Ever since she knelt over a blue and white astromech droid in the corridor of a ship under Imperial attack, Princess Leia has been an icon. While her signature hairstyle in the first Star Wars film or the Huttslayer outfit forced upon her in Return of the Jedi remain instantly recognizable, Leia’s popularity has always been founded on her incredibly strong character as a leader, fighter, and rebel. She’s the princess who handily snatched up a blaster rifle and picked off stormtroopers with finesse when other princesses were still expected to sigh wistfully from tower windows, waiting for their Prince Charming. Thankfully, one only needs to peruse the pages of Marvel Comic’s recent line of Star Wars comics for brilliant examples of what makes the princess of Alderaan so dang incredible.
One of the first characters granted by Marvel a self-titled limited run, well before Luke or Han it might be added, Princess Leia explores Leia’s life in the immediate aftermath of A New Hope. Distilled into five issues is virtually everything we love about the Alderaanian royal. After the victory at the Battle of Yavin, Leia is all but ordered to remain on base, safe from the Empire and, in a post-Alderaan galaxy, a symbol for what the Rebel Alliance represents in its fight against the Emperor. In every sense of the word, she’s being placed on a galactic pedestal, a role Leia refuses to accept. Instead, she recruits Evaan Verlaine, a fellow Alderaanian, an X-wing pilot, and a gold medalist in speaking her mind damn the consequences, and the pair make their escape on a quest to find and protect other surviving Alderaanians. In the course of her mission, Leia outwits a pursuing Empire, wins over skeptical Alderaanians through a display of military leadership and diplomacy, and puts her life at risk to rescue one of her subjects of questionable loyalties in the clutches of an Imperial captain. After safely gathering and securing the future of Alderaan’s people and their culture, Leia returned to the fray in the rebels’ fight against the Empire.
The Leia Organa that emerges in Marvel’s signature Star Wars title is a mixture of the blaster-handy princess from A New Hope and the understandably cynic of all things Han Solo from The Empire Strikes Back. In the very first story arc, Leia takes the lead in a secret mission to infiltrate and blow up one of the Empire’s largest weapon factories. In the next, she keeps her head when Han’s antics draws the Empire’s suspicions, not to mention the attention of Han Solo’s less-than-legal wife, Sana Starros. Leia’s sense of pragmatism elevates the exchange from two potential romantic rivals to future compatriots, and concludes with the rebel leader wielding a lightsaber like nobody’s business in the midst of rescuing a captive Luke from the slimy hands of Grakkus the Hutt. Beyond this sly reversal of the plot of A New Hope, the damsel saving the hero, Marvel has allowed Leia to continue to shine on a grand and personal scale.
Vader Down, a crossover event between Star Wars and the brilliantly written and drawn Darth Vader title, pits rebel forces under the command of Leia against a technological horror – and no, that’s not a reference to the Death Star. Betrayed by a rival for Palpatine’s approval, Vader is stranded on a desolate planet and for the first time, truly vulnerable to a rebel attack. It’s an opportunity Leia does not let pass, committing all available rebel resources to the effort to take down the man who had perpetrated so much evil in the universe. Vader devastatingly demonstrates that the power of the Force is greater than any battle station, but not before Leia boldly attempts to take on her yet-to-be-revealed father in one final opportunity. In this case, the bad guy wins, but in the defeat is the makings of a future Resistance general.
This ability to lead others is on better display in Leia’s most recent arc in Star Wars, when she finds herself trapped in a powered down secret rebel prison, surrounded on all sides by escaped Imperial captives and killer droids. The “Rebel Jail” story arc tests not just Leia’s ability to keep herself and others alive, but her very attachment to the benevolent ideals of the rebellion. Not one to let a talented woman be forgotten, Leia enlists Sana Starros to help her transport Dr. Aphra, a genius rogue archeologist who’s an expert in droids and weaponry and, not to mention, a servant of Darth Vader. Aphra’s destination is a secret rebel prison intended for the worst of the worst of Imperial prisoners. The dangerous Aphra is barely in her prison cell when the facility is attacked and overwhelmed by a masked individual with a small army of killer droids at beck and call. The leader of the attack is subsequently unmasked as Eneb Ray, a former rebel secret agent, who has adopted the belief that the only way to defeat the Empire is to adopt its ruthless strategy of violence against its opponents. Leia is given an ultimatum: kill the prisoners, as the Empire would, or be killed by the droids and the suddenly freed Imperials with a collective vendetta against a leader of the rebellion which locked them up. Leia’s response is simple: form a small company of ass-kicking women, Sana Starros and a droid-targeted Dr. Aphra, and save everyone. It’s a superhero’s task, subsequently reflected in the second-to-final cover for the “Rebel Jail” arc depicting Leia in a pose reminiscent of Batman swinging alongside Robin in the midst of fighting Gotham’s worse. Unsurprisingly, the former Senator of Alderaan wins the day and saves the Imperial prisoners against all odds, but it’s not the most impressive rescue of Leia’s comic book run.
In the post-Return of the Jedi era Shattered Empire, Leia saves an entire planet. On a mission to invite Naboo into becoming a founder member of the New Republic, Leia and Poe Dameron’s high flying mother, Shara Bey, find themselves and Naboo’s Queen Soruna caught between a Star Destroyer and an order from Palpatine to destroy his home planet issued after his death. Without hesitation, Leia hops into a twenty year old Naboo fighter and takes the fight to the stars to protect the planet, the home of a mother she never knew, from destruction. Shattered Empire reflects Leia the leader, the writer of condolence letters to the families of rebel fallen; Leia the fighter, prepared to take up arms against the Empire despite insurmountable odds to protect others; and Leia the freedom fighter, someone who believes in a better, freer galaxy. Even though Leia’s part in Shattered Empire is limited to the Naboo mission, it brilliantly exemplifies how strong and incredible the princess of Alderaan’s character is displayed throughout Marvel Comics’ Star Wars titles. If you haven’t yet checked them out, do so, or you will miss some of the best of Princess Leia.
Ross Brown spent much of his childhood in the “Dark Times,” before new Star Wars films existed beyond myth and rumor, subsiding on way too many hours of Star Wars novels, games, and repeated viewings of the original trilogy on VHS. In the enlightened era of The Force Awakens, Ross continues to spend too many hours on Star Wars novels, television shows, and comic books, but does so under the guise of being a mild-mannered attorney by day. To avoid frightening friends, family, and random strangers with his passion for Star Wars, Ross writes about the franchise at Brown’s Review on tumblr, on Facebook, and on Medium. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Wolfesghost.