19. Princess Leia Organa
(Write-up by Elaine Tveit, Dork Side of the Force Assistant Editor)
A princess by adoption, a leader by nature. Leia Organa is a symbol of survival for the Rebel Alliance, and a secret connection to the Force makes her a beacon of hope for the future.
From the beginning, it’s clear that Leia is not to be underestimated. When captured by the Empire on the way to delivering the Death Star plans to the Rebellion, Leia acts quickly, stowing the plans aboard her faithful droid R2-D2 and instructing him to escape to the planet Tatooine. She stands up to Darth Vader, the most intimidating being in the Empire, and endures terrible torture and the destruction of her own home planet of Alderaan without revealing the whereabouts of the Rebel Alliance’s base. When she is rescued from her prison cell by Luke Skywalker and the annoying but attractive Han Solo, she takes charge right away, and is integral to their escape from the Death Star. Her courage and quick thinking saved the Rebel Alliance and secured their victory almost as much as Luke’s Force-guided shot that destroyed the Death Star.
Leia is not just a fearless leader, however. She is also a sensitive, caring individual. She falls in love with Han, the smuggler-turned-rebel who both irritates and brings out the best in her. She becomes aware of her connection to the Force when Luke reveals that he is her brother and that they are the offspring of Anakin Skywalker, also Darth Vader, the man who tortured her and Han and countless other beings. She has to come to terms with her new place in the universe, and she does so with quiet emotion and characteristic grace.
Complexity is essential to making any character withstand the test of multiple installments. Leia’s character fulfills that requirement with her courage, dignity, sarcasm, sensitivity, and warmth. Princess, leader, friend, lover; Leia does it all. But she does it all in a very human way, which is what makes her so real. She is, without a doubt, the quintessential heroine in Star Wars (and beyond).