In the immediate wake of actress Carrie Fisher’s death, I was intrigued to see numerous references to Leia Organa, her iconic character in the original Star Wars trilogy, as some kind of role model for female empowerment. Really?
Leia is a princess — in other words, a feudal title inherited via her adoptive parents (most likely Alderaan’s monarch).
Leia is a senator — most likely a similar inheritance.
Leia has “the Force” — this time, from her birth father.
None of this strikes me as particularly empowering, and her story isn’t exactly inspirational, either. In the first film, she’s an less-than-successful spy who has to be rescued by a (male) family friend, her brother and a guy she subsequently falls in love with. By the third, she’s deliberately walking into a trap to rescue her new boyfriend and ends up dressed as a giant slug’s sex toy, before being whisked to safety by a tribe of feral teddy hears. Feeling motivated yet?
For me, Leia Organa isn’t a patch on, say, the Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley, who has clearly broken through a chauvinist Plexiglas ceiling to become the bolshie warrant officer on a grubby refinery starship (thankfully, we were spared the planned scene where she and Captain Dallas make explicit the sexual relationship only vaguely hinted at in the final version). Everything that Ripley gets, she’s earned, and not simply handed because she’s got a rich family or her dead mom got knocked up by the chief assassin of a sinister cult. Now that’s an empowering role model.