Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Princess Leia 1, originally released March 4th, 2015.
Taylor: The Empire Strikes Back features a memorable scene where Han and Leia share their first kiss. The scene is a gem, with both of them behaving in such a manner so essential to their characters that they (and the audience) can’t resist each other. Han is charming, smooth talking, and a little sleazy. Leia, on the other hand, is cool, distant, and fiercely independent. Looking at this scene, you can’t help but recognize that this is who Leia is. Even though we know passion burns hotly underneath her cool exterior, she’s never one to give away her true feelings. Princess Leia 1 picks up on these characteristics and fleshes out not only one of cinema’s most famous heroines, but also fleshes out Star Wars at the same time.
The Rebellion has just blown up the Death Star but they don’t have any time to rest. Since the Empire knows the location of their base, they must prepare to move their operations to another planet. Leia is caught in the middle of all this, wondering how she can be most useful. Eventually, she falls in with a pilot named Evaan who is also from Alderaan. Together, they set off on an adventure to unite all of the Alderaanians who — like themselves — find themselves to be galactic orphans.
Princess Leia, like Marvel’s Star Wars and Darth Vader, has set about extending the Star Wars universe by focusing its attention on the events immediately after A New Hope. In this case, that “immediacy” is quite literal as the comic picks up right where the movie ended. While most of Rebels have clearly assigned duties during this time, Leia is left nothing to do. Most people expect her to be in mourning for the planet and family she has lost and few expect her to be a woman of action. But oh, how little they know the true nature of Leia.
Ill at ease being of no use during a time of action, Leia pleads her case to General Dodonna.
Here, Leia is showing herself to be a woman of action and one who doesn’t take well to redirection. In a word, she’s independent. What makes this scene stand out to me is that it shows us the beginning of how Leia becomes the Leia we know from The Empire Strikes Back — that is, the one we see in that scene with Han. Here, she lacks the gumption to challenge Dodonna out right, but that’s because this is her first step to becoming a woman of action rather than a simple damsel in distress. Dodonna, for his part, seems pretty antiquated in his views. At best, he seems to think of Leia as being symbol and one that is best seen and not heard. That Leia would want to do anything aside from mope around doesn’t seem to cross his mind, even though she’s the one who brought him the plans to the Death Star.
What’s wonderful about all of this is that it reminds us why we like Leia. In 1979 she was a far cry from the typical heroine in a movie. While she was indeed saved by men, she didn’t need to be saved. She was ready to die for the Rebellion. Once rescued, she doesn’t take guff from anyone and starts issuing orders (Will someone get this big, walking carpet out of my way?!). She’s refreshing for her bravado and reminds us that at the time, Star Wars was cutting edge in more than just it’s visuals.
Speaking of visuals, I found the artwork of Terry and Rachel Dodson really fun. Unlike Star Wars and Darth Vader, the Dodson’s seem less interested in recreating the exact feel of the Star Wars universe, and more interested in making it feel unique and a bit retro. A panel that exemplifies this is when we see Leia and Evaan jump to lightspeed.
That panel looks like it came right out a 1980s era comic or perhaps as a free poster included with the purchase of an Admiral Ackbar action figure. The heavy shadowing effects go a long way to create this feel. They’re heavy and cast everything in high contrast. The colors, as well, add to this feeling with their vibrancy — a stark contrast to the shadows elsewhere. The total effect upon looking at this is one of nostalgia, which seems appropriate for a title focusing on material almost 40 years old. More than that, it just reminds me of my childhood, which, as would have it, is inexorably entwined with Star Wars.
PATRICK! Do you like this rendering of Leia both narratively and artistically? What do you think of Evaan as a sidekick? Also, how are we to make sense of this timeline with that of the Star Wars comic?
Patrick: Oooh! Timeline questions! Of the issues we’re read so far, this one is definitely the earliest. As you mentioned, the issue opens up with the closing seconds from Episode IV. I think there’s a very real way in which Princess Leia simply has a more difficult task at hand, and therefore can’t really mess around with time jumps to unspecified periods between movies. Leia is a compelling character, but her role in the movies is often at odds with her socio-political station in the Star Wars universe. Mind you, she’s part of a society that is all but vanishing. The main quest of the series speaks to the most literal world she lost — Alderaan — but writer Mark Waid carefully drops little clues about the other world she lost — the Imperial Senate.
That scene that Taylor included with Leia asking General Dodonna for more responsibilities began with the general starting to address Leia as “Senator” before correcting himself. Not only would Leia have given up her senatorial duties in joining the rebellion, we know that the Emperor disbanded the senate in the days leading up to the attack on the Death Star. It’s impossible to know how much time lapses in any of those movies, but I think it’s safe to assume that the events of A New Hope play out pretty quickly. That’s why Leia isn’t used to being a powerless figurehead — it may have been only a week ago that she was part of a functioning legislative body, a champion for her homeworld on an intragalactic scale. When that infrastructure is stripped away, her role isn’t so obvious — not to her and not to the rest of the rebels.
A lot of the criticisms leveled against Leia in this book are the same kinds of chauvinist criticisms that female leaders often face in real life. The chief concern seems to be whether she’s feeling enough. No one would question the steely resolve of a male leader in the face of such hardship, but poor Leia gets slapped with an unfortunate moniker: Ice Queen.
Now, I’ve got questions with this scene (like: why are the pilots wearing their flight helmets to a ceremony? That can’t be part of their uniform, can it? And even if it is, Evaan’s helmet is way too dusty. Show a little respect guys!) , but the reality of a couple of grunts passing judgement on their female leader because she isn’t showing enough emotion is so strong, it kind of hurts to read it. And it doesn’t end there: right after the ceremony, Luke brings the point up to her directly, letting her know that if she needs someone to “lean on,” he’s there for her.
That second one’s gross. We know that Luke has the hots for his sister at this point, (“What do think of her?” “Trying not to, kid.”) and their exchange starts off with the same awkward chemistry you’d expect from 19-year-olds flirting. For me, the most telling moment is Leia noting that Luke is looking at her “strangely.” Note to the guys: women always know when you’re looking at them strangely. I don’t want to harp of Luke too much, but on some level, he’s using what he perceives as Leia’s unexpressed emotional vulnerability to get closer to her. There’s no doubt he’d like “lean on me” to become “lean on me and give me little kisses.”
That all adds to the rich tapestry of a character that is mindful of the way her emotions read to her largely-male cohort. Don’t express emotions at all, be labeled an “Ice Queen”; make an emotion-based decision, now you’re being impulsive; show any emotion and you’re weak.
I’ve kind of blown past my opportunity to discuss Terry and Rachel Dodson’s artwork in this issue, but I just wanted to quickly chime in and agree with Taylor whole-heartedly. The more graphic style allows us to relax a little so the characters have room to express themselves. One of the drawbacks to the more photo-realistic styles in the other Star Wars series is that they can come off a little cold, like we’re experiencing the effects of the uncanny valley. The Dodsons’ characters are cartoonier, abstracted just a little bit from their screen versions, and that actually makes it easier for the reader to project their own emotions onto them. I’m also in love with Jordie Bellaire’s coloring in this issue — it’s grounded but subtly graphic, letting characters and important emotional details rise above the more drab backgrounds. Here’s my favorite panel from the issue:
That’s Luke and R2-D2 abandoning Leia in the background, and Evaan paying homage to her lost King and Queen in the foreground. While the panels on the rest of the page respectfully — perhaps even distantly — defer to the gutter, this panel swallows the gutter whole, taking up the entire width of the page. The Dodsons regularly use this technique throughout the issue to zoom out to a wider perspective (the ceremony room, the hologram-planet-evaluating room, the hangar, the ship they’re escaping in at the end) but this time, it’s to emotionally zoom out, and show that Leia’s experience is shared by more than just herself.
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