Princess Leia’s message of hope
Carrie Fisher may have passed away, but Princess Leia, the “Star Wars” character she so brilliantly portrayed, lives on in our popular imagination. The veteran actress’ death is an opportune moment to pay tribute to the Galaxy’s most famous princess and reflect on the lessons she can impart at this time in our national politics.
Leia’s galaxy, like our world, is filled with conflict. Before Leia’s birth, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine—actually an evil Sith lord called Darth Sidious—had manufactured a threat of a separatist invasion to justify receiving emergency powers, which culminated in his ascension as emperor of a newly created Galactic Empire.
At first, this Empire retained the semblance of democracy; a rubber-stamp Senate remained in place. Leia, a princess of the planet Alderaan, is introduced to us as a member of this Senate—and a covert but key figure in the opposition to an increasingly repressive and authoritarian Empire. Captured by Darth Vader, Leia resists torture and refuses to betray the rebellion—even when threatened with the destruction of her planet.
Throughout the episodes, Princess Leia displays a grounded, down-to-Hoth leadership that will put many of our own senators to shame. She suffered many indignities—including being chained to Jabba the Hut in a metal bikini—but her perseverance and leadership were key to the Empire’s ultimate demise. And although not all the outcomes were to her liking (her own son, Kylo Ren, turns to the dark side), she remained faithful to the principles that led her to narrowly escaping a death sentence inside the Death Star.
The first lesson we can learn from Princess Leia is that complicity or indifference is not an acceptable option in the face of tyranny. As senator, she was an outspoken advocate of the rights of sentient beings—and when it became clear that dialogue with the emperor was impossible, she became one of the exponents of the Rebel Alliance. Our politicians today are likewise called to take a principled stand on many issues—and not participate in a conspiracy of silence.
Secondly, we learn that being born into a life of privilege is not a hindrance to finding common cause with the rest of the people. In stark contrast to the Trade Federation who in its greed showed no regard for life, Leia manages to empathize with the plight of the marginalized majority, and consequently sacrifices her position for a greater cause. We, too, are called to open our eyes to the everyday realities of our fellow Filipinos, and be willing to speak and act on their behalf—even in issues that do not directly affect us.
Thirdly, Leia demonstrates that women can stand up to men in the political arena. Arrested and stripped of her diplomatic immunity, Leia still manages to call out Grand Moff Tarkin—one of the emperor’s trusted lieutenants—for his “foul stench,” and not even the threat of execution could deter her from declaring that further oppression would only lead to more resistance. Of course, not all female politicians are benevolent—but we should be able to support, criticize, and engage with our leaders regardless of their gender.
Finally, we can learn of—and take inspiration from—the power of hope: a hope upon which, in the words of “Rogue One,” rebellions are built. Facing highly improbable odds (as C3PO would have calculated), Leia never gives up, perhaps mindful that the only sure way to defeat is not to fight at all. “You’re my only hope,” she tells Obi-Wan Kenobi, placing the galaxy’s fate in a Jedi master who takes chances on a smuggler named Han Solo, who in turn ultimately clears the way for the destruction of the Death Star. We need to work together, and trust each other, to keep the chain of hope alive.
Today, there is no Death Star looming on our horizon, but there are threats to the democratic institutions we have worked so hard to build. As we face a new and uncertain year, may Princess Leia remind us that indeed, there is always hope—especially for those who have the courage to stand up to oppression, and the willingness to sacrifice.
Gideon Lasco (www.gideonlasco.com) is a medical doctor and anthropologist.
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