Leia Should Get Her Movie by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir and Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee


This post is written jointly by sisters, Trelawney and Tallessyn, who have been thinking and discussing together about this. 

Contains Spoilers from the movie Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (TLJ).

I was born in 1974. Star Wars IV: A New Hope was perhaps the first movie I saw in a movie theater. Back then, I was too young to understand much more than that there were good guys, bad guys, and, yay – the good guys won. Except, for once, there was also a good gal. There was Leia. In a world of Spidermans, Supermans, Batmans, Lukes, Hans, Obi-Wans, and a deluge of male heroes of every kind…. There was Leia. 

It’s hard to overstate how much my sisters and I loved Leia. She was so much cooler than Luke or Han. Luke was whiny and immature. Han was irresponsible and selfish. But Leia – Leia had been fighting for justice long before either Luke or Han entered the picture, and Leia had the smarts, the skills, and the grit to get shit done. 

There was just one problem: Leia kept getting shafted. In Episode IV, she didn’t get a medal. In Episode V, she was harassed and assaulted by an increasingly creepy Han, and somehow conditioned/persuaded to normalize and accept his disgusting behavior as romantic. In Episode VI, she was chained up in a sleazy outfit to a giant slug. Note how people always focus on that bikini, and neglect how she then killed the slug with the very chain he had bound her with. And she never got the credit she deserved, both as a warrior and a future Jedi.

Yes, Jedi. Because Leia was clearly a powerful Force-wielder, and she had the maturity and cool head to use her powers much more effectively than Luke did. Yoda’s dying words to Luke were, “The Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned. There is another Skywalker.” Luke understood Yoda’s message perfectly. Before he left to face Vader, he told Leia she would be a Jedi:

Luke: “If I don’t make it back, you’re the only hope for the alliance.”

Leia: “Luke, don’t talk that way. You have a power I don’t understand, and could never have.”

Luke: “You’re wrong, Leia. You have that power, too. In time, you’ll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father had it. I have it. My sister has it.” 

So, when Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) was released, I and countless other women who had grown up with the original trilogy were primed and ready to see a Jedi Master Leia. Surely, Luke would have honored his beloved mentor’s dying words. Surely, the alliance/rebellion/resistance would have prioritized the training of someone so powerful in the Force. Surely, it was obvious to everyone that training Leia was strategically the most important next step, by far. 

But…no. To its credit, TFA was by far the least sexist Star Wars movie to be made thus far, and Rey is definitely the best female warrior-hero-sage archetype around. I loved the movie. But Luke had betrayed Yoda and disregarded his dying command. Leia was a respected General and a tender mother and mentor, and she can still sense what is happening with people she loves… but her potential Jedi powers remained apparently untrained. What a huge letdown. It seemed that yet again, Luke was acting whiny and immature, and Han was acting irresponsible and selfish. Yet again, like every unthanked mother who quietly cooks, cleans, drives the kids to school, gives them medicine when they’re sick, protects them from bullies, and makes sure their winter coat fits, Leia was using her smarts, her skills, and her grit to get shit done. 

Then along came a new director, and another new hope. Like TFA, TLJ avoided many of the sexist traps of previous movies. And this time, we finally see Leia use the Force more actively, for telekinesis. When she is blasted into space, she uses her powerful Force abilities to survive, float herself back to the ship, and open the door. This scene is meant to foreshadow future Leia Jedi prowess: “Director Rian Johnson has said that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was persuasive in suggesting that this was an ideal moment for Leia to reveal her Force powers, especially because Luke had previously mentioned her Force potential as a twin Skywalker herself. And so, the director has said, Leia saving herself became akin to a person finding previously untapped superhuman strength to hoist a car to save a life.” Was Leia actually, secretly, already a trained Jedi? Her controlled use of the Force tantalizingly suggested that the final movie would reveal how a true feminist Jedi would use the Force to transcend the endless cycles of male ego-driven warfare and mentor the next generation.

Leia was going to get her movie. The plan all along was for each of the three main characters, Han, Luke, and Leia, to be the focus of one movie of this new trilogy. And Leia, by far the best of the three, would be the focus of the final movie, in which she at last received the credit she has deserved all along. “Lucasfilm had planned for the next episode, J.J. Abrams’s 2019 release, to be “Leia’s film.” A generation of girls who grew up with Star Wars 4, 5, and 6, has been waiting for decades, waiting our whole lives for this movie. In a context of such pervasive sexism that even disasters such as the recent Wonder Woman are somehow pushed as feminist, we were finally going to have our vindicating, empowering, triumphant moment – the moment Leia gets her due. 

But, of course, Carrie Fisher died. The same grinding patriarchal poison that shaped the sexism in the earlier Star Wars movies also took its toll on the actor, herself, as it does so many women. Just like her most beloved character, Fisher continually displayed the smarts, skills, and grit to live authentically in a toxically misogynist culture. And, now, the patriarchy which caused her to die young, is also blithely pronouncing that Fisher will not appear in Episode IX, and that “Episode VIII will stand largely as Leia’s film — and Fisher’s.” 

I call bullshit. TLJ was Luke’s movie, not Leia’s. Pretending otherwise is a disgusting slap in the face to Fisher, Leia, and fans everywhere. There are many ways Lucasfilm could still make Episode IX about Leia, and do it beautifully, in a way that properly honors both the actor and the character. 

Why does this matter? These are just stories. Mythological stories, which shape a culture by messages of archetypes, ethics, ultimate truths, and definitions of “The Good.” Just stories, like the stories of miraculous births, sacrificial deaths, supernatural resurrections and rebirths, heroes, prophets, sages, teachers, powers, spirits, and redemptions. Stories in which Mary, Elizabeth, Martha, Junia, and Mary Magdalene are insultingly distorted by patriarchal writers and never get the credit they deserve. Just stories. Let Patriarchy go ahead and tell us we don’t matter. Let them try. We have always known better…. Just like Leia. 

 

Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir  teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland.  Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

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Categories: Art, Film, General, Herstory, Media, Myth, Women and the Media

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15 replies

  1. “These are just stories.”

    Yes they are – and yet, they are not. Myths, religious texts, fairy tales and other popular stories are the mirror of society. They express all the deep-set biases of the collective mind and at the same type shape them within each upcoming generation.
    On the other hand, minor changes in their narratives may indicate significant shifts in perspective. And exactly this is what is happening right now: The stories are changing, admittedly only in minute proportions, but they are nevertheless. Just look at the image of Mary Magdalene in popular culture: It is slowly moving away from that of a reformed sinner towards that of a leading disciple of Jesus and a spiritual leader of the early church.
    This shift in perspective takes time, long time, and the collective effort of many people. It remains our task to keep it going and never slacken our efforts in trying to make this world a better place.

    hataibu

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hataibu I agree- you’ve said beautifully what I was trying to say with verbal irony/sarcasm. I, too, am glad to see this movement, slow as it is, and to support it how I can, as you do. Thank you for your insightful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! Leia should get her movie! In honor of Leia, Carrie Fisher and all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stories are powerful and best at expressing the deepest truths. I love your critique, and that you collaborated with your sister.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara, I agree- to me, mythological truth is the most powerful truth of all. Thank you for your kind affirmation. My sister and I love to think everything through together. 😊

      Like

  4. Like everyone I know, I enjoyed the first movie, and I also enjoyed the one with the Ewoks in it. I liked Yoda and was in the audience when Ray Bradbury pronounced Yoda a zen master. I eventually rented the first three episodes, which seemed to be more CGI than real people on the screen. But the fuss about the newer Star Wars movies escapes me. I’m tired of fighting. I’m weary of weapons and war. Mythology and material from Joseph Campbell notwithstanding, I was done with Star Wars several years ago.

    Like

    • Barbara, I went to see _The Last Jedi_, and when it was over, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m over Star Wars. I done with it.” And I think it’s because, like you, “I’m weary of weapons and war.” When I taught the Women and Science Fiction class at at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1980s, we spent the semester looking at which subgenres of science fiction and fantasy could be vehicles for feminist perspectives. Most of the class decided that “Sword and Sorcery,” which always involves battle of some kind, didn’t work. Why? Because as feminists, we were also pretty much pacifists as well. The minority of students who disagreed were avid football fans.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is such an important point. The benefits of engaging with warrior archetypes highlight the utility of the (often misused) Just War Theory, which is a complex ethical analysis of the idea of whether it is every okay to use force, in self defense, in defense of others, in defense of anyone or anything. So often this idea is coopted to justify warfare in the name of greed; despite that unfortunate reality, humanity has always and will always continue to wrestle with whether, and when, it is morally acceptable to use any kind of force, peacekeeping forces, or otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Trelawney and Tallesyn, for this great post! And I believe an important post. Star Wars may be one of the most influential stories out there today. So how it’s told and which characters get to be protagonists are significant factors. I loved your last – ironic – paragraph, which puts into perspective just how crucial stories are to our lives. “Just stories!”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I never entered the world of Star Wars because Nature is my Muse… However my children – both male loved going to these movies with their maternal grandparents… I was always uncomfortable with the old patriarchal story… the good guys and the bad guys and still the token woman who never quite makes the grade.

    We are still living this story and remember it has NOTHING to do with living on a planet in crisis – the characters simply abdicate.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The myth of the “battle” between good and evil is as old as war, as old as patriarchy. I too am weary of war. I did see the first Star Wars movie but don’t remember a thing about it. I was weary of war even then. The costs of war are enormous, including in our time, the great migration of human beings out of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the suffering of people in war torn lands, rape, murder, pillage, killing, destruction of homes and livlihoods, and the suffering of people forced to flee and not wanted in the countries to which they have arrived. No this is not a myth I want to claim for feminists. And by the way there can never be a “war” between good and evil, because war itself is evil.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for raising this important point. In another comment above, I remark about the age old question, as explored in Just War Theory, of whether it is ever acceptable to use force, in any circumstance. Every parent wants to protect their young, even in most other species – and unfortunately, this reality, that we all eventually find situations where we find force acceptable, leads to the misuse of power and the justification of warfare. Dorothy Day was so clear on this point, which has made her very unpopular for opposing World War II despite the Holocaust. It is a difficult and complex question, and this movie tries to use feminism to explore that question, rather than simply glorifying force, violence, and warfare. It also tries to explore the idea of whether the warrior archetype is helpful for women (and other genders) – for example, in freeing the horse like creatures on planet Canto, and Rose says she wants to put her fist right through this town – and then she does it. It frees those creatures (at least, temporarily), and it inspires the oppressed children of the city – but it is nonetheless an act of force. Is it empowering for women to embrace warrior archetypes? Is there a different kind of warrior archetype, or must all warriors by definition be anti-feminist?
      Force is problematic – the strongest prevails – even in nature, when mother bears protect their cubs; it’s not clear to me whether force is always the wrong choice. I appreciate that this movie tries to explore that idea and question it, thereby questioning premises in the previous Star Wars films as well. Thanks again for engaging the dialog.

      Liked by 1 person

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