I went into my first viewing of The Last Jedi knowing it was going to be an emotional ride no matter what.
After Carrie Fisher’s sudden passing in 2016, the Star Wars sequel would be the last film she’d ever appear in. We didn’t know how that would be handled in the film. We worried she would be unceremoniously killed off, or written out.
Thankfully, the movie we got was one that finally lived up to Carrie’s legacy as a princess, general and icon to a generation of female science fiction fans.
Before I get into how The Last Jedi did so right by Carrie Fisher, I want to touch on how The Force Awakens did so wrong by her.
I came out of The Force Awakens‘ midnight premiere buzzing with crowd-fueled, sleep deprived excitement, but something about the film felt off. My second viewing of the film solidified it: I went in with a notebook to scribble some notes for further articles but came out with just one phrase written and underlined: “Where’s Leia?”
In The Force Awakens Princess Leia becomes General Leia, the leader of the new Resistance, yet little is ever done to show her leading. Most of her lines are about her estranged husband Han Solo, or her estranged son Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. While it’s fairly clear she’s been living her life just fine without them, she barely seems to exist in this film unless it’s in the context of being a mother or a wife.
In the crucial strategy meeting where a plan must be hatched to take out Starkiller base, the discussion is dominated by male voices. As the leader of the entire Resistance, Leia somehow only contributes two lines: “Han’s right”, and “Han, how?” In this moment when she should have been shown as the military leader whose title she bears, Leia instead speaks only to her ex-husband.
The Last Jedi proves itself the antithesis to this poor treatment almost straight away.
In the opening moments Leia is seen overseeing the movements of her troops as they evacuate their compromised base. When Poe ignores her direct orders to the detriment of their bombing fleet, she doesn’t just smile and shrug it off as a cute thing the impulsive pilot did on instinct, she takes action to see that her authority is respected.
The Last Jedi‘s Leia feels like a leader, and for all the women who first found their place in the world of geekdom through Leia’s cinnamon bun hair and gun-toting badassery, that’s huge.
Not only is TLJ Leia living up to the promises made for her character in The Force Awakens, she’s also living out the promises of the original trilogy.
“There is another,” Yoda says of Leia in Empire Strikes Back. She carries the same Skywalker blood, the same potential for Force-wielding greatness as Luke. If things had gone differently she could have been the chosen one and received the Jedi training instead of Luke – in fact, in the old EU Leia ends up training as a Jedi after the events of Return Of The Jedi.
The new canon probably suits her character better – while Luke runs off to do his Jedi thing and Han just runs off, Leia stays to do the hard work of holding the galaxy together. With these limitations, The Last Jedi still managed to give us a taste of what Jedi Leia would have been like.
The nuances of that scene are just one of the reasons why this movie benefits so much from a rewatch. Leia is connected to the Force, aware of what is happening outside the undefended bridge. She senses the attack and takes a deep breath just before the windows blow out, and the Force guides her back to safety in a moment of extreme life-preserving strength.
The other moments in the movie are subtler, but no less appreciated – Leia shares unique moments of warmth and solidarity with her female compatriots, Holdo and Rey. She takes command of a fraught situation minutes after waking from a coma. She holds her strength together to the bitter end for the sake of the few who remain of the decimated Resistance.
Somehow, even though she spends a good part of the movie in a coma, Leia still feels stronger, more assured and more respected than in any other Star Wars film.
Out of all these fantastic moments, there was one little thing that made me glad Carrie Fisher got to be a part of this film before she passed away – the costumes. Carrie famously was not a fan of her costumes in the original trilogy, from the cinnamon bun hairstyle to the plain robes and, even more, the uncomfortable and revealing metal bikini.
“I spent the first film in a white turtlenecked dress meant to emphasize my purity – pure only by the color of the costume. All I have to say is that throughout the prequels, Natalie Portman walks through a doorway and has a wardrobe change.” She said in an interview after the release of the prequels. “I got one, sorry, two dresses, and the first one looks the same all the way around.”
In The Last Jedi, Leia has finally been given the regal wardrobe she deserves – with dramatic capes, plenty of accessorising and some of the most eye-catching outfits in the entire film.
Even after seeing this film for the fourth time, I still get emotional thinking about the ground-breaking space princess who meant so much to me when I was a young girl – and the straight-talking, hilarious, take-no-shit actress who I later came to admire just as much as the character she portrayed.
While it’s heartbreaking Leia won’t get her promised moment in the sun in Episode IX, I’m glad Carrie’s last film was one that treated her and her character so well, that this is the film that will be dedicated to her memory now and forever more.
Vale, space mum. We miss you.