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!


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