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…