Princess Leia Organa is one of the most beloved characters in the history of science fiction movies, and her exploits brought generations of men and women into the “Star Wars” universe. In science fiction (and the 1970s in particular), women were more often reduced to being damsels in distress instead of heroes, but Princess Leia broke all the rules for women in sci-fi with how she endured mistreatment, fought the forces of tyranny firsthand, deftly wielded weaponry and commanded armies in her determination to destroy the Galactic Empire.
The tragic passing of Carrie Fisher, the actress who played Leia in the original movies, has shaken the world, including the team here at CBR. To honor her, we’d like to present 15 reasons why she made “Star Wars” so great.
15. HER STRENGTH
In 1977’s “Episode IV: A New Hope,” Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin tried to force Princess Leia into revealing the location of the rebel base by threatening to destroy her home planet of Alderaan. Leia gave them the name of another world (which turned out to be fake), but they destroyed Alderaan anyway as a test of the Death Star’s super-laser. Vader held Leia back and forced her to watch as the laser blew her planet to pieces.
Most people will never know the pain of watching their family and friends being killed, but the destruction of Alderaan was on a whole other level. Within seconds, an entire race and civilization were wiped out. No one can ever know the pain Leia felt watching Alderaan being destroyed, but she didn’t allow it to devastate her as much as it could or should have. This moment showed one reason we love Leia, which is her incredible strength in the face of disaster and her hope against the greatest tragedy.
14. HER AIM
In “Episode IV,” we first met Princess Leia during the Imperial assault on her ship, Tantive IV, carefully recording a message on R2-D2 to send to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Afterwards, as the stormtroopers swept the vessel for survivors and the diplomat they suspected hid on the ship, Leia peered out from a corner, armed with a laser pistol. As soon as the stormtroopers spotted her, they managed to stun and capture her, but not before she fired a round, and took down one with deadly accuracy.
This was a defining moment for Princess Leia, showing she wasn’t the passive female character that was so prevalent in sci-fi to that point that it had become a trope. She wasn’t waiting for someone to rescue her, she was the one saving the galaxy. On a personal level, she was willing to defend herself, and was even a crack shot against heavily armed soldiers; perhaps more importantly, she was willing to take the shot knowing it would mean her almost-certain death. The moment set the tone for her character as a hero who saved herself instead of waiting for rescue, and wasn’t afraid of battle.
13. HER HUMANITY
Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it, but the good guys win in the first “Star Wars” movie. At the end of “A New Hope,” Luke Skywalker and Han Solo (and Chewbacca, we hope) were given medals for their bravery and assistance in the rebellion. It was a stirring moment with fanfare and lines of soldiers standing at attention, but the greatest part of the ceremony was seeing Leia on the stage, presenting the medals and representing the very image of the revolution.
Throughout the movie, we had seen Leia as a warrior in battle or as a target of the Empire, but the medal ceremony changed all that. In that moment, she was a diplomat and a figure of royalty, presenting her rescuers with the highest honor she could. It was a reminder that she was a princess first and foremost; a figure of power and authority. At the same time, it was in the brief smile and laugh that followed wherein she showed that while she was definitely a pragmatic, no-nonsense leader and a living bastion of hope for the galaxy, she was also not beyond showing her human side.
12. HER UNWAVERING LEADERSHIP
In 1980’s “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” the rebels had moved their base to the icy planet of Hoth, where the Empire eventually tracked them down. In a huge assault that included everything from star destroyers in space to AT-ATs on the ground, the Imperial forces pounded the base while the Rebellion desperately tried to escape with their lives. At that moment of fear and chaos, only one figure stood as a paragon of strength, and that was Princess Leia.
As the base crumbled and collapsed around them, Han and Chewbacca hurried to get to the Millennium Falcon, but Leia remained in the command center, working with the other rebel leaders to make sure the evacuation went smoothly. She didn’t show fear or concern for her own safety. In fact, Han had to literally drag her away as she called out more commands to her people. Truly, she was the captain willing to go down with her ship, showing her dedication to those who served her.
11. HER SKILLS
In 1983’s “Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi,” the Empire returned with a newly constructed Death Star. The rebels had to sneak onto the forest moon of Endor to destroy the Death Star’s shield generator, and Leia led the ground assault. When the rebels were spotted, two stormtroopers took off on speeder bikes to warn the Empire of the attack, and Luke and Leia hopped on a bike of their own to stop them.
What followed was a thrilling race through the trees with Leia expertly piloting her bike through terrain that could have killed them instantly. While Luke hopped off to fight on another bike, Leia flew after one stormtrooper, firing at and outmaneuvering him. It showed Leia was a woman with a wide variety of skills, not just a politician who could shoot a gun. She was a warrior who surprised us with new abilities at every turn; yet another reason her character was so much fun and so exciting to watch.
10. HER LOYALTY
In “Empire Strikes Back,” Leia faced the worst betrayal of the original trilogy when she went to Bespin, and Lando Calrissian sold them out to Imperial forces. Leia didn’t just lie down and give up, though, especially once Lando gave them a chance to escape. She ignored her own safety and raced through Cloud City to rescue Han from Slave-I as the bounty hunter tried to escape. She valiantly fought stormtroopers swarming through the city, but arrived too late.
Even though she failed to save Han right then, it was a great moment to see her in battle again. She had Chewbacca, Lando and R2-D2 by her side, but she didn’t fall back and let them do the dirty work — every turn of the knife that was their betrayal she felt personally, and it was her mission to reverse it. It also showed her determination and how she never let anything stand in her way, not even overwhelming odds. She was driven not just by duty to the Rebellion, but her love for the scruffy nerfherder and all of those friends (and family) with whom she surrounded herself.
9. HER DIPLOMACY
While on Endor in “Return of the Jedi,” Leia became separated from the others and crashed her speeder bike. Waking up, she found herself face-to-face with one of the native Ewoks, whom she not only managed to befriend, but convinced to her to the nearest local village and elicit the respect befitting her position as both princess and rebel leader. With the help of C3-P0, she was able to convince the Ewoks to join the Rebellion and fight against the Empire with them.
It’s important to note here that the Ewoks weren’t just a bunch of teddy bears. They were deadly warriors, as Han and Luke discovered when they were taken to the village to be the main course of a family cookout. The ostensibly adorable Ewoks were also capable of killing Imperial stormtroopers, don’t forget. Leia was able to turn the savage little balls of fluff into allies, thanks to her diplomatic skills, wisdom and kindness. Despite the hate they incur, the Ewoks — thanks to Leia — played a pivotal role in turning the tide of battle.
8. HER REFUSAL TO QUIT
In “Return of the Jedi,” Luke allowed himself to get captured and taken to Jabba the Hutt, who took him and his team to die in the desert. Princess Leia had been taken prisoner, seemingly helpless, as Luke was forced onto the plank and led to his death in the Rancor pit. Yet, in a surprise move, Luke broke free with his lightsaber, and carried her to freedom nearby. Immediately, she grabbed a weapon, fought her way to a machine gun and blasted away at Jabba’s guards.
Once again, Leia could have fallen into the stereotypical helpless role while everyone else did the rescue work. But she didn’t. Even though she started with only her degrading slave costume, she managed to take down heavily armed opponents. It was another great moment where we got to see her fight alongside the others, giving as good as she got. The fact that she was a princess didn’t keep her from getting her hands dirty. Heck, even the beloved badass Boba Fett didn’t survive the Sarlacc pit as well as Leia.
7. HER QUICK THINKING
In “A New Hope,” Luke and Han made their way aboard the Death Star to rescue Princess Leia, and found her waiting for them. After everything she had been through at the hands of Lord Vader, she could have just sat back and waited for her rescuers. Once again, she never took the easy way out, especially when they found themselves trapped in the detention center, blocked off by Imperial stormtroopers. While Luke and Han struggled to figure out another exit, Leia pulled her own Indiana Jones by grabbing a rifle, shooting a hole in a nearby vent, and leading them into a trash compactor to escape.
Okay, the trash compactor wasn’t the best smelling option for escape, but it was the best for saving their lives, which it did! It was also our first chance to see Leia in real action, and she proved to be just as good and smart a fighter as the other heroes, happily defying our expectations of damsels in distress. This moment set the tone for the rest of the series.
6. HER BATTLEFIELD SAVY
Once again, we go back to Endor for another great Leia moment in “Return of the Jedi.” When the rebels moved in to attack the bunker holding the shield generator, they found themselves caught in a trap with the Empire lying in wait to arrest them. It looked like they were doomed, but Leia didn’t give up. No, she pulled out a gun and started shooting until the Ewoks came in with more weapons and traps than Batman had in “Batman v Superman.”
Along with the Ewoks and the rebel fighters, Leia seized the shield generator, shut it down and allowed the rebel starships to attack the Death Star. This was one of the many instances of Leia leading the war on the ground, fighting alongside the other soldiers in combat, and going beyond the role of a princess to that of an expert marksman and strategist. Needless to say, she showed some mad skills on the battlefield. With her leadership on Endor, they were able to destroy the Death Star, and the Empire, once and for all.
5. HER EVOLUTION
In 2015’s “Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” we moved decades into the future from the original trilogy, where we discovered that the remains of the Galactic Empire had reorganized to become the sinister First Order. Among other changes, we met an older and wiser Princess Leia. It turned out Leia had taken the role of General, and commanded the Rebellion’s forces. Unlike in “A New Hope” and “Return of the Jedi,” where Leia was commanding from the sidelines during the planning of the Death Star assaults, General Leia Organa was an integral part in strategizing the attack on the First Order’s Starkiller Base, even though she had personal reasons invested in the mission: her lost son and missing brother.
It was great to see Leia in “Force Awakens,” but even better to know she continued to be a fighter after “Return of the Jedi,” taking on even more responsibility in keeping the galaxy safe. After defeating the Empire, she could have retired to a life of leisure or even stayed a politician and become the leader of a free Galaxy. Instead, she dedicated herself to making sure she finished the job she began, fighting evil in the universe and keeping the peace. It was a progression that honored her character.
4. HER TOUGHNESS
Going back to “A New Hope,” there’s another great moment we need to focus on, and that’s the one when Leia was subjected to torture. Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin desperately wanted to find out what she did with the plans for the Death Star (which, you will remember, were stolen in “Rogue One”). To get what they wanted, Vader brought in a droid equipped with horrible instruments of torture. The door to her cell closed, leaving us to imagine what she endured.
Even after her ordeal, Princess Leia gave the Empire nothing. She didn’t give them any information on what she did with the Death Star’s plan and she didn’t give the location of the rebel base; more than that, she stayed strong and defiant even after suffering incalculable physical and emotional pain. That’s especially impressive compared to what Han looked like after his torture, when he was dumped in the cell as a quivering wreck who couldn’t even stand up straight. Yup, Leia stood up to torture better than Han.
3. HER CUNNING
“Return of the Jedi” began with a big question: what happened to Han Solo, who had been frozen in carbonite in the last movie? It turned out that Han had been turned into a wall decoration for the gangster, Jabba the Hutt. While Jabba celebrated, a mysterious bounty hunter named Boushh came to him with Chewbacca and a hand grenade, demanding payment for the bounty, and we quickly discovered Boushh was really Leia in secret.
In her disguise, Leia crept into Jabba’s throne room and freed Han from his carbonite prison. Though she was caught by Jabba, she still pulled off an incredible job of infiltration. She went into Jabba’s palace on her own, disguised and speaking an alien language, stood up to Jabba and threatened to kill him, all before managing to get into the throne room to rescue her true love. It was another moment where Leia was doing the rescuing instead of being rescued.
2. HER BRAVERY
As we mentioned earlier, Princess Leia was captured in “A New Hope” aboard her ship and taken to Darth Vader, where they had a brief but memorable talk. Leia started out by saying Vader stank worse than the raptor cage at Jurassic World (or words to that effect) and the conversation went downhill from there. The scene was our first time seeing her speak, and it perfectly set up her aggressive and fearless style and attitude. At the same time, it also made a huge impact, especially in light of what we learned about Vader later on.
Darth Vader was one of the most powerful and feared men in the Star Wars galaxy. He could choke a man with just a thought, hurl huge objects, catch laser bolts in the palm of his hand and read minds like a futuristic Professor X. Leia treated him like he was just one step above a two-bit thug. It showed a lot about Leia’s strength and confidence that she could talk trash to Darth Vader, the most dangerous man in the galaxy.
1. HER JUSTICE
Of all the moments that endeared “Star Wars” fans to Princess Leia, her escape from enslavement by Jabba in “Return of the Jedi” has to be at, or at least near, the top. She was forced into a demeaning metal bikini and chained up to Jabba’s slimy, bloated body. When Luke led the uprising against Jabba’s guards, Leia used the very chains that bound her to strangle the gangster to death — that’s the image we should take away from this scene; not some bikini, but the fact that she literally used the methods of her oppressors to kill them.
As a powerful crime lord, there had probably been plenty of people in the Galaxy who wanted to kill Jabba, but Leia is the only one who actually did the job. The moment also turned her humiliation into a show of strength, reaching out and grabbing her own agency. There have also been some fans who’ve suggested she used the Force to find the power to hold down a creature many times her size, making her an even stronger character. Either way, the way she broke the chains holding her down was not only inspired, but also served inspiration for others to do the same.
What was your favorite Princess Leia moment? Let us know in the comments!