Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Princess Leia 5, originally released July 1st, 2015.
Patrick: Love it or hate it, I’m a Wisconsin boy – born, raised, and educated. It’s a weird culture to grow up in, but it’s an even weirder culture to have to carry with you for the rest of your life. There are some awesome parts of being from Wisconsin, like an enthusiastic beer culture or an emphasis on education or the outdoors. Plus there’s the general air of friendliness that permeates my every visit to the homestead. But man, oh man, there are also a ton of drawbacks to that cultural identity: a meatheaded obsession with sports (specifically, the Green Bay Packers), unhealthy and frequently disgusting cuisine, and a bunch of casual institutionalized racism. And every person I meet is surprised that I’m not some backwoods, smalltown hick. Worse are the negative characteristics I actually take with me wherever I go, like juvenile appetite for dairy products and that irrepressible accent. Throughout the course of Princess Leia, Mark Waid and Terry and Rachel Dodson have presented us with Leia’s cultural identity, and with the final issue boldly declares that being Alderaanian is a powerful thing. Love it and hate it.
The prisoner exchange from the previous issue was a feint! In most exciting fashion, Evaan and Nien Nunb swoop in under the Star Destroyer’s radar and blast up the imperial detachment, killing Commander Dreed in the process. While Leia and company manage a miraculously stealthy escape, the Star Destroyer has set course for Espirion to wipe out the envoy of Alderaanian ships congregating nearby. Naturally, Leia makes the heroic choice and sets a course for Espirion to fight (and possibly die) among her people. Maybe that’s not such a stretch from a hero in a science fiction fantasy, but if you take a second to consider the actual gravity of her choice, it’s extraordinary. Leia’s ship is presumed destroyed: she could easily disappear into space, living to fight another day with the full force of the rebellion behind her. It’s actually very similar to Leia’s decision to make herself a bargaining chip to get Tula back. Leia knows that the only way this fight matters is if she’s got skin in the game.
And part of having “skin in the game” means being vulnerable – not simply in a physical way, but in a conceptual way. Waid portions out this mixed-bag of vulnerability, first presenting it as personally and as simply as possible in Tula and Tace’s reunion. We get the entirety of this story in a single page.
We get the full spectrum of emotions here: Tula overjoyed to be reunited with her sister, Tace’s feelings of betrayal, and their desperate need to make up and be family again. I love the knowing smile that Evaan and Leia share – they both recognize this ambivalence towards one’s family or culture.
As Leia prepares for battle, she runs into that same sort of ambivalence. In the previous issue we saw the Ambassador reject the Espirion Alderaanians because they had bred with the locals, diluting the bloodline. Even in this hour of crisis, when Leia needs reinforcements from Espirion, the Ambassador remains steadfast in her racist beliefs. I’m always enamored with the performances the Dodsons get out of their characters, but the expression on her face when she re-asserts her bigotry is astonishingly brazen. (Leia’s acting in the last panel is also superb.)
That kind of bigotry might just be part of the culture Leia is trying to save. Shockingly, Leia even kinda owns up to her own responsibility in sending the Ambassador to the surface instead of going herself. There’s no blame here, only acceptance of what Alderaanians are.
Leia’s “Today will be our Independence Day” speech is certainly one for the record books. Waid packs the speech with some fantastic rhetoric, but it’s when she’s winding down that she gets to the juicier bits. Let’s take a look at the best parts of it:
“(W)e will not surrender. We will defend ourselves. But we won’t land one more blow than necessary. We are not our enemy. We are Alderaan. We answer rage with wisdom. We answer fear with imagination. We answer war with hope. If one life with a single drop of Alderaanian blood survives, Alderaan survives. If one life with a passion for Alderaanian creativity survives, Alderaan survives. And we are, each of us, important. And whatever happens, I bow to all of you and to our future.”
I’ve asserted before that Leia’s Alderaanian heritage is a perfect analogue for my own Star Wars fandom (and I imagine, the same Star Wars fandom for anyone old enough to have not grown up with the prequels). If Leia can look past the fact that there are traitors and racists among her people, certainly Star Wars fans can look past a few crummy movies. There’s a whole culture — a world of creativity that can survive so long as any part of our enthusiasms survive.
Waid and the Dodsons offer this series as a rallying cry to both love and hate Star Wars at the same time. Which is convenient, because that’s how I’ve felt about this franchise for 16 years. And, hey, if a Star Wars story can build to an image like this?
Count me the fuck in.
Taylor! How did you like this issue? How about the series? This is the first final issue of this new batch of Marvel Star Wars comics – did you find the through-line satisfying? What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your cultural identity? Also, how fucking cool is it that there are like half a dozen female characters in this issue and they’re all amazing? Last, but not least, we need an Evaan / Nein Nunb team up mini-series next, right?
Taylor: Like you Patrick, I hail from a midwestern state, that of Kansas. When people find I’m I’m from Kansas they usually assume I grew up in something akin to Smallville. Jokes about Dorothy from the Wizard of Of usually follow. And generally I usually end up making apologies for my home state which has become the butt of many a national joke. That being said, even though Kansas isn’t perhaps the great state the seal claims itself to be, I still find I have a fondness for it and feel like it generally has a bad rap. Because of this I find myself defending the place I grew up frequently and that makes me more sympathetic to what happens in Leia 5.
Ultimately the attention paid to the idea of heritage and culture is what makes this title meaningful to me. There are numerous examples in this issue and others that show how much Leia cares for her homeworld. She risks her own life for a traitor. She abandons the Rebellion to unite her people. She finds them a new home. However, what impacted me the most is how she treats Jora, the bigoted diplomat.
In just about every way, Jora is reprehensible. She’s rude, uncaring, and racist to an extent that she may even be the true antagonist in this series. However, even though she does everything in her power to be terrible, Leia still puts up with her shit. More than that, when Leia finds out that Jora bungled her simple diplomatic mission she doesn’t even yell at her. She sends her away and this silent admonishment is all she receives. Truly, she basically apologizes for Jora’s work, much like I have to apologize for Kansas for electing Sam Brownback. Leia, unlike Tace, values Alderaan’s culture so much, she cares about her heritage so much, that she even forgives Jora. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Jora, for all her faults, is doing what she thinks is the best thing for the people of Alderaan. Her conviction is something that we see from several of the female protagonists in this issue. Tace, Evaan, Leia – all are characters who bring a certain passion to everything that they do. Each character has different motivations in this issue and series. Tace is motivated by her sister, Evaan is motivated by a desire to help Leia, and Leia — of course — is motivated by Alderaan. However, despite each one of these women wanting something different, they all go about getting it in a similar fashion. That is, they care deeply about their goals and will do anything to accomplish them. It’s hard to say if this is a trait of all Alderaan women, but it certainly makes for a comic that is uniquely female-centric in a universe known for mostly male-centered stories.
It wasn’t until you pointed this out to me Patrick, that I recognized this. But this just goes to show how strong and interesting characters, regardless of gender, create an interesting story. I think this is what Princess Leia contributes to the Star Wars landscape as a whole. It shows us why Princess Leia is such a badass and it also shows us that women in the Star Wars universe can similarly be badass and carry the weight of a narrative on their own.
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