When I was little, I wanted to be Princess Leia. Like, really wanted to be Princess Leia. As in, I was too young to separate fiction from reality and actively quit crushing on Mark Hamill and switched to crushing on Harrison Ford because I knew it would be weird to like my brother like that.
Talking with a friend the other night, I told him I was too young at the time to fully understand why I admired her so much. We went on to talk about what a wonderfully strong female character she was and I said I was probably an adult before I recognized that that was what I had liked about her.
Now that I’ve had time to think about that, I realize I was wrong. I knew why I liked her, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it at 5 when the original Star Wars was released or even 10 when I stood in line with my parents waiting to get into Return of the Jedi.
What I didn’t understand yet was how novel a character she really was. Elsewhere, women in film weren’t like that. And that’s what I figured out as an adult.
But even as a kid, I loved that she stood alongside the men and fought with them. She could handle a blaster and wasn’t afraid to shoot back at the bad guys. When Luke and Han go to rescue her, her response isn’t to put wrist to forehead and proclaim “at last my prince has come” but “you are here to rescue me?” She knew they were in over their heads before they did. She wasn’t waiting to be rescued, she was waiting for an opportunity to escape.
And when Han gets captured, she goes to Jabba’s lair to rescue him. It doesn’t even seem to bother her that he couldn’t say “I love you” back. AND THEN she doesn’t even wait to be rescued after Jabba enslaves her. While the men are off fighting to stay out of the pit, she uses the very chain holding her back to kill her captor. How fucking badass is that?
That’s my girl. And pretty much the main reason I’ve crushed just a little on Carrie Fisher ever since too. It helps that, in real life, she’s brilliant, an excellent writer, and funny as hell. But mostly, she was my first exposure to strong women on screen.
So ever since, every time a female character dumbs herself down in order to attract a man, passive-aggressively traps him, or otherwise makes it clear that she needs a man in her life in order to be fulfilled, that little girl who dressed as Princess Leia for YEARS at Halloween dies a little.
Give me a woman who can be tender one minute and fearless the next, who is fully capable of taking care of herself, who knows what she wants and doesn’t let anyone hold her back. I’ll take her every time over the silliness that now populates so many “chick movies.”
So yeah, I knew what I liked early on. Possibly even why. What has disappointed me since is that there isn’t more of it.