So Star Wars is great and all, and I’m aware that you might be thinking I’m expecting more of Star Wars than Star Wars is prepared to be, but is anybody else decidedly unthrilled by what they’ve (left un)done with Leia’s character?
Don’t get me wrong. Leia is a gift. But they made a promise about her allll the way back in The Empire Strikes Back that they have yet to fulfill, and time is literally a-wasting.
If you’re not remembering that promise, here it is:
OBI-WAN: That boy is our last hope.
YODA: No – there is another.
Not another Skywalker – another hope. Someone who is positioned to take over Luke’s work, who can be trained to take over Luke’s work and succeed, should Luke run away from it or give it up.
But yet, here’s the only result of all that narrative positioning of Leia: when we finally get Darth Vader’s realization that Luke has a sister, it’s not in terms of who that sister is, or even that he might realistically work to turn her to the dark side – it’s in terms of the fact that there is a sister at all to use against Luke.
In other words: a plot device.
And really? All that for Darth Vader to issue an empty threat to turn Luke’s unnamed sister to the dark side? (And of course, the key here is that it was an empty threat: Vader was trying to get to Luke. He had no interest in Luke’s sister – not even enough to call her by her name.)
All that reframing of Leia’s importance to the narrative just falls so flat in comparison to how little she was actually allowed to do in narrative. They gave her blasters, sure. They even let her use them. They gave her a place at the command room. They did all the things right except follow through with the massive stakes they gave her. She’s forced to watch as her planet is destroyed… and is never given a chance to avenge it. She discovers that her torturer is her father… and is never given a chance to deal with or act on that information. She has an unexpected heritage and birthright forced on her… and she’s never given the ability or desire to claim that birthright. Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister is just really exciting in ways it never delivered on.
Because here’s the real question: does the story change because Leia is now Luke’s sister? No. Does the story change because Leia is Force sensitive? Beyond her saving Luke at Bespin – which was a cool moment! – No.
Such. A. Waste.
But! There were possibilities for redemption!
I remember after The Force Awakens coming out – and being a little disappointed in the wake of the hype – being more disappointed in how they dealt with the Skywalker/Solo family. Luke doesn’t even appear until the end of the movie, and even then has no lines. Han gets killed by the dumbest villain of all time after apparently having separated from Leia. And worse, General Leia hadn’t been allowed to develop her Force skills.
I’d been chalking it up to my mind’s stubbornness in letting go of the recently decanonized universe of books the came after the first six movies, where among other things I will always hold as “real” canon, Leia took the time to begin and complete her Jedi training and immediately jumped back into the world of politics: both a Jedi and a politician.
In the new canon, there was no need to limit her to only politics when it would be so easy not to, when our reintroduction to Leia’s character 30 years on has come in asides and in the background. And to tell you what a hole it was, J.J. Abrams had to address it, essentially saying she just decided not to. Which, fine. Leia’s got free will and agency and everything, she can decide to opt out of the family business. But narratively, for there to be no discussion of it, even to tie up the loose ends of it all, is a mistake.
To make it worse, they’ve gifted it to Kylo Ren instead. They’re letting this whiny, murderous, angsty, irritating, egomaniacal, snotty kid with motives that are unconvincing at best deal with the mess that is Darth Vader-as-family in place of Leia, who especially now Luke has apparently run away , should get first crack at it.
All this being said, The Last Jedi comes out on the 15th. It’s Carrie Fisher’s last movie, and Leia’s last appearance, and nobody expected it to be either. None of the above could have been changed anyway. I’m sure General Leia will go on generalling in asides, the baton already firmly passed, however clumsily, to her son.
Dear The Last Jedi: Please, please, please surprise me.