When I first saw Star Wars at the age of nine, it captivated my imagination in many ways. Here was an electrifying adventure story that spanned a galaxy and was populated with tons of interesting characters.
Not all characters are created equally, though. While I certainly understand as an adult the importance of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker as archetypal figures in the fantasy model George Lucas was emulating, neither of them appealed to my young mind. I was much more interested in intergalactic badass Darth Vader, the wizened Obi-Wan Kenobi, and feisty Princess Leia.
To be sure, a large part of my attraction to Leia is Carrie Fisher’s beauty. I hadn’t hit adolescence yet, but I understood the power of a pretty girl. And Carrie Fisher is more than pretty.
But if her beauty caused me to pay extra attention to her, it is Leia Organa’s character that really got my attention. She’s smart, she’s witty, and she’s very capable. She has the will to resist torture by the Empire, refusing to give up the location of the secret rebel base. She upbraids Han Solo with, “This is some rescue! When you came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?” It is she who finds a way out of the detention block; she who thinks to hide the Death Star plans in R2-D2, so they can’t be recovered by the Empire; she who stole the plans in the first place!
Princess Leia is a strong, powerful, capable woman. She spits in the face of danger, stands up for what’s right, and gets things done. She may have to be rescued, but as soon as she is sprung she takes charge.
When I was nine years old, I didn’t understand all this. I just liked her. I was drawn to her. But Leia’s character left an impression on me as a writer. Princess Leia proved beyond any shadow of doubt that female characters are not there solely for rescuing. They are as important and as capable as their male counterpoints.
When I started writing my own fantasy 30+ years later, I didn’t forget that lesson. I could have chosen to make my female characters “the weaker sex,” as they were viewed in the medieval cultures upon which fantasy literature is based. But my fantasy milieu — despite having magic and swords instead of computers and guns — is based on the modern world. Alfar and Jifan are reflective of the Middle East, and Urland’s presence there is a fusion of British and American foreign policy.
But even if this wasn’t the case, even if I was writing a more traditional fantasy, I still see no reason to condemn women to lesser roles in society and plot. This is a fantasy afterall. If we’re making up worlds where magic and dragons exist and cultures are different (perhaps even idealized) from our own, why can’t we have a world where women have the same opportunities for adventure, heroism, and villainy men have?
My lead character, Wolf Dasher, is a man. But his supervisor is a woman. The president of Alfar is a woman. The captain of Alfar’s Elite Guard and Wolf’s chief ally in the story is a woman. (In fact, she rescues him from certain doom at one point.) The agent whose murder leads Wolf into the investigation (and who gives the vital first clue) is a woman. So is a minor character who also helps Wolf discover key information.
None of these women resembles Princess Leia (with the minor exception of Wolf’s controller, Kenderbrick, who exhibits Leia’s brash command style). But all of them are strong and capable. They have come by their individual positions by skill, and they are all talented. In their unique ways, they are each Wolf’s equal.
I don’t care for the old-style stories where a woman in danger cries out for a man to help. I’d much rather see her pick up a sword or a magic wand or some other weapon and fight along the man’s side to vanquish the foe.
Afterall, that’s what Princess Leia did.