Leia: The Tragedy of Never Being Allowed to Grieve

In this latest (like, a year late) installment of the Skywalker Tragedy Trilogy, we’ll focus on the lifelong burden of the princess-turned-general, Leia Organa-Solo, the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and twin sister to Luke Skywalker. In this instance, it’s not due to slacking off. Rather, I wanted to wait until the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker to see the completion of Leia’s story arc. (Warning: This article contains a ton of spoilers. Turn back now if you haven’t already seen The Rise of Skywalker, or any of the sequel trilogy films, for that matter.)

Luke’s defining tragedy was to be burdened with knowledge — specifically, knowing just enough… but not everything. Anakin was a tragic figure due to his capacity and need for love being used against him. That brings us to Leia, who was the epitome of compartmentalizing trauma in order to not just live to see another day, but to ensure others lived, too.

Leia: The Tragedy of Never Being Allowed to Grieve

Leia’s tragedy is that everyone she loves dies — literally or metaphorically — and she is never given time to properly grieve their loss. She’s too busy trying to sort through the chaos around her and guide others to safety.

Throughout the course of the Star Wars saga, Leia’s losses pile up. And because everyone else she loves is in peril and she’s rallying the Rebel Alliance and later the Resistance to save the galaxy, Leia has no time to sit down and have a good sob. She doesn’t even have time to make a pit stop to the Endor Mini-Mart to mope over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Ewokee Toffee (which, sadly, is not a real flavor … Hire me, Ben & Jerry! There’s more where that came from!), let alone time to process a lifetime of grief.

Taking Stock of Leia’s Litany of Loss

“A lifetime of grief” sure sounds dramatic, especially when nearly every major Star Wars character has had their share of loved ones who’ve become one with the Force. However, Leia, arguably, has had the most amount of loss to deal with, all while still forging ahead because she didn’t have the luxury to stop and grieve. Let’s take an inventory of all the people this woman has lost:

Her mother Padme:

Unlike Luke, Leia remembers her birth mother Padme, recalling in Return of the Jedi that, “she was very beautiful. Kind, but sad.” This hints at Leia’s particular strain of Force sensitivity, tapping into emotions, impressions, and feelings of her family and those closest to her.

Her adoptive parents:

Queen Breha and Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan died when the Death Star blew up the entire planet. Not only did Leia’s adopted parents die, but so did billions of people — and nearly every person she grew up with and loved. In Star Wars chronology, Leia is between 16 and 19 years of age at this time. Imagine being approximately high school age and seeing everyone you ever knew and loved being murdered in front of you in an act of mass genocide. And because you have been entrusted with the future freedom of an entire galaxy, you have to keep your wits about you and not give in to weakness.

Then, imagine what it’s like to have the people you love most die, and not have anyone to grieve with who would remember them — or have any reminders of them because your entire culture and planet were destroyed. Making it even worse, her birth father was standing right there when the order was given to destroy Alderaan.

Her father Anakin / Darth Vader:

Leia never had the chance to speak to her father and attain a level of closure the way Luke did. Yes, Leia has had some quality time with Dear Ol’ Dad — like when he tortured her aboard the Death Star, or tried to take her captive on Cloud City and froze Han Solo in carbonite right in front of her. By comparison, this type of father-daughter bonding makes Purity Balls seem totally normal. While Luke redeems Vader and has a moment to see him for the flawed-yet-loving man he was, Leia never has the opportunity to look into her father’s eyes and connect.

Even worse, Anakin asks Luke to deliver a message to Leia: “Tell your sister, you were right.” On one hand, it’s a moving moment when Anakin acknowledges his daughter and wants her to know that her father truly was a good man. On the other, he could have asked Luke to tell her he was sorry or that he loved her and her brother. I realize Anakin was short of breath since he was dying and had taken off his life support helmet…. But damn, Ani! Come on!

Her son Ben Solo becomes Kylo Ren:

After the Battle of Endor and the defeat of the Empire, Leia is able to put her losses behind her and build a life with her husband Han Solo. Things don’t turn out so hot when their son, Ben Solo, turns to the Dark Side, becomes the galaxy’s answer to Entitlement Generation Hitler, and dubs himself Kylo Ren because Grandmaster B was already taken.

What makes this a double-decker shit sandwich is that Kylo Ren has a hand in resurrecting the Empire 2.0 – AKA – The First Order. So, not only does her son become an epic disappointment, he undoes all of the hard work and sacrifice made by the Rebels to topple the Empire in the first place. The worst part is, Leia had a premonition that her son would some day turn evil. As Ben grew up, she sensed there was “too much Vader in him.”

Her husband Han leaves… then dies:

When the going gets tough, the tough get on the Millennium Falcon with their Wookie BFF and go back to smuggling. That’s right. After Ben was seduced by the Dark Side, Han didn’t stand by Leia’s side to get through this family tragedy together. He got out of Dodge and left her to commandeer Resistance forces while he flew … ahem… Solo.

Leia barely has time to deal with her son becoming Space Hitler, and one of the few people she could turn to for support — the boy’s father — up and leaves. Nice, Han. The woman goes undercover to rescue you from a lifetime as Jabba the Hutt’s wall art, has your back in battle, and you peace out on her when your son does the worst thing imaginable and the Resistance could use your superlative pilot skills. Real nice.

As emotionally-unavailable as he may be, this seems out-of-character for Han. In the original trilogy, Han initially seemed to be out for himself, but always came around to doing the right thing. A few years later, Han does circle back to do the right thing. But only after Leia pushes back her grief and marshals the troops to try and halt the First Order.

Upon Han’s return, he and Leia have a heartfelt exchange. This is the one instance in six films where you see the effects of these cumulative tragedies on Leia and she gets a little weepy in Han’s arms, asking him to bring their son back. Welp… Han tries — and it gets him killed. Leia feels the death of her estranged husband from across the galaxy. She buckles for a moment, but then General Organa pulls her shit together to help the Resistance figure out how to destroy the First Order’s Starkiller Base before it wipes out another planetary system.

Her brother Luke goes into exile… then dies:

The only other person Leia might have been able to turn to in her grief was her twin brother, Luke. However, Luke felt personally responsible for Ben Solo’s turn to the Dark Side and does what any self-respecting Jedi master does when he feels he’s failed: exiles himself to an uncharted planet where no one can find or contact him.

Even then, Leia couldn’t even turn to Artoo to vent because the poor little droid shut down — digitally and physically — after Master Luke made a bantha-line for Ahch-To. Sure, there’s still Threepio (who, side note, takes an undue amount of shit from everyone. Yes, Threepio talks a lot, but he also cares a lot — which is a blog post for another time), but Leia doesn’t have a lot of people to turn to. Just droids. Every other living, breathing being is counting on her to have her shit together and lead them.

And lead, she does! Instead of shutting down, Leia springs into action, devising a way to track down her brother to enlist his aid in defeating the First Order. Although Luke finally comes back to help turn the tide, he makes his own final sacrifice to buy the Resistance time to escape.

Luke bids his friends and sister a final goodbye and as he dies on a distant planet, Leia feels his passing and knows he’s at peace. Earlier in that film, Leia says that she’s seen “so much loss… I can’t take any more.” Yet, she still keeps going.

Poe screws up big time:

So, Leia’s battin’ 1,000 here with all of the men in her life abandoning her when she needs them most. But hey, at least there’s Poe Dameron, right? You know, the Reisistance fighter pilot who is like the son she never had? Oh, wait… Poe pulls a colossal fly boy fuck-up move and gets the Resistance’s bomb squadron obliterated to take out a dreadnought. He survives and learns from his mistake, but Leia keenly feels the loss of life for those she had a duty to protect and tries to impress this facet of leadership upon Poe.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

No Rest For the Weary: Leia’s Last Act

There’s a line in The Last Jedi spoken by Admiral Holdo to Leia:  “You taught me how to handle it.”

But how does one person handle it all? All being, a lifetime of being surrounded by death and, because shit is falling apart around you and you need to keep your head on straight… You can’t process the gravity of that loss. Does the hole ever heal or are you expected to keep going? And if so, when does that unprocessed grief finally catch up with you? How does it ultimately affect you when you never have so much as a moment to grieve so much loss?

We learn what happens in The Rise of Skywalker when Leia musters the last of her strength to attempt to turn her son back to the light. Maybe it’s the decades of deaths that have finally caught up with the princess-turned-general. Or perhaps she was weakened by being blasted into deep space and using the Force to Carrie Poppins her way back to the ship. Or some combination of those things plus other factors.

In any case, Leia’s final act is not to collapse under the weight of so much grief, but to channel her Force abilities to telepathically reach out to her son. It takes the last of her strength and she dies shortly after making contact with Kylo Ren, but her final act prompts him to renounce his Sith status and become Ben Solo once again.

Curiously, while other Jedi fade away and leave behind a pile of laundry immediately after they die, Leia’s physical body hung in for days under a shroud sheet on the Rebel base. It wasn’t until Ben Solo sacrificed himself for Rey that Leia’s own corporeal form disappeared and she became one with the Force.

My theory is that Leia was only in a near-death state and had not yet died until her son found redemption and passed on himself. In this in-between, Leia hung around to do some “Force projection drag,” masquerading as Han Solo to speak to her son and give him the absolution she knew Han would have given him.

I believe that, for those few hours or days before her physical being disappeared, Leia was still alive, but in a state of stasis preserved by the Force. She continued to stay with Ben in spirit as he went to do battle with Palpatine. (The upcoming novelization of The Rise of Skywalker may be able to shed some light on this and I’ll see if this theory holds water. It’s been mentioned that the book will contain material not contained in the film. Given the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher prior to the making of the film, the original plan may have had Leia Force projecting to Ben in a similar way that Luke did in The Last Jedi. However, since many of Leia’s scenes were constructed from unused footage of Carrie Fisher, the novelization may be the closest we get to understanding more of Leia’s last act.)

In the end, Leia proved to be just as strong with the Force and as much of a warrior as Luke and Anakin. While her time with a lightsaber was limited, she used her intellect, resolve, and compassion to bite back her grief and use it for the greater good. In a sense, Leia embodied a sentiment shared by the woman who played her and gifted Leia with her own considerable strength: “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.” While fighting for the people of a galaxy may not necessarily be considered “art,” it’s as noble a cause as any and a damn good reason to push through heartbreak and pain.

Pour a little out for our Princess who never got to grieve. Then get back up and do something awesome.

Author’s note: It’s also no coincidence that the publication date of this blog post marks the three-year anniversary of the death of the woman who made Leia such a powerful presence, Carrie Fisher.  An actress, writer, advocate, mother, sister, and daughter — she was inspirational in many ways. May the Force be with you, Carrie. Always.

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