Return of the Feminist Role Model

The last time we saw Leia was with Luke Skywalker after Lando and Chewbacca went off in search of Han Solo. This could be interpreted as leaving the damsel to avoid the distress, or Leia could have stayed to make sure Luke was okay. Regardless, Leia was left instead of going to try and rescue the love of her life. But still, Leia returns as our feminist role model.

Return of the Jedi begins in a different way… We see a lot of Jabba’s palace, including the women he has dancing for him and tied up in chains. One of the main problems I have with Star Wars from a feminist perspective is how few women are properly featured within the films. Yes, we have a Leia and they are some women dotted around as extras here and there. However, Jabba’s women are shoved into the spotlight during the scenes at his palace and are essentially objectified. The only purpose they serve is for the male gaze – or Jabba’s gaze in this case – which is hardly encouraging for any women of any age watching this film.

After this disappointing beginning we see that an unidentified bounty hunter has brought in Chewbacca – however it is revealed that night that it is in fact Leia who has come to rescue Han Solo. She frees Han and soothes him when he panics after becoming conscious – explaining to him “I gotta get you out of here”. This is a nice role reversal for women in film. Rather than use the damsel in distress trope, it is Leia who conducts the rescue mission rather than any of the men in the film – and her actions are not questioned. However, this is short-lived when Jabba catches them, imprisons Leia and sentences Han and Luke to death.

The next time we see Leia we can see she is also a subject of the male gaze and objectification, forced to lie by Jabba in a revealing outfit. As the execution is taking place, Leia is seen to be loosening her chains despite Jabba keeping a tight grasp around her. He tells her, “Soon you will learn to appreciate me”. Leia seems to be completely trapped and when you watch this for the first time, you may fear the damsel in distress trope has returned. Of course, Leia never fails to disappoint and as soon as Luke, Han and Chewie are escaping from their fate Leia turns the power off and strangles Jabba to death with the chains he bound her in. Leia then frees herself from her chains using R2D2 and is rescued by Luke to get on board their escape ship. I think Leia killing Jabba is an important moment. Using the chains her freedom was bound by, Leia created a situation to free herself with those same chains. This is an important message for women and girls: don’t let something chain your freedom, and if it does – use what binds you to free yourself.

Once they are all safe Han thanks Luke for coming back for him, despite it being Leia that truly rescued him. However the audience are reminded of Leia’s integral importance through Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi. It is here that Leia’s force sensitivity is suggested properly for the first time, that there is another Skywalker. Although this is the last real emphasis that is placed on Leia being force sensitive. It is a shame as it would have been progressive to have a female Jedi featured in the original trilogy. However, Leia’s skills also lie in diplomacy, which is an important role for a woman to have in this seemingly male dominated universe.

When there is a plan to infiltrate the new battle station on Endor, Leia is one of the first to volunteer to help Han, a role that she completely dedicates herself to. Not only do we see her return to action in Stormtrooper chases, but also we see her befriend and help the Ewoks, which provides them with an ally to defeat the Stormtroopers on Endor. This rapport between Leia and the Ewoks is also emphasised when a Stormtrooper captures her. Leia defeats the Stormtrooper thanks to the help of Wicket the Ewok. It is made clear she is very important to the Ewoks when Wicket takes her to meet the rest of the group.

Leia’s importance is also recognised by Luke Skywalker when he informs her they are siblings: “If I don’t make it back you’re the only hope for the alliance”. Although this is slightly big headed of Luke, I can see the sentiment is there. Obviously it is Luke that will ultimately need to bring balance to the force, but Leia’s contributions are invaluable to the cause and should not be held as ‘second place’. He follows on to say that Leia has always been strong, so it is clear that Luke only has kind and honourable intentions. However, Han also notices this moment and seems to interpret it in a different way – thinking that Luke and Leia are in love. Once again this reminds the audience of the love triangle that has been created between the three heroes. If you have read my previous posts you will know how I feel about this unnecessary love triangle. However, this is followed by a moment between Leia and Han where she asks him to hold her after he apologises for his behaviour. There is often a dichotomy between men and women in society, with the former being described as logical and the latter as emotional. I think this scene is an important move away from this stereotypical dichotomy. We can see both Han and Leia can portray both these traits – a progressive step for breaking traditional gender roles.

When the Battle of Endor commences, Leia covers for Han using a blaster whilst he tries to hotwire the bunker, however she is shot and they are caught. Leia uses her good arm to shoot both Stormtroopers so they can escape and gain control of the bunker. This is a pivotal moment in the film as it allows them to disarm the deflector shields in order to enable the rebels to attack the Death Star.

Meanwhile, Luke has been battling with his father Vader, who has eventually seen the light side and sacrifices himself for his son. In Vader’s death scene, Leia is barely mentioned and it seems to be a truly father and son moment. Although in a sense I can appreciate this, Vader has met Leia but not when he was aware of her parentage. Luke is the only child he has ever known, however on the other hand excluding Leia from this moment is unfair on her character. This moment is again emphasised at the end of the film when Vader returns in the form of Anakin’s spirit with Obi-Wan and Yoda – it is only Luke that can see them. This firmly plants the message that despite everything, Leia does not receive the hero’s ending. Unfortunately, the ending that Leia receives is the knowledge that she assisted in defeating the Empire and her reward, which seems to be the love of Han Solo.

These achievements should not be belittled. Leia played a key part in the defeat of the Empire, however I feel her role has not been emphasised enough. The final time we see Leia she is with Han Solo, rather than being able to see her father and the man she asked for help for in the first place, Obi-Wan. Leia is a strong female character and a role model for all, however the ending of the Return of the Jedi did not necessarily do her the justice she deserved.

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

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Leia Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back finds Princess Leia at the forefront of the Rebel Alliance once more at their newly found base on Hoth. Although we can see that Leia is still an important leadership figure within the Rebel Alliance, we are also reminded that she is still the love interest of Han Solo. When she makes no reaction to his leaving, Han storms off in his typical Han way. Leia will not pander to his needs, however is not afraid to tell him that the Rebel Alliance needs him at this time of crisis – especially with Vader still searching for the new Rebel base. Leia is clearly a woman dedicated to her cause, not allowing any personal feelings she may have get in the way of her end goal. This type of character in a film franchise raises the question “can women have it all?” or, will Leia have to choose between a relationship/family life or her leadership role within the Rebel Alliance like so many women still have to in our society today. I think this is a key theme within the character of Leia, something that is explored in future films as well as Episode V.

Whatever feelings Leia does have for Han, she once again puts them aside to ensure she gets Luke Skywalker home, as he has not been seen for the majority of the day. After asking Han to go and search for him, both men have been missing for a considerable amount of time. She does not want to close down the base for the night knowing they are still out there, however Leia knows that she must in order to keep the rest of the base safe. This scene contradicts the traditional stereotype of women being emotional and unable to make rational decisions. Here, we can see that although Leia listens to her emotions, she is perfectly able to make rational decisions instead of being portrayed as a woman who is constantly reliant upon men. This is a very important part of her leadership style. Throughout the film we regularly see Leia in the control room, giving talks to the rebel pilots and taking advice from other members of the Alliance. This is an important message that Leia is sending to girls and women – a woman is strong and can be in a leadership role without questioning. This is not seen enough within films.

However, after this powerful scene Han once again reminds us that he must of course be the object of Leia’s affections and this is why she will not allow him to leave (despite the weather outside). Leia questions where he gets his delusions from and to reinforce her lack of feelings towards Han, kisses Luke. This action reminds us that Leia is perhaps unknowingly caught in a love triangle between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, which this scene has reignited. Once Leia leaves, Luke smugly looks over at Han – which Han does not seem to appreciate. In terms of whether this undermines Leia, I am not convinced. Would I rather that Leia is not being subtly battled over by two men? Yes – I am not entirely sure what it brings to the story or any of the characters. However, I do not believe anyone could think any less of Leia for what is happening, if anything it is Luke and Han who perhaps need to think about their actions.

Despite Han’s questionable actions at times, we can see that beyond his arrogant exterior he does genuinely care for Leia. When the Rebel Base comes under attack by Darth Vader, Han helps Leia escape on the Millennium Falcon, and Leia returns the favour by helping Han and Chewbacca fix the Millennium Falcon when it experiences some technical difficulties. At one point she is seen to be struggling with a certain piece, where in which Han tries to intervene. Leia throws him off, determined to finish the job herself. This also shows the multi dimensional character that Leia is, although she is standoffish with Han (which one could argue is slightly uncalled for), it is most probably because she wants to do things herself. Once they reach a more common ground, Han kisses Leia and we once again see chemistry between the two characters before it comes to an end with the interruption from C-3PO. This kiss could also suggest that Leia can ‘have it all’ as she continues in her leadership role regardless of any potential relationship with Han Solo. However, this remains to be seen.

Han suggests that they visit his friend Lando once they have evaded the Imperial Fleet. Upon meeting Leia, Lando greets her with “Hello, what have we here?” followed by a kiss on the hand. This is the first time in the film where a male character has made subtle comments and actions about her physical appearance and gender to her face. Although Leia does not look too impressed with this, she does not make any comments. Instead, Leia tells Han about her suspicions of Lando, which fall on deaf ears. Instead, when they next meet Lando, he once again comments on Leia’s looks: “You look absolutely beautiful”. Once again, Leia does not respond to this, preferring to ignore Lando. I am unsure why Leia says nothing in response to these comments – perhaps because she feels unsafe in her environment she does not want to make matters worse, or perhaps she does not feel as though these comments warrant a reply. What Lando says could be regarded as a throw away comment – however I feel it is an important one as this is the first time Leia has essentially been objectified to her face. In a perfect world it would have perhaps been better for Leia to give one of her usual witty responses or at least a scornful look.

It seems that Leia’s suspicions were correct when we see that Darth Vader and the Empire have arrived in order to capture the rebels in order to create a trap for Luke Skywalker – who has been training to become a Jedi with Yoda. Vader agrees that Han is to be taken to Jabba the Hutt after being carbon-freezed, and Chewbacca and Leia are to remain with Lando. Understandably, Chewbacca becomes very distressed upon hearing this and is violent towards his captors. However it is Han who calms his friend down, telling him: “The princess – you have to take care of her”. On the one hand, this is a sweet gesture and implies that Han does have genuine feelings for Leia. On the other, this reinforces the protector/protected dichotomy that place women as the weaker gender. We have seen from Episode IV that Leia is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Although it would be better if Leia stayed with Chewbacca, not for her own safety, but more for companionship (especially if they were to plan an escape), perhaps Han’s request could have been reworded. Despite this, Leia tells Han that she loves him, and holds onto Chewbacca as Han meets his fate.

Luke has arrived too late to save Han Solo, however Leia tries to inform Luke of the trap set for him by resisting restraint in order to protect her friend when she sees him. Once she and the other rebels can escape, we see Leia reunited with a blaster and we are reminded of Leia’s combat skills. It is also at this point in the film where we can see that Leia is force sensitive. When Luke has lost his hand and is clinging for his life at the bottom of the floating city, he makes a desperate attempt to speak to Leia through telepathy. She senses this and forces Lando to return for Luke, saving his life.

Once Luke is on board, Leia tends to his wounds, which on one hand shows Leia’s tendency as a care giver (which has perhaps been reinforced by the other women she has known in her life), but on the other shows she cares for her friend. However, when the Millennium Falcon comes under attack, Leia leaves Luke in order to assist Chewbacca and Lando. At some point it appears that she is co-piloting the ship, which shows that she can take initiative and is confident in herself to try new (perhaps) things. Once they manage to get away from the Imperial Fleet again, Lando and Chewbacca leave Luke and Leia upon the Rebel medical frigate, presumably to go and rescue Han Solo.

In light of this, Leia is still an incredibly strong character since A New Hope. Her leadership skills, confidence and assertive nature all serve her as three of her greatest assets. Princess Leia remains a fantastic role model to audiences. This time we can see a few flaws within her character, especially her reluctance to challenge Lando on his comments about her appearance. However, maybe no reaction is better than her gushing all over him… Leia has a lot more in store for us in the coming weeks, I wonder what Return of the Jedi will bring!

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

A New Hope – for the representation of women

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

 

There was a Princess who was a strong lead character in a major movie franchise – HURRAH!

 

A New Hope begins with Princess Leia of Alderaan’s ship being attacked by the Empire – the oppressive regime are searching for a data chip that holds the plans for a new location of the rebel bases. Princess Leia, knowing the Empire need it to increase their power, decides to hide it in an R2D2 droid rather than hand it over. Although Leia is captured aboard her ship – she doesn’t go down without a fight. She has no issue with grabbing a blaster and battling storm troopers – this is something that we don’t always see today, let alone in the 70s.

Leia is not only resourceful when it comes to operating intergalactic firearms, she is portrayed as a strong political figure. When pressed for further information on the location of the rebel base she will not reveal it at any cost, with Darth Vader being informed, “She’ll die before she’ll tell you anything”. This suggests the dedication and loyalty that Leia has to her cause, strengthening her character. The fact that Leia is also a trusted leader for the rebels shows that she has entered the public sphere rather than remaining bound by the traditional laws of gender stereotypes. However, as there are few women within the Star Wars franchise, it is difficult to determine the extent of forced gender norms or any patriarchal values.

The R2 unit that Leia hides her message in is eventually found by Luke Skywalker – the hero of the film. Interestingly, when Leia’s hologram first appears, Luke’s first reaction is “Who is she? She’s beautiful”, perhaps suggesting that Naomi Wolf’s concept of the beauty myth exists in a galaxy far far away as well as in our modern society. The fact that the first thing Luke notices about Leia is disappointing, however he seems to see her as a damsel in distress that he needs to rescue rather than a political leader who has sacrificed herself for her planet and the rebellion. Nevertheless, when Luke finds Obi Wan Kenobi, the experienced Jedi steers Luke towards delivering the droid to Alderaan as requested.

Meanwhile back on the Death Star, Darth Vader has now resorted to mind probing Leia – but to no avail. Vader’s last option is to threaten Leia with the choice between giving up the location of the rebel base or allowing her home planet of Alderaan to be blown up. Princess Leia lies about the system where the rebel base lies to try and protect her home planet – which the Empire blow up regardless of her telling them the location. Once again showing quick wit – Leia does all she can in her present situation to save her people. Although this does not pay off – she has still not revealed the true location of the rebel base, which she knows will keep her fight against the Empire strong.

As Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi are on their way to Alderaan along with new acquaintances Han Solo and Chewbacca, they realise that their destination has been destroyed. Instead of being able to turn back, the Millennium Falcon is taken captive by the Death Star, which they realise has Princess Leia on board. Initially reluctant, Han Solo is persuaded to join the rescue mission when Luke describes her as rich and powerful – promising Solo money in return for his assistance. It seems that Leia has been objectified by Luke – namely for her own advantage – however, nevertheless it is not necessarily a socially flattering comment for a woman to just be associated with money and power. Is it better than being described as beautiful? Yes. The fact that Leia is described as powerful is good – but that is not the reason for Solo complying, he is a smuggler that needs the money. In this case – Leia is being used as a bargaining tool for Han Solo’s help in her rescue. This does not really damage her portrayal however; once Leia is rescued she produces the most logical solution for their escape from the stormtroopers. Leia takes Luke’s blaster and shoots at a drain chute in order to form an escape route, yelling, “Somebody has to save our skins!” before shooting at some stormtroopers and jumping down the hole she just made. Once again, this is a refreshing female character is a major movie franchise – especially considering it was bought by the Walt Disney Company. When thinking about characters that the Walt Disney Company produced in the 70s – bar Maid Marian and perhaps at a small push Bianca – the leading ladies of these films, as lovely as they are, are no match for Princess Leia.

Unhappy with Leia’s decisions – which nearly led them to be crushed in a rubbish chute, Han Solo comments, “If we just avoid any more female advice, we ought to be able to get out of here”, we then see Han bring their location to the attention of the Empire again by shooting his blaster to soothe Chewbacca. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions – but it seems that Han may feel it was not Leia’s place to act for them. This may not necessarily be because Han feels that Leia’s place is in the private sphere rather than the public – we all know how arrogant he can be – nevertheless, it could certainly be interpreted as Han having traditional views of the place of women in the galaxy. After Han reveals their location to the Empire Leia proceeds to take control of the situation once more, scolding Han Solo in the process, “Listen, I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you do as I tell you – kay?”. Therefore, Leia remains a firm leader and a strong female lead within the franchise due to her confidence, weapon skills and quick wit.

Leia’s tactical knowledge does not seem to stop there however, when the rebel group escape the Death Star she cuts their celebrations short by reminding them that, “They let us go, it’s the only explanation for the ease of our escape”. Leia had realised the Millennium Falcon was being tracked by the Empire and that the fight was not over yet. Once again, this shows how knowledgeable Leia is thanks to her exposure in the public sphere.

This knowledge and power that Leia holds is a very positive message for women in society. Some scenes within the film undermine this powerful message. For example, once Leia leaves the cockpit in the Millennium Falcon Han Solo and Luke Skywalker proceed to have a conversation about Leia:

 

Luke: So, what do you think of her huh?
Han: I’m trying not to kid.
Luke: *smugly* Good.
Han: Still, she’s got a lot of spirit, I, what do you think? You think a princess and a guy like me –
Luke: No.
Han: *Smiles*

 

This type of conversation can undermine Leia’s strong portrayal throughout the film. It seems to me that although the two men may appreciate Leia for her knowledge and skill – they still seem to see her as a potential partner and are competing with one another to gain her affection. This presents Leia as an object of men’s affections and desires rather than her own person. Despite this objectification, Leia does inadvertently overcome this with her strong character; nevertheless it undermines the powerful representation of Leia in this film.

Towards the end of the film, once the rebels return to the rebel base Leia is publicly acknowledged for her efforts to bring back the Death Star plans, once again showing how she is respected by the rebellion. This shows Leia as clearly within the public sphere rather than being trapped within the private. This is further emphasised when Leia is regularly seen at the core of the battle station listening to the pilots trying to infiltrate the Death Star. It is clear that Leia is fully involved with decisions and is respected by her colleagues.

Finally, at the end of the film Leia honours Luke and Han with awards that are presumably for services to the rebellion. This shows her prestige, however she should probably have an award herself considering she was a key contributor to their success as well as hiding the plans for the rebel base. Nevertheless, Leia is fully involved in the process rather than standing in the sidelines, which is important for the representation of women in film.

In conclusion, Leia is a strong female character within this franchise, and is a leading example in the heroines of film. As I am writing this I realise I do not have a lot of constructive criticism of Leia. For me, she is a strong character that is undermined by other characters rather than by herself. However – who knows what we will find next time!

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol