2016 has been a very rough year for a lot of us, for a great variety of reasons. Quite a few of those in particular have applied to me, to be sure. But this week 2016 just had to get in one last punch—one that hits home hard for me—because this is the week we’ve lost Carrie Fisher.
I have a post up on my own site about this, over here. But in this post I want to expound a bit upon what Ms. Fisher as Leia Organa has meant for me, not only as a female fan of science fiction and fantasy, but also as a female writer of same.
Certainly if you’ve seen my prior posts here on Here Be Magic, you know I’ve posted about my love of Star Wars before. Last month, in fact, I posted about what I was looking forward to with Rogue One (and, if you want to see my review of that movie now that I’ve actually seen it, go check this post on my site). One of the things I touched on in my review of that movie was how it brought everything I loved about Star Wars roaring back to life.
And with Carrie Fisher’s passing, that resurgence in me has taken on a bittersweet tang.
Like a lot of women my age in SF/F fandom, Leia Organa was iconic. She was the very first woman I can remember rooting for in a science fiction setting. As Star Wars is the first movie I can remember seeing in a theater, Leia is the first woman I remember being able to identify with. I have memories of wanting the Leia action figure, when my brothers and I got hold of Star Wars toys, wanting to be as cool as the Luke and Han figures were.
It took a while for other women to measure up. The closest I got was perhaps Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, four years later. As I got older and started devouring books and other SF/F things like cartoons, I kept wanting to identify with the women: Sheba, Serena, Cassiopeia, and Athena in the original Battlestar Galactica. Princess in Battle of the Planets. Lisa Hayes in Robotech. Cheetara in Thundercats. Judy in Lost in Space.
Then I got a little older and discovered Laura Holt of Remington Steele, and Nikki Carter, the one awesome female character in MacGyver.
In books, it was all about Lessa in The Dragonriders of Pern, Brin Ohmsford in The Wishsong of Shannara, and of course Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings. And once I hit high school and discovered the novels of Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, I started meeting so many wonderful heroines in her works.
And I could of course write many, many posts on all the female characters in Elfquest who have meant so much to me, both as a reader and as a writer.
All of these characters have been wonderful in their own ways, have brought joy to me as a reader, and have influenced my own sensibilities on how I should write my own female characters.
But every last one of them owes a debt to Princess Leia. She was the first. She was the one who showed me that even if you had to put up with being imprisoned by the Empire and waiting for a big-eyed farmboy to come break you out of your cell, that didn’t mean you had to be meek and shy about it. You had every right to grab a blaster and shoot Stormtroopers just like the guys.
And under no circumstances did you have to take any shit from smart-mouthed, disreputable smugglers. (Even if they were maddeningly hot.)
In The Force Awakens last year, we saw that very same Princess become a General. And now that I’m older, I have a whole new wave of feelings about that—because this Leia, this older, wiser woman who has suffered heartbreak and loss and who has never once stepped back from her ongoing quest to safeguard the galaxy, is every bit as much of a role model as her younger self. General Organa shows us all that yes, women can be generals. Women can lead a Rebellion that becomes a Resistance. Women have a place in the story even when they’re no longer conventionally pretty, or thin, or young. That message is just as valuable to almost-48-year-old me as the message of the young Leia was to me at age 8.
I love both Leias. And when Episode VIII comes out next year and I see General Organa on screen for the last time, I’m sure I’m going to cry for then as I am now.
RIP, General. Thank you for the joy you’ve brought so many women who came to SF/F because of you.
May the Force be with you always.
Angela writes as both Angela Highland and Angela Korra'ti, and as ought to be obvious by now, is also a gigantic Star Wars nerd. Come geek out with her about Rogue One on angelahighland.com, or her Facebook page, or her Twitter!