Today marks the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars: A New Hope, kicking off four decades of stories spinning out of George Lucas’ creations. Like most folks reading this, Star Wars left an indelible mark on me—in my appreciation of pop culture, how I view storytelling, and, to an extent, how I comport myself as I move about the world. Folks online and in the flesh-and-blood world have been discussing what the film meant and still means to them, their most beloved characters, and maybe their favorite moments from the series. While there are tidbits sprinkled throughout A New Hope that I could pour over for hours, today I keep being brought back to the opening moments, when Princess Leia Organa, played by the late, great Carrie Fisher, stands her ground against the formidable force of nature that is Darth Vader.
I’m not sure why the interchange between the two keeps lingering. Maybe it’s because I recently saw Vanity Fair’s photo spread of actors from December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, featuring haunting and touching stills of Fisher as Leia in what might have been her last shoot as the character. Could be because it’s such an iconic scene smack at the front of the film. However, what I adore about the scene and why I think it keeps coming back is because of how it frames the movie and the series and maybe gives us a cue as to how to face oppression in a sometimes very cruel world.
For those not in the new know or need a refresher, at the beginning of A New Hope, the ship of Princess Leia,memeber of the Galactic Empire’s Senate, is boarded by Darth Vader and Imperial Stormtroopers, looking for leaked plans to the Empire’s Death Star. The plans hold the key to destroying the battle station, which is capable of obliterating whole planets. Before Vader and company board, however, Leia hides the plans with R2-D2 who, along with C-3PO, head off in an escape pod to deliver the plans to Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi.
But back to Leia and Vader. When we first meet Darth Vader, we’re clued in fairly quickly that he’s not a person to trifle with: his intro music, his all-black fashion sense, and James Earl Jones’ voice all signal “do not screw with this one.” However, when the Sith Lord confronts Leia about her party’s true intentions, the princess doesn’t bat an eye, staring into his masked eyes and fearlessly lying to his face. We knew early on that Darth Vader wasn’t a man to lock horns with, but the more we learned about him, the more we appreciated what kind of steel, grit, and brass it took to stand toe-to-toe with the fallen Jedi. But then, of course, we’re not all Princess Leia.
As the movie goes on, Leia is tortured, body and spirit, interrogated by Vader and a menacing droid and forced to bear witness as her planet is wiped from existence by the Death Star. But she presses onward, helping to coordinate the Battle of Yavin at the film’s end and, eventually, earning the rank of general by the opening of The Force Awakens. She persists.
And maybe that’s why the example of Leia in A New Hope is moving me so today. Whatever your political affiliation, we live in uncertain times, both in the States and across the globe. Leia reminds us that fighting the yoke of abject oppression is not a one-and-done endeavor. It requires vigilance. It requires tenacity and an ability to move beyond the exhaustion of a world that takes sometimes more than it gives. Leia reminds us that sometimes we have to dig in our heels, gaze at the face of evil, and refuse to blink.
Thanks for reminding us of that, A New Hope. And thank you, Leia.