Seeing Princess Leia In Obi-Wan Kenobi Was The Best Kind Of Gut-Punch

The first two episodes of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" just debuted, and I sat right down to watch them for work. Not that I wouldn't have watched them anyway, of course. I was psyched not to have been spoiled for anything (which never happens), so I went in blind, beyond my own speculation. I knew we'd see Luke, Obi-Wan obviously, Reva, Owen, Beru, and Darth Vader. None of this was news. Then, as I was settling in with the first scenes completed, I saw a green planet full of white spires, and a little girl being dressed up for an event. I made an audible gulp as I choked back tears — I didn't feel it coming and I had to cover my mouth to hold it in. There she was (or rather, there was a fake, and she was in the woods): Princess Leia. 

A young Leia, playing in the woods, hair braided up, a tiny version of the woman she'd become. If you're anywhere near my age, maybe you felt it, too. That pang. That gut punch. That moment of memory so powerful that it stopped you in your tracks. I felt that once before, at the beginning of the "Wonder Woman" movie, when we saw young Diana. I know I wasn't alone then. I was at the premiere, and there were audible sobs from the audience for the very same reason. I'm going to try to explain why.

Who we used to be

In the 1970s, when I was tiny, we didn't have a lot of powerful women to look up to. Well, there were plenty out there, but we weren't seeing them in mainstream media. Women on TV and in movies were so often arm candy, a prize to be won, a symbol to fight for, or window dressing. In books they were princesses waiting to be rescued or old witches who ate children. We had two heroes as little girls. They were Wonder Woman and Princess Leia

When I saw this little girl, sitting in the woods with her droid (one she's nice to, by the way), running away from her parents, full of mischief and trying to learn about spaceships, I saw myself. I saw the braids I would put in my hair and twist up (after stealing my mom's bobby pins) to look like Leia. I saw the white Halloween costume I begged mom to make me. I saw every white piece of clothing I owned that I would sneak out and play in, pretending to be Leia. She didn't need to be rescued, despite the fact that Luke and Han came for her. She was the one that got them through the escape. She was a senator. She was strong. Her planet was destroyed and she kept going. She was my hero, and I wanted to be just like her. 

My hero

It's hard to explain the impact a character like Leia had on little girls growing up in America in the late 20th century. I remember being on the playground, asking some boys to let me join their stick battle. One told me, "Girls can't fight." I said, "Princess Leia can!" I can see it in my mind, clear as day, the head tilt as he thought about it, the shrug that said he agreed, and the stick he handed me to join the game. Nowadays, we have so many powerful women on the screen, and the fight is for even more representation, so we can all see ourselves, and rightly so. I know firsthand what it means to have that moment where your mouth drops open, and you feel that rush of, "That's me! I could be like her!" Every movie I saw her in, even the sequels, filled me with that feeling, bubbling up. 

I think this is even more powerful though, this young Leia. I don't just see the woman I wanted to become in this young actor. I saw the child I was, pretending to be important. I saw the girl who wanted to be a Jedi. The girl who wanted to matter, and to do good things. Leia is partially the reason I fought for so long to make the world see that women are part of the geek community with a site that I started, speaking on panels at conventions, talking to guys who told me, "You don't look like a geek." I wanted there to be more heroes out there for us all to look at and to see ourselves in, no matter who we are. It's been a hard road, and sometimes thankless. Nothing seems to be going right in the world right now, and everything feels hopeless, but then I saw little Leia. For a moment, I remembered why she matters so much, and in that moment, I remembered what it's like to fight for what you believe in. I saw my hero, but I saw myself, wanting to be one, too. 

May the Force be with you.