In a playground filled with Disney Princess wannabes, Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray was Leia Organa.
When I was nine years old, I found it difficult to relate to the other little girls around me; they collected Sylvanian Families, wore sweet buckled shoes, and boasted a vast collection of brightly-coloured beads and kitschy plastic lunchboxes.
I, on the other hand, had permanently scraped knees, an explosion of messy brown hair (in a style my clueless dad dubbed ‘the pineapple’), and ate free school dinners in the canteen. My abnormally big feet meant I had to wear lace-up “boy shoes”, as the meanest girl in the class would point out on a regular basis, and I didn’t have a single Sylvanian Family toy to my name. But, in spite of all that, I probably could have found a way to get along with the girls if I really wanted to. I just… I just didn’t want to.
Because, while they played at make-believe Disney weddings on the playground, I was charging off to play at Star Wars with the boys on the adventure trail.
And it was epic.
As the only girl in the group, it fell upon me to play the part of Princess Leia. Danny and Daniel were both desperate to be Luke Skywalker, so they took it in turns to swing makeshift lightsabers at our chosen Darth Vader – and I got to help them out with my very own space blaster, too. Cocking my fingers into a makeshift gun, I’d shoot invisible lasers at our enemies and lead us to the safety of the Millennium Falcon (a nearby tree), not to mention call all of our Han Solo hopefuls out on their macho bulls**t.
Because that’s the incredible thing about Leia Organa; she’s not a damsel in distress, or a demure princess that sits back and waits to be rescued. Instead, Carrie Fisher’s character is determined, strong, and capable. She has a razor-sharp tongue, and isn’t afraid to use it (unlike the majority of early Disney princesses, who let their Prince Charmings do all of the talking for them) – and she springs into action the moment the door to her cell slides open.
“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you,” reveals the hapless young Jedi, moments after having his diminutive height mocked by the reclining princess.
“You’re who?” responds a clearly unimpressed Leia.
It’s not long before she’s schooling Han and Luke on the shoddiness of their escape plans, grabbing the blaster from them, firing at the enemy, and diving headfirst into a trash disposal chute.
Can you imagine Cinderella wielding a weapon and clambering into a smelly garbage tunnel? More importantly, can you imagine her taking charge of a situation, barking orders, and calling Prince Charming a “fly boy”?
It’s a scene that has stuck with me for as long as I can remember; this, right here on the screen, was a princess unlike any other. Leia was smart, she wasn’t afraid to make her opinions heard, she refused to let anyone determine her fate, and she wasn’t afraid to get her practical space gown dirty. All of which is, considering little girls are constantly taught to be good, keep quiet, stay tidy, and look pretty, a Very Big Deal.
Knocking aside all of those silly, vapid, corseted and painted princesses of old, Leia was a welcome blast of fresh air; I quickly became obsessed with my new feminist role model.
It seems oddly fitting that it was my mother – not my father – who introduced me to the world of Star Wars. Little more than a kid herself when it came out in the 70s, she had been captivated by the dazzling space adventure film, and immediately drawn to the endlessly capable Leia Organa.
So, when the films were re-released in cinemas when I was tiny, she made it her business to take me to see them. She wanted me to have a female heroine that had more going for her than good hair, an animal sidekick, and a pretty dress. Someone to remind me that I don’t have to sit around waiting to be rescued, when I can jolly well rescue myself. And someone to teach me that there is more to a happy ever after than securing that true love’s first kiss – because, newsflash, Leia has NO love interest in A New Hope. Instead, she finds her happy ending in the destruction of the Death Star, in discovering hope in times of adversity, and in standing up for what she believes in.
In a way, my mum and Leia are pretty similar; maybe that’s why I love them so much. I still remember coming home from school to find my mum working away at her dissertation; she’d start printing just before we went to bed, and I’d hear the ancient-old machine slowly putting ink to paper throughout the night. If she was lucky, it would be done by the morning. And then she’d get my sister and I ready for school, dish out breakfast, and head to university
She had me pretty young, you see – but she didn’t let that stop her chasing her dreams. She worked to get her GCSEs and A levels (O levels, back then) at evening classes, got herself a degree in English and Religious Studies, bagged a PGCE while she was at it, and beat breast cancer – all while raising two children in a teeny flat above a Chinese restaurant.
That’s basically the same as leading a Rebel Force to victory, right?
I can’t stress enough how much the death of Carrie Fisher rocked me to the core. But, when I saw that people had begun campaigning for Princess Leia to be named an official Disney princess as a misguided act of tribute, I couldn’t help but balk at the idea; Leia is too wonderful to be slotted in with the likes of Ariel, Aurora, and Snow White.
General Organa is far better than the 16-year-old mermaid who barely says one word. She’s definitely more inspiring than the 16-year-old girl who fell asleep until the man she was betrothed to as a baby kisses her without consent.
And don’t even think about lumping her in with the 14-year-old who’s scooped up and married off to the first prince who finds her lifeless corpse so pretty that he just has to kiss it. Seriously – don’t.
Yes, Disney has realised the error of its ways and given us some badass princesses over the years (Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, Tangled’s Rapunzel, Frozen’s Elsa, Moana, and Mulan, to name just a few), but all of them came after Leia. She was the trailblazer who bravely forged a path for them all to follow, making it possible for these two-dimensional princesses to be ballsy, intelligent, and defiant. And she did it all whilst being the ultimate woman in a man’s world, forever refusing to let the struggle define her.
Most importantly of all, Leia never lost sight of who she truly was, refusing to sacrifice even a scrap of her identity when she eventually fell in love.
Leia’s relationship with a certain scruffy nerfherder was raw, and difficult, and complex. When she finally admitted her feelings, it quickly became apparent that she hadn’t settled for anything – and their kiss was not the ‘true love’s first kiss’ that so often ends a Disney princess’ story. Instead, the pair were ripped apart, and, in Return of the Jedi, Leia was forced to set out and rescue her very own handsome prince from a fate worse than death.
You know, just before she rallied an alien race to stand up and fight the Empire’s forces on Endor. And helped her brother destroy a second weapon of mass destruction. And gave us the sassiest ‘I love you’ of all time.
When Fisher passed away at the age of 60, there were those who said her character should be immortalised as an official Disney princess. I, however, firmly disagree with this way of thinking: Leia shouldn’t be lumped in with the Auroras and the Snow Whites, because she deserves to stand alone, as she always has done.
She should be remembered as the complicated princess who broke all the moulds, who was able to be vulnerable and ballsy, tender and stern, all at once. She was the first to teach us the value of hard work, perseverance and dedication. And she taught us that there’s so much more to being a princess than simply being born into royalty.
In doing so, General Organa inspired countless earth-bound little girls everywhere to shoot for the moon (or space station) – and recognise that the force for change comes from within. We need only rely on ourselves to make our dreams come true.
No singing, or kissing, or wishing on stars required.
Images: author’s own