anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (princess leia)
[personal profile] anghraine
[Note:  This will obviously be very subjective.  More than usual, that is. Also, TV Tropes.]

I was born in the mid-eighties. I grew up on She-Ra, Belle and Mulan (and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn). By my early teens, I'd grown rather tired of them -- not because they were unfeminine or anything like that (ew), but because I couldn't get away from them. If a heroine turned out to be a feisty young thing, it wasn't merely unremarkable, it was predictable. Of course she was. The only way an Action Girl heroine could impress me because of her Action Girl-ness was if the genre itself seemed to be militating against it.

For me, Leia wasn't impressive because she kicked ass. By itself, our plucky heroine snatching up a blaster and taking out faceless mooks was ... mildly cool, but to be expected. Heroine = Action Girl. It wasn't the action itself that was so impressive, it was the context in which it appeared.

ANH is a very traditional story: storm the castle, rescue the princess, beat the bad guys, and receive public acclaim. And Leia appears to occupy a very familiar role in that story: the princess, the damsel in distress, the prize. It doesn't make much difference that she's spirited -- spirited damsels are a dime a dozen. They still tend to be useless objects that get moved around by more dynamic characters. And ANH was obviously more Mario Brothers than Batman: the Animated Series. Naturally Leia would fall neatly into place as the distressed Princess In The Tower.

But Princess Leia is not Princess Peach. She ought to be, in the framework of that story, but she just ... isn't. So Leia picking up the blaster and taking over her own rescue wasn't just another 'oh look, she's an Action Girl. Gasp, shock.' She became a heroine who refused to trail after her rescuers like a good little NPC, to be the reward for good behaviour even when -- going with the conventions of an otherwise very conventional plot -- she should have. Without the context of quest/rescue/reward, that moment loses much of its power.

For me, this is why the Padmé of TPM was mildly cool, but could not begin to compare to Leia. (Incidentally, Padmé is the only PT character I was introduced to before her OT counterpart.)  Padmé is a courageous, sharpshooting queen fully capable of pulling the wool over two Jedi's eyes and orchestrating the takeover of her own city.  This is unquestionably badass, but the structure of the story doesn't provide a context to make it fresh or unpredictable.  There's no reason to expect that she'd be a damsel in distress, so it's not particularly meaningful that she isn't.  (She's captured for what, two minutes?  And then it turns out that that wasn't her anyway, and she always had the upper hand.)

Of course, surprise and subaversion can't carry a character through three films.  Padmé did develop beyond her initial Action Girl (TM) status -- but in a way that left me with the unavoidable impression of an erratic, dangerously fractured and often chillingly detached (though well-meaning!) personality, something which I very much doubt was intended. (For what it's worth, I think it's more of an issue with characterisation than how she's ostensibly presented.) 

Leia is certainly conflicted about everything from loving both Han and Luke in very different ways, to trying to balance her Action Girl tendencies with the self-preservation required of a political leader (it's no surprise that her most spectacular display of ass-kicking takes place at her gentlest phase).  She has enough anger and aggression to fuel a half-dozen turns to the Dark Side.  But at no point do I think she needs to find a nice, quiet place to rest for a few years while she recovers and puts herself back together. 

Padmé, I suspect, is bound into the Action Girl role simply by dint of being Leia's mother -- at first, she's meant to be a sort of proto-Leia, but she also has to morph into the beautiful, kind, sad figure from the OT, and ends up swinging wildly between the two.  Leia had no such shackles, so she was much freer to develop beyond Action Girl.


anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (Default)

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