– EXT. HANGAR – REMOTE PLANET – DAY: Leia gestures to a document in her other hand. “There’s still 24 fighters that haven’t had their C checks, and we need them ready to scramble by 0500 Sunday. I can count on you to make that deadline, right?” The chief mechanic nods smartly.
– INT. STARSHIP – OPS DECK: Leia puts a hand on a young pilot’s shoulder; the pilot looks up nervously. “First shift on the big ship, Lieutenant Bey? It’s great to see you here. I knew you’d qualify.” Bey smiles and looks back confidently at her console.
– INT. BARRACKS – LEIA’S ROOM – MIDNIGHT: Leia taps a hand terminal. There are 94 new messages. Subject lines scroll past — “Quartermaster’s January report”; “Re: overdue Corellian inventory”; “Schedule for meeting with new EVA suit supplier”. She sighs, drinks some tea, and taps the first message.
It’s not light sabers, is it? It’s grueling and dull, decades of small things. It films poorly. And it’s why the rebellion exists at all.
Luke is the cinematic hero because he has magic powers that you either have or you don’t (and we don’t). Leia in another timeline might have had them too but hers instead is the heroism anyone can choose — responsibility, tenaciousness, care — anyone can, but often we don’t, and somehow without a flashy magical montage it seems less heroic.
How much better the world would be if we were all Leia, though.
Or — maybe we can’t. As the whole internet has pointed out lately, Leia’s the woman who consoles Luke for losing her mentor after her whole world has burned. In the original series I think, in fact, she shows the most distress when Luke on Endor has revealed to her the truth about their parentage, when Han walks into that and wonders why she’s treating him that way; her feelings matter to cinematography when they illustrate someone else’s story. Luke and Obi-Wan can abandon the galaxy for hidden places when one student going wrong provokes feelings too strong to bear; whatever feelings Leia has about Alderaan and everything else are not enough to stop her from decades, decades, decades of unglamorous work.
Maybe we can’t all choose that; maybe Leia gets to be the powerhouse she is because her inner life, her reactions to the world around her, do not matter to the narrative, can be treated as if they don’t have effects. We see the profundity of Luke’s and Obi-Wan’s losses in their withdrawal from the world; Leia’s are both greater still, and not painful enough to keep her from processing 94 new emails, every day, for the rest of her life. She gets to be an astonishing hero, in so many ways too-little-celebrated by the narrative, because maybe she isn’t a person, doesn’t react the way people do, doesn’t get to claim the meaning of her own inner life as relevant in its own right.
I’d urge you all to choose to be Leias if I thought it fair. I am not sure it is plausible, in this galaxy right now, where we all have inner lives and centrality to our own stories. And yet here we are, with far more emails than lightsabers.
Perhaps I’ll ask instead — look for the Leias. The people all around who may not have montages, but who strengthen people, who make the supply lines work, who follow up. They are indeed magic.