Major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker in this piece. You’ve been warned.
The Force Awakens gave us Han Solo’s story, and The Last Jedi centered Luke. The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be Leia’s film. Then Carrie Fisher unexpectedly passed in 2016. It was heartbreaking for fans of Leia and Carrie alike. She was a representative of being your whole self, truly and without compromise. Of recognizing and wearing your flaws without letting them define you. We lost an important voice.
As the ramp-up to The Rise of Skywalker began, director and co-writer JJ Abrams was clear that they would not be creating a CGI Leia. They had eight minutes of footage left over from The Force Awakens to use in TRoS, and they were going to use that to shape the rest of Leia’s story in whatever way they could.
To say there was a lot of trepidation is putting it lightly. In TFA we got General Leia Organa, and in TLJ we got a Leia who could wield the Force. What could we get with those eight minutes?
It turns out: quite a lot.
Leia has had one of the most intensive journeys through a variety of labels in the last 40 years of Star Wars storytelling.
She started as our tough-as-nails, flowy-robed Princess. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.” she pleads and unknowingly kicks off her brother Luke’s great adventure. “Into the garbage shoot, flyboy!” she yells, holding a blaster, saving the skins of the two disasters who tried to rescue her from Imperial imprisonment. She was royalty, and she was a fighter. She was Princess Leia. That’s what we learned.
Leia becomes something new in Return of the Jedi. The first 40 minutes found us following our ragtag group of heroes in an effort to save Han Solo from Jabba’s clutches. Leia’s caught, demeaned and forced to wear an absurd costume. But Leia’s always been a fighter, a survivor. And so Princess Leia becomes Leia, the Huttslayer.
In Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, the Huttslayer is now Senator Organa, building a shaky democracy from the ashes of a failed Empire. She chafes at the rules associated with her title, and she considers giving it up. Leia is frustrated in Bloodline, and learning how to reconcile her many selves: Princess, daughter of Bail Organa, daughter of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, wife, sister, mother. Leia took ownership of these roles, she adapted, she was more than any one but a combination of all.
When the new trilogy launched, no one was sure what to expect. But in The Force Awakens, we got General Organa. She was building a new Resistance in the face of a new tyranny. She again represented a fight against fascism, but this time as the leader of her troops in practice and in name. With The Last Jedi, Leia showed us what Yoda meant when he said, all those years ago, “No, there is another.” Leia has always been as much a Skywalker as Luke, but in the histories of Star Wars had largely left the mysticism and action of the Force to her brother, choosing instead the tangible work that she grew up understanding. Leia is a Skywalker and in The Last Jedi we got to see her use the Force to save herself from certain death.
When The Rise of Skywalker title was released, the internet scrambled to discern its meaning. After watching, it’s definitely about Rey, but it’s also about Leia. There’s a moment, early on in the film, where Rey is going through her Jedi training in a forest. She’s having trouble, she can’t focus, she can’t get past Jedi to speak to her, and she’s using her staff instead of her (Luke’s) saber. And when she finishes, she comes to Leia, and she calls Leia "Master." Princess, Huttslayer, Senator, General, Master.
TRoS is the rise of Leia getting her own piece of the Skywalker family tree. It’s Leia’s lightsaber that Rey picks up on her way to confront Palpatine. It’s Leia’s training memory Rey sees with Luke, a blessedly short young-CGI version of Carrie in the midst of running drills with her brother. It’s Leia who reaches out to Ben and finally pulls him back to the side of the Light. (Had Carrie been alive, I am certain it would have been her having the conversation with Ben on the ruins of the Death Star, not Harrison Ford.)
Leia’s story has often been told on the periphery. It’s Luke’s grief we see in A New Hope, it’s Han’s loss of Ben in The Force Awakens. We see Leia’s biggest moments in books like Bloodline and Princess of Alderaan. But in The Rise of Skywalker, we got moments between two women: Master and Apprentice, and it meant so much that Leia got to be an active part of Rey’s growth.
That it’s Leia and Luke together at the end, as pieces of the Force that watch Rey bury their sabers, matters. That Leia is there matters because she's always had the potential to be there, to be another, and seeing it realized at the end means more than I can say. Princess. General. Jedi.