Today I picked up Marvel's Princess Leia #01, the first of a five-part miniseries, and I enjoyed it immensely. Writer Mark Waid knocked the issue out of the park! The spoiler-lite review follows below, as well as my follow-on thoughts on the Star Wars universe at large.
Okay, review time.
Issue #01 picks up as the credits are rolling during ANH, with Princess Leia giving a speech just after she has put medals on Han and Luke. Certain rebel pilots in the crowd are not too pleased with her seeming lack of emotion in the face of Alderaan's destruction, one of them declaring her a frost queen.
Directly afterwards, Leia issues the teardown order for the Yavin base, telling the assembled troops to report to their commanding officers for disbursal. Luke makes an offhand remark that he was grateful that Leia comforted him after Obi-Wan's death, and then asks her to let someone comfort her, since she hasn't had time to deal with Alderaan's destruction.
Not to be put on the shelf, Leia goes to Commander Dodonna and requests an assignment, to which she is gently but firmly rebuffed. She decides the hell with that and, after overhearing a fellow surviving Alderaanian pilot, Evaan, complain about her lack of emotion, Leia decides to go on a secret mission with Evaan as her pilot to go and round up all of the surviving Alderaanians in the galaxy. The two women set off together with R2-D2, foil the Alliance's attempt to stop them, and then make off for parts unknown.
At first read-through, it was fun.
Then I started thinking.
Princess Leia is being given the bantha poodoo end of the stick here.
Leia spends the whole issue being told that she needs to show emotion, that she needs to take time to grieve, that the Empire has her in their sights, so there's no way in hell she's going to be allowed to go more than ten feet from any of the Rebellion's upper brass, and then she escapes with the aid of a plucky young female pilot, who displays singular smarts and courage during their escape run.
Anyone see what's wrong with this picture?
Leia's agency in the book is passed off to a secondary character who is, essentially, a gender-swapped Han Solo. Leia is a secondary character in her own book.
Her own five-issue book, I might add.
That's right; while Star Wars and Darth Vader both have been given their own ongoing series, Princess Leia, the one character from the entire trilogy who spent all three of her films being kidnapped, rescued, and bounced from one love interest to the next, gets a miniseries from Marvel. Granted, all three of the series take place in the heretofore unexplored missing time period between ANH and ESB (No, Splinter of the Mind's Eye doesn't count) and all three of them are welcome additions to the new mythos, but why is Leia getting such a short leash here? And why on earth is she just the planner of the action in her own book and not the facilitator of it? Why is her name even on the cover if she's not going to do anything of import? I mean, none of the books can change the status quo, by their very nature of coming in the middle of established canon events. Leia can't go off and become some legendary hero any more than Luke can fight Darth Vader to the death in issue five or six of Star Wars. (Which he's already tried to do in issue 2, but WE ARE NOT GOING TO GET INTO THAT RIGHT NOW.)
Now I know that it's only one issue in, but that's not a very encouraging precedent to set. I mean, it's not as if there aren't any strong female characters in the whole of Star Wars; Star Wars is FULL of great female characters! Let's look at a few of 'em, shall we?
- Princess Leia.
The original female protagonist in Star Wars, Leia is the adopted daughter of Senator Bail Organa and Breha Organa of Alderaan. She was raised as a princess, as her adoptive parents are royalty on Alderaan, and, according to this comic, Queen Breha was quite the humanitarian, raising up young girls in society to be well-educated and empowered. Queen Breha is the Space Amy Poehler, and that's pretty freaking rad. Judging from the way that Leia carries herself, she took more than a few of her mother's lessons to heart, becoming a strong, independent, empowered young senator who threw her entire life in with the Rebel Alliance, going so far as to directly endanger her life for the cause by carrying the Death Star plans on her personal consular's ship. After the destruction of Alderaan, Leia helped to head up the Rebel Alliance on Hoth and later above the galactic rim in preparation for an assault on the second Death Star, personally volunteering for a suicide mission to the sanctuary moon of Endor to take out the space station's shield generator. According to the EU (which is now referred to as Star Wars' Legends category) she went on to head up the New Republic on several occasions when Chancellor Mon Mothma temporarily stepped down. She also became the mother of three gifted children and took on countless dangerous undertakings as both an official of the New Republic and as a Jedi Knight.
And yet... what is the one thing she's known for? No, go ahead and Google image search her name. I'll be here.
That fucking metal bikini.
Shoot, I was going to post a picture of it, but screw that, I am so freaking sick of seeing her in it.
Despite all of her accomplishments onscreen and off, Leia is constantly brushed aside into the tired 'damsel in distress' and 'eye candy' territories.
- Mon Mothma
Many Bothans died to bring you this character bio. Mothma was one of the old guard, a senator from the days of the Old Republic and the Clone Wars. She was one of the heads of the Rebel Alliance, giving up everything to fight against the tyranny of the Empire. She was raised in a family of diplomats and senators, and believed in the sanctity of democracy above all else. In her eyes, whatever the price tag to see the end of the Empire's tyranny and the re-institution of the Republic, she would pay it without a second thought, even if it meant her death and the death of everyone she knew and loved. Over the following decades, Mothma oversaw one galactic crisis after another, guiding the Republic through civil war from the remaining Empire forces, diplomatic snafus with systems burned out on centralized government, assassination attempts, outright war with an invading army from beyond the Outer Rim, finally dying peacefully in her sleep at an old age. She was truly a hero of the Republic.
- Padmé Amidala
And now we're into the Prequel era. Beware, here be dragons.
Padmé Amidala was a senator from Naboo (which, interestingly enough, is where Leia and Evaan are heading at the end of Issue #01 of Leia's comic) during the Clone Wars. Before she was a senator, she was a queen on Naboo at the ripe old age of 14, during which time her peaceful planet was attacked and subjugated by the Trade Federation, under the direction of Darth Sidious. She was rescued from the planetary blockade and escorted to Coruscant to meet with the Galactic Senate to beg for aid for her planet, and along the way she met the boy who would later grow up to become her husband, Anakin Skywalker.
Padmé and Anakin met again years later, during a series of attempts on Amidala's life by Speratist forces. This led into the Clone Wars, during which Amidala was a key figure in maintaining what peace could be had and in giving aid to any and all who asked for it, regardless of her own personal safety. During the several years of the Clone Wars, she and Anakin married and lived as man and wife in secret, rarely getting to spend more than a month together at a time. Of course, as is only too often the case, one of Anakin's furloughs on Coruscant saw Amidala become pregnant with twins.
Alas, her promising life with Anakin was cut short thanks, once again, to the machinations of Darth Sidious, who twisted and turned Anakin's beliefs in the Jedi and, ultimately, made him so paranoid and consumed with guilt, fear and rage that he turned on Amidala, choking her almost to death in a fit of Dark Side-fueled anger. The physical trauma, coupled with the emotional distress of being attacked by Anakin, caused her to go into labor and despite the best efforts of the medical droids on staff, Amidala passed away.
Her legacy was one of compassion, love and of fighting against the forces of tyranny she saw encroaching on her beloved Republic. Her people mourned her and buried her in state, never knowing that her husband was a key figure in the downfall of the Old Republic.
- Mara Jade Skywalker
Mara Jade is one of those polarizing characters of the Expanded Universe; while her impact on the EU is undeniable, much of her early writing, especially her courtship of Luke Skywalker, places her firmly in the role of a Mary Sue character.
Mara Jade, better known to her enemies as The Emperor's Hand, was a Force user and an assassin for Emperor Palpatine during the height of the Empire. Feared and loathed by all who learned of her existence, she was the Emperor's personal lash, for when the blunt fist of Darth Vader wasn't sufficient to get his message across.
Trained for years in the ways of the Dark Side, Mara Jade was eventually sent after Luke Skywalker, but fell in love with him instead after several encounters. She eventually became his wife and together they had Ben Skywalker, who would go on to face a Dark Lord of the Sith years later. (Please don't spoil it in the comments, guys.)
Mara Jade fought alongside Luke and the new Order of Jedi Knights for several decades after turning from the Dark Side, through Thrawn, the Yuuzhan Vong wars, the Swarm Wars, and the resurgence of the Sith, finally passing on into spirit after being poisoned in battle with a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Through her time as a Sith, Jedi, and hero of the Republic, Mara Jade managed to turn around her destiny and, by the end, was a well-liked character in the EU, one who had overcome the taint of poor initial writing and characterization.
- Ahsoka Tano
Oh, Snips. You surprised us all.
Ahsoka Tano was a Padawan during the Clone Wars, under the tutelage of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. Impetuous, foolhardy, and fond of giving those around her irritating nicknames, Ahsoka was the audience surrogate in the initial seasons of Cartoon Network's The Clone Wars. She took great pleasure in finding new ways to piss off her masters, though at least 70% of the time it was unintentional, with her bordering-on-suicidal bravery and insistence on proving her worth to those around her.
Older viewers of the show rolled their eyes, relishing the inevitable moment when she would meet her demise at the end of someone's lightsaber. After all, we reasoned, she's not in Revenge of the Sith, nor is she mentioned anywhere else in the Star Wars universe. Then, somewhere between the middle of season two and the end of season three, Ahsoka grew up. She took on responsibility for her actions, she became more mature, and she edged awfully close to the Dark Side before the end of the show. Eventually, she was accused of a crime she did not commit and fled to try to clear her name in a spectacular story arc that led from the gutters to the highest chambers of Coruscant. After her name was cleared, Ahsoka realized that the Jedi Order that she loved so dearly was wrong. Even the other Masters and Knights that knew a dark shadow hung over the Order and the Republic were powerless to do anything against it, were powerless in the face of internal corruption and the degradation of their abilities in the face of the Dark Side. Ultimately, Ahsoka chose to do what very few other Jedi had ever done in the history of the Order: Leave it.
Her departure broke what little humanity Anakin Skywalker had left in him and left him open for the final manipulations of Sidious that would soon turn him into Darth Vader.
...Thank goodness, then, that she did not meet her end at the tip of anyone's lightsaber.
- Hera and Sabine
The two leading ladies from Star Wars: Rebels are still something of a mystery to us. We've gotten to know them a bit over the first season of their show and thankfully, neither of them are poorly written. Sabine, in particular, worried me when the show premiered, as she seemed to be the Poochie of Star Wars, obsessed with graffiti tagging and bright colors.
It's nice to see that I was wrong. the pilot of the Ghost, Hera has definitely taken her place as one of the breakout stars of the show, a wise and capable leader to the crew, something of a flip of the usual role the pilot character plays. Sabine is the rare artistic character in Star Wars, though, as a Mandalorian, she inevitably finds ways to incorporate her love of theatricality and presentation into the explosions she sets off on just about every mission. Sabine is going through a continuing metamorphosis as a character, outwardly represented through her tinkering with her Mandalorian beskar'gam (armor, for those non Karen Traviss readers in the audience.)
- Asajj Ventress
Every great characer list should have a villain on it somewhere, and, like all the best Star Wars characters, Ventress isn't without a whole kaleidoscope of grey in her moral spectrum.
Initially introduced in the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars miniseries as the first season's Big Bad, Ventress is a Sith in the same way that Darth Maul was a Sith: ruthless, merciless, terrifying and bald.
After a tussle with Anakin on Yavin IV that led to her apparent death, Ventress popped up again during Ahsoka Tano's first mission as a Padawan, and the two women quickly became the most bitter of enemies. Time and time again, Ventress sought to destroy Ahsoka and Anakin, and time and time again she was narrowly defeated. Eventually, her ruthlessness earned her the mistrust and ire of her master, Count Dooku, who betrayed her. She spent a long time after that trying to exact her revenge against Dooku, leading to the creation of Savage Opress and the reintroduction of Darth Maul.
The end of Ventress' story is murky and unclear; some say she died near the end of the Clone Wars, others report that she fled as far from the Jedi, Sith, and the Republic as a hyperdrive could take her. In any case, Asajj Ventress has earned her place on this list of remarkable women, for her sheer canniness and ability to survive. And finally, this brings us to...
- Bastila Shan
Bastila Shan was a Jedi Knight during the Jedi Civil War, 4,000 years before the Battle of Yavin.
Jedi come in all different shapes, sizes, and ranges of ability, but Bastila's Force ability made her one of the most powerful Jedi of all time. She could, through the use of meditation, project a Force aura that could rally an entire fleet of ships or an army of troops. This power, known as Battle Meditation, helped to turn the tide of the civil war and gain the Old Republic an invaluable weapon against the fallen Jedi and the Sith: an amnesiac and brainwashed Revan, Dark Lord of the Sith.
How's that for shades of grey, folks? The Jedi Council brainwashed a Sith into being their very own weapon against the Sith Empire. All thanks to Bastila Shan.
And then she turned to the Dark Side.
It's okay; she got better.
Also, she carried around a double-bladed lightsaber about four thousand years before Darth Maul brought the things in vogue.
So there ya have it, folks. This list is in no way comprehensive; there are many great female characters I chose to leave off for the sake of brevity, none of which were easy choices, (Kreia in particular really hurt to skip over!) but you are more than free to discuss them in the comments! I wish I had the time and the space to do a comprehensive list of all the great female characters in the Star Wars universe here, but I fear that Wookieepedia might end up being more concise than I would be!
My point in all of this is: Marvel, Star Wars has a long and storied history of giving great roles to female characters. From heroes to villains, from Jedi to smugglers, from courtesans to gritty grubby rebels blasting bucketheads in a backwater, women are beyond important to Star Wars.
...So how about you stay on target and give Princess Leia the series she deserves, instead of relegating her to be a second-stringer in her own truncated miniseries?
(Yes, I realize I'm late, you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder.)