By: Sara Boivin, an art historian
I never wanted to a be a princess. I didn’t host imaginary tea parties. I didn’t bottle-feed baby dolls. I didn’t own a Barbie (not one). I never liked pink, never asked for a crown or tiara. I was forced to wear bows and ribbons in my braids. In fact, I was forced to wear braids. You know the kind…hair parted in the middle, mind-numbingly secured at the scalp, and again at the tail with bands bearing large plastic balls that could take out a tooth if you whipped them around too fast? Yeah, that kind. But my long thick, dark brown braids served me one incredible purpose…to have my mother twist them and pin them into “Leia buns.” This was a common request after my first exposure to the Star Wars series, which admittedly was the Empire Strikes Back, released in 1980, as I was only three when Star Wars IV arrived in theaters. I saw it at the end of June in the old movie house in Lake Placid, NY and all the way back to our camp, I shot my imaginary blasters through the back windshield at various Imperial Starfighters, closely resembling old Ford trucks and wood-paneled station wagons.
Even at six years old, I knew the Star Wars experience was bigger-than-life because I felt enveloped and invested in that world. I was hooked. Lucas got me young. And so, I fell in love for the first time that day; with the act of movie-going, embracing two hours of escape, the seemingly endless creativity alien life-forms provided which satisfied my wild imagination, and with Leia. At the time, I was too young to know Princess Leia was a role model. That is only a revelation that comes with maturity, but for the first time in my young life I was more interested with what was on screen than which candy I had access to. Leia first appears in A New Hope via hologram, clad in white, projected by a droid while unveiling a mystery with an urgency I didn’t quite comprehend. However, Leia made me believe her message was very, very important and that her role mattered. So Leia, in essence, goes on to carry the entire saga even when she wasn’t on screen. But when she was present the character was complicated; often soft and caring, coupled with a sharp wit and sharper tongue. She could shoot a pistol, sling personal insults at ruthless dictators, and continue to fight for her personal beliefs and the shared principles of many being attacked by a few.
Now, the fact that Stars Wars IV, V, VI were considered unacclaimed movies with less than stellar acting and character development is not lost on me today but at six, who cares? I reveled in watching a young woman fight alongside men, garner respect amongst her counterparts as she built a galactic alliance to fight evil. She inspired people around her to stand up for what was right and good, and risk everything to shape a better future throughout the universe. And she wore cool-ass braids while doing it!
And as the Lucas, turned Disney formula continues, the franchise is still empowering women and girls to save the universe as seen in The Force Awakens to Rogue One. Rogue One had me on the edge of my seat as I watched yet another Star Wars heroine emerge, although quickly fade from the storyline only to find out actress Carrie Fischer had died while I was in the theatre. My two hours of escape were over and reality slapped me, and all Star Wars lovers in the face. Ms. Fischer’s death is a sad loss for the movie studio, a sad loss for her cadre of fans, and an even sadder loss for her surviving real family. Ms. Fischer had done the seemingly impossible for women in Hollywood by returning after almost 40 years to reprise that same role…well, sort of. Leia’s character, although brief on screen-time in The Force Awakens came back better, more mature, tougher, and even more beautiful in her confidence. What a pleasure it has been to watch Leia grow from a young princess with a purpose, to a general in the Resistance. Frankly I was looking forward to seeing how Ms. Fischer would bring General Organa’s leadership to life and be inspired by a seasoned role model fighting the good fight all over again. Because like I said, I never wanted to be a princess at a tea party, but a princess who fights in a rebellion and becomes a general shaping the future of the cosmos? Right on.
So tonight, if my hair was long enough, I’d whip up some Leia-style braids and wear them around proudly (in the privacy of my own home). But alas, my hair is too short. So instead, I’ll go outside into the frosty air, look up into the clear night sky, spy the brightest star I can find, and name it “Leia Organa” and wish both the character and the actress who brought her to life, a deep and peaceful sleep in a galaxy, far, far away.
Sara Boivin lives in Saratoga Springs, NY and is the curator of the Yates Gallery at Siena College, where she is currently collaborating and leading the efforts to repatriate ancient artifacts to their country of origin. Committed to the arts, Sara is also a painter working to complete a new body of work for exhibition. In addition, she cares deeply about politics and the future of her community and has been involved in local grass roots movements to effect change where she lives.