The Star Wars saga has solidified itself as one of the most important franchises in cinematic history and, in turn, its characters have influenced a number of sci-fi types that have followed. Where would the charming, anti-hero be today without Han Solo? How about the reluctant kid with a destiny without Luke Skywalker? But perhaps, most importantly, how far would the feisty, sci-fi heroine have come were it not for the pervasive presence of Princess Leia? With Carrie Fisher now sadly gone, it's impossible not to look back and see just how much of an influence her most iconic character had on the women of science fiction that followed.
Princess Leia was a lot more powerful than I feel we remember or give credit for. Introduced to us in Episode IV: A New Hope, Leia had just undertaken one of the bravest actions in the entire series but hiding the stolen Death Star plans inside R2-D2. But it's practically a red herring that we first meet her as a prisoner of the Empire. Her initial presence as a captive princess clouded the smart-talking, gun-toting, fierce political leader that she was. Thankfully, as the film went on, and as the series continued, Leia's strength, intelligence, bravery, and feminine energy was allowed to flourish.
Leia was outspoken towards male counterparts who weren't following her instructions, and when her own rescue wasn't going the way she liked, she grabbed a blaster and shot at Stormtroopers herself. She patched up starships, made strategic decisions, and planned attacks. She murdered her captor with the very chains that held her prisoner. And yes, she did it all while being a "princess," but Leia defied the princess stereotype. In last year's Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Leia had progressed from princess to General Organa, a fully-formed leader and commander who had stuck out the fight longer and stronger than either of her male companions. Han had left her. Luke went into hiding, but Leia remained on the front.
So it's with absolute certainty that I say that there's no doubt that Leia, both princess and politician, had an influence on the women of sci-fi that came after her. Not two years after Leia blasted away Stormtroopers, Ellen Ripley grabbed the big guns to blow away acid-coated xenomorphs in Alien. The Sarah Connor of 1984's Terminator grew from a wilting victim into 1991's powerhouse lioness mother of Judgement Day.
Leia's influence spilled into TV, with Dana Scully of The X-Files, doubting everything her male counterparts say, Captain Janeway leading the crew of Star Trek: Voyager, the varying types of women in Firefly, or President Laura Roslin and a gender-swapped Starbuck of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica bringing both the brains and the braun. Leia seems an essential influence on Buffy Summers, solidifying the fact that women can be both feminine and powerful. Without Leia, it's hard to imagine that we would have the rebellion leader Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games or wizard encyclopedia Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. These characters are all in Leia's debt.
Remembering Carrie Fisher after her tragic death, it's impossible not to link her legacy to that of Leia. But knowing how much both the character, and the actress, influenced and helped create the women of sci-fi that followed, I don't think she'd mind too much. Young girls everywhere look up to women like Hermione, Katniss, Ripley, Janeway, and the rest, and in turn look up to Leia. And the presence of General Organa, plus having two Star Wars films in a row with female leads, Rey of The Force Awakens, and Jyn of Rogue One, only means that female representation in the franchise, and sci-fi in general, is getting better. We have much more to look forward to, and Leia to thank.