BLOG Princess Leia: X-Wing Pilot A Blow For Feminism Or Stunt Casting?

Princess Leia Goes Top Gun

It’s easy to forget in the brave new world that followed the Star Wars Episode VII announcement, but Dark Horse Comics has been the unsung hero and guardian of the Star Wars franchise for years. The company has done endless, tireless work with countless characters, starting from the early Dark Empire series in 1991 and exploring everything from the origins of the Jedi and the Old Republic to the descendants of the Skywalkers and Solos in the excellent Legacy and its upcoming follow-up. Its work has been incredibly diverse and consistently interesting, and has been instrumental in keeping the Star Wars universe as vital and alive as it’s been.

Now, Dark Horse is doing something genuinely different: going back to the start.

This week sees the publication of Star Wars #1, written by Brian Wood (The excellent DMZ and Channel Zero , amongst others) and illustrated by Carlos D’anda ( Batman: Arkham City , Hero Factory) with covers by Alex Ross. The series will be set immediately after the first movie and remain there: Luke is still a brilliant pilot with a tenuous connection to his Jedi training; Han and Chewie are still in hoc to Jabba the Hutt; and the rebels are hunted through every system as the Empire tightens its grip.

Oh, and Leia’s an X-Wing pilot. In fact, according to Brian Wood, she spends a lot of time in flight and will form a stealth squadron of sorts to carry out missions.

Needless to say, the internet responded to being given the first chance to meltdown this year with typical fervour, and the furore won’t die down before the publication of the first issue.

So, we’ve decided to conduct a little experiment. Mr Ellis will put the case against, I’ll put the case for, and we’ll see how it shakes out. Then after you’ve read this, you can read our reviews here to see if we changed our opinions after reading the actual comic.

The case for the defence by Alasdair Stuart

The three principle criticisms seem to be the following:

1) She’s a woman! They can’t drive/where’s the room for her to make sandwiches in that cockpit/she’d be too busy putting her make-p on/she’d crash/surely she’ll need a bigger helmet for the buns on either side of her head.

(All actual comments people with thumbs have typed about this by the way)

2) It makes no narrative sense. Why does everyone have to know how to fly? Surely she’s a vital character doing her intelligence work and being a leader?

3) It doesn’t make sense for a vital strategic asset and leader to be on the front line.

Let’s see…

1) You’re a sexist idiot who’s either trolling for attention or the concept of a woman being competent at something which isn’t focussed on you terrifies you so much you have to try and destroy it. Congratulations, you’ve rendered your entire opinion invalid.

2) This actually makes a certain degree of sense when you look at it. We don’t see Mon Mothma throwing ships around for example, or any of the male Rebel Alliance generals. However, the criticism that it makes no narrative sense doesn’t really stand up. The Rebels are on the back foot, fighting defensively for two and a half movies, and Leia’s intelligence work puts her on the front line of that fight over and over again. Yes, the first time we meet her, she’s hiding her true work behind her status as a diplomat, but she’d need a wide skillbase to fall back on for when people see through that cover. And, let’s face it, after 2.5 films of being rescued by a couple of guys off the street, playing an endless game of dodge and run with the Imperial Navy and going deep cover as a bounty hunter on Tatooine, if she didn’t have those skills before for some reason she sure as hell has them by the midpoint of Return of the Jedi.

Also, not for nothing? She’s the daughter of the man Obi-Wan Kenobi cites as one of the finest pilots he’s ever seen.

3) Now we’re getting somewhere. Leia is one of the overall leaders of the Rebellion, an individual whose death would be a hammer blow that would break the Alliance apart. We’re even shown that in microcosm in Return Of The Jedi . The moment when she’s shot outside the bunker, the entire movie stops and you’re in complete lockstep with Han and Leia as they both frantically try and work out how bad it is. This is the same movie in which she goes deep cover at a crime lord’s mansion to rescue Han and less than a full film after she was in Vader’s custody for the second time. Any one of those situations could lead to her death; the only reasons none of them do is her skill, the skill of the other characters and, well, the Force, presumably. She has no choice about where she is until Jedi , where she chooses to go and rescue Han and chooses to be one of the leaders of the Bunker assault, because no one else is able to do it better than she is.

And that’s why Wood’s decision to have her in an X-Wing isn’t just brilliant; it’s in keeping with the series’ idea that the Rebels are this scrappy little insurgency scraping wins by the skin of their teeth. There aren’t many Rebels, and they’re harried all the way through to the end of The Empire Strikes Back , always being hunted for and always having to fight holding actions. In a situation like that why should the rebel leaders expect special treatment? Why shouldn’t they hop in an X-Wing and go to war? If anything this emphasises how fragile, stretched and outnumbered they are. Everyone fights, because everyone has to. And here’s the thing. Given that no satisfactory reason has even been forthcoming for the cutting of the only three female pilots in Return Of The Jedi , this goes some way towards addressing the balance.

But, of course, that’s just my opinion. Over to my learned colleague…

Next page for the opposing view…

The case for the prosecution by Steven Ellis

So, there’s a new Star Wars comic book series coming out featuring Princess Leia as a hot-shot pilot leading some sort of undercover special-forces group. And as Alasdair has explained there are several different opinions about this floating around the internet. Al is quite happy with the concept. I’m not so sure. Admittedly this is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction mixed with a sprinkling of further pondering and my general opinion that Star Wars is a little tired at the moment. My instant questions were how? And why? After thinking about it a little further those two questions are still there, tempered with the question, “Why not someone else?”

I’ve read a lot of the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” stuff. Not all of it, but quite a lot; enough to know the general time-lines pretty well. In the various books Leia has been a senator, then the Chief of State of the New Republic, a mother three times and a trained Jedi. At various times these things have gotten in the way of the others. She was too busy putting the New Republic back together to even think about Jedi training for a long time. Also having a major emergency every other year – as depicted in the books – would get in the way. It would have to be early in her life; somewhere in among the original trilogy films or just after, when she was still part of the rebellion. This approach seems to be the one the comic creators have taken; setting the story right after “A New Hope”. This causes me issues which I’ll get to in a bit…

Another thing would be that the books are full of people who already do these things. There are the Rogue and Wraith Squadrons which deal with hot-shot pilots and undercover missions. So, the thought of Leia suddenly being revealed as the same seems like nothing more than stunt casting. Hell, I could name many female characters from the EU who would suit this role perfectly. The character of Winter – Leia’s childhood friend and later spy and Alliance Intelligence operative – comes to mind. The character was originally written as someone who’s very like Leia and could be used to serve in a role normally filled by Leia when Leia was otherwise occupied due to plot or continuity concerns. She’d be perfect. But she just isn’t as well known as Leia, is she?

Leia is a very strong character, but she’s always been more of a talker than a fighter. Sure, she’s good in a fight, we know she’s a pilot and was heavily involved with the rebellion, but the warrior aspect has never been the major strong point of the character and turning her into a soldier, even a well trained special-ops type soldier, seems to be undermining what the character is about. She’s the cool, calm diplomat not the hot-headed fighter. She’s a leader and a rallying point, not the person leading the charge from the front. Other characters filled those roles in the films and other characters, male and female, have been placed in similar roles in the “Expanded Universe” too. It would be like revealing that Luke has been hosting his own talk show since the destruction of the second Death Star. Not impossible but not very likely either because Luke has had a lot of other more important things on his plate. Leia is more about the big picture rather than the front line action.

I can suddenly see a lot of situations in the books where having Leia at one time being a special-forces operative would change significantly the possible outcomes and some would beg the question why she didn’t reveal this hidden set of skills.

Sure you can have Leia in your new story but why have her as the solider? Have not her play the role she’s been playing for years? She’s the diplomat, the leader or the negotiator and only ever a fighter as a last resort.

I’m not saying she shouldn’t be in this new comic, just that I question her as the main focus. Sure, have her in there, but let her be the introduction to the story and the connection to all-new character who are the ones who go out and have the adventures. That way we have new clean slate characters to find out about and get to have adventures with and also the inclusion of know characters. New characters can also do one thing that Leia can’t; they can get into mortal danger and some of them can maybe even die. This is one of the reason I’ve gone off “EU” books somewhat, there’s no danger for the core characters. If this is set when Leia’s younger then we know she’ll survive because she’s still alive in later stories so any danger she gets in will be pre-neutered. New characters aren’t so safe. And that leads to more drama.

So, sure you can have Leia reveal this never-talked-about aspect of her life. Give her all this never-talked-about skills and have her get in to dangerous situation after dangerous situation and get out by the skin of her teeth just like she’s done for 60 years’-worth of Star Wars stories. But that sounds a bit lame to me. I feel like I’ve read about that before. I guess I’d just rather see new characters doing new things instead of a rehash of the old again and again.

Princess. Ambassador. Spy. And now Fighter pilot. Whether you agree with the choice or not, Leia’s certainly one of the most versatile and hardest working characters in the series. So why not let us know what you think of her new flight status in the comments? Or vote in the poll?

In the meantime, lock S Foils in attack formation Scout Three. You’re clear to start your run.

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