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Princess Leia Gave the Women’s March a New Hope

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Shortly after Carrie Fisher died, I read her memoir The Princess Diarist. Fisher’s recounting of her affair with Harrison Ford on the set of A New Hope struck me, sure, but what I found more revealing was the final chapter, in which Fisher said she’d finally made peace with the fact she would, in the eyes of so many people, always be Princess Leia.

Fisher obviously had decades to come to terms with the character who defined her. But in Diarist she proclaims “it turns out that … she matters to me,” and makes clear that although she took issue with Leia’s hair (those damned cinnamon buns) and wardrobe (that damned metal bikini), she embraced the character because it so obviously means so much to so many, including young women who saw in her a hero leading a rebellion.

Those women were out in, ahem, force Saturday, marching by the hundreds of thousands in cities worldwide. Amid the signs proclaiming “I’m With Her” and “Love Trumps Hate” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights,” a contingent channeled Leia Organa to declare, “A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance.” They waved signs showing Leia with her blaster, Leia as Rosie, Leia looking generally defiant and ready to kick ass.

As a feminist icon, Fisher—who never tired of pointing out that Leia slayed Jabba while wearing that damned bikini—would have been proud to see so many  women making Leia such a powerful symbol. Fisher was never shy about calling out sexism, and almost certainly would have been happy to see Leia’s likeness amid the throngs marching in Washington, DC, and beyond.

“I think Carrie Fisher’s portrayal as Leia in the Star Wars film franchise resonates with many women because she is a fierce, intelligent, charming, and powerful woman,” says Hayley Gilmore, the Mississippi artist and designer who created the “A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance” posters. “It makes sense [marchers] would gravitate towards Leia, especially after Carrie’s death. It’s a way to honor a woman who stood up for her beliefs.”

Gilmore says many women see parallels between the Star Wars story and what’s happening in America today. Even as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theaters in December, fans—and critics—noted that bringing down an Imperial force felt eerily pertinent to 2016. The fact that the rebellion is led by Jyn Erso, as a stand-in for Hillary Clinton, only made the message more apropos. Even before Rogue, Rey, the central character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, offered young women a heroine of their own, one they’ve embraced wholeheartedly. The Star Wars galaxy has always trusted, and even relied upon, strong women (see also: Padmé Amidala).

But Leia was the first. The first to call out a nerf herder when she saw one. The first to wield a blaster to save Luke and Han. The first to befriend the little guy … er, Ewok. And the first to lead a resistance. She never backed down from a fight, never hesitated to risk her life. Of course you’d see her likeness among those of Rosie the Riveter and Clinton herself. Leia, and Fisher, represent strength and independence to several generations of women.

A Carrie Fisher sign seen at the the San Francisco Women's March on January 21, 2017.A Carrie Fisher sign seen at the the San Francisco Women’s March on January 21, 2017.Alex Wang

Look, no one is saying Donald Trump is the Emperor, or even Darth Vader. Millions of women voted for him. But seeing so many women embrace Leia as a symbol when making a stand says a lot about Leia, and the woman who portrayed her. In Princess Diarist, Fisher says she felt “honored to be [Leia’s] representative here on Earth.” The Women’s March proved that Fisher, and Leia, were so much more than that.

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