Darth Vader’s black figure stalking a bright, white corridor enshrouded in smoke. The too-cool casual slouch of Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina. The alien noise and hooded mystique of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Hell, even the childish, relatable angst of Luke Skywalker just wanting to go to Tosche Station and pick up some power converrrterrrrssss. Star Wars — even before its rise to the stratosphere — is packed with deft, brilliant introductions to its icons. But, as always, it was Princess Leia Organa that gave us the most brilliant of all.
Much has been said about Fisher — who would’ve turned 65 today, October 21 — and her portrayal of Leia across the original Star Wars trilogy and eventually its sequels. Yet, there is still something profoundly inspiring in going back to those earliest moments where we’re introduced to her. Aboard the Tantive IV, as the Empire butchers its way down hallways and we, from the perspective of C-3PO and R2-D2, are invited into this alien world in a moment of sheer fear and panic, our first glimpse of Leia is equally alien. Seen briefly from afar, hooded as she nestles down to pass something to Artoo, this is perhaps the entrance befitting a princess we may come to expect from a fantastical world like Star Wars, sci-fi or otherwise. In her flowing white robes, she’s ethereal, mysterious, fleeting, and graceful. It’s not until, moments later, we’re properly introduced to Leia, that some of those initial impressions are re-enforced — and upended.
Leia slides into our view from behind cover as Stormtroopers search the interior corridors we had just glimpsed her floating through, her mission as secret to us as it is to her pursuers. Crucially, unlike before, we immediately see moving into view alongside her is a blaster, held up high and ready to fire. Which is what immediately happens: a Stormtrooper spots her, and Leia isn’t afraid, frustrated that she was spotted, or even brash enough to yell and alert the rest to her immediate presence. She just shoots. It’s brilliant, and made more so by what we’re told just seconds beforehand: “Set for stun!”, the Stormtrooper that eyes her says — as if, in some way, the bloody conflict we just saw unfold throughout the Tantive IV is unbefitting a princess, a political soon-to-be-prisoner. She can’t be maimed or harmed, she’s just some senator with a fancy title, she has to be captured untouched. And everything we need to learn about Leia, who she is as a character, is unfolded in that simple decision: her captors want her stunned, and she just wants them dead. This is no fairytale princess, but a rebel in her own right, a soldier the same as any we’d just seen attempt to shrug off the Imperial assault.
That entire moment displays a simple practicality and determined confidence that exudes throughout Fisher’s performance across the film, and it’s something we return to in scene after scene. Her defiance when she recognises Govenor Tarkin’s foul stench. The way, even captive, she stands up to Vader’s intimidation. Even when she’s meant to be rescued by Han and Luke, it’s upended by how distinctly unimpressed she is by her would-be heroes, immediately taking charge herself and blasting their way out of captivity: a leader and a fighter. Every time we are given the chance to have Leia perceived as the typical female supporting lead — the object of desire, the subdued token the men of the piece are to fight for control of — Fisher is there burning and biting, charisma and confidence exuding from her sharp lines and sharper actions to tell us that Leia is anything but.
And it all starts with that simple slide into view, to take her first shot (of many) against the Empire. Princess Leia was never going to be anything like we could’ve expected from the get-go, and Carrie Fisher let us know that immediately.
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