, and show that they belong in SFF too.
Even in prose, it’s unusual to see this kind of character as the lead or co-lead of a story. (If you’re looking for one, try Lois McMaster Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen or Paladin of Souls, and feel free to add more recommendations in the comments.)
Just as the young Princess Leia proved women belong in SFF, the continuing story of General Leia Organa will show the lives of women don’t end when their children are grown.
I’m not sure people who see themselves on-screen all the time know why that punch of “I belong” matters so much. Yes, it’s entirely possible to love and identify with characters who are not like you. As someone who lost her father young, I wanted to be Batman as a kid. When I played Star Trek, I was either Spock or Scotty. (None of the boys would let me be Kirk.) Those of us who aren’t usually seen onscreen have learned to identify with others not like ourselves for a long time.
But, wow, when you’ve been excluded and told “that’s not for you,” your whole life, and then you’re part of something you already love? That’s special. That’s unique. That matters.
Princess Leia matters. Uhura matters. Batgirl matters. Sulu matters. Cassien matters. Finn matters. Rey matters. Jyn Erso matters. Abbie Mills of Sleepy Hollow matters. Alex Danvers of Supergirl matters. Midnighter and Apollo matter. General Organa matters.
Their stories matter.
How do you think Episode IX should handle Leia’s story?