This is one of those vivid childhood memories that made such an impression I remember it so well even thirty years later.
I’m about six or seven years old, I suppose, on a scorching hot day at the house of friends of my older brother’s. They’re playing with Star Wars toys in the dust in the back yard, and for once I’m being allowed to join in for lack of other entertainment for me.
I pick up a particular toy – a rough looking bounty hunter type with a helmet and a big staff. I pull at the helmet, it comes off, and to my little girl surprise, underneath are feminine features. I ask one of the boys who it is, and they tell me it is Princess Leia, dressed as Boushh the bounty hunter.
A girl dressed as a boy? Doing boy things?! My young little mind is blown.
And after that when we saw Return of the Jedi on TV, I was always utterly fascinated by that scene – the Princess, not being rescued, but being the rescuer (even if, OK, it did go wrong). The girl doing everything a boy can do.
How much of an impact that little toy made on me really says something – that thirty years later I still remember it vividly. That already at that young age societies ‘norms’ for female behaviour were so ingrained in me that her existence was a shock. That somehow that simple toy, those short scenes in a film, gave me permission to be the tom boy I always was, to look at the world and think ‘I can do anything a boy can.’ A simple but powerful message I’ve carried with me the rest of my life.*
And this is why decent, meaningful female characters in films matter. Why we need Princess Leia, Mara Jade, Padme Amidala, Jaina Solo, Winter, Mirax and all the others. This is why we need Princess Leia dolls in Disney stores (and not just Slave Leia!) and far, far more than that. It’s important because yes, a silly little thing like a toy can spark possibilities in a child’s mind that can change their world for ever.**
*although as I grew up, I of course discovered that it’s not ‘I can do anything a boy can’ but that ‘I should be able to do anything a boy can, but there are a hell of a lot of social barriers in the way’.
**and that’s why we also need more people of colour, both male and female in our franchise and in our toy shops.
Dick Grayson, Nightwing, had left to establish himself in another city. There were three of us then. Bruce, myself, and Robin, Tim Drake. Robin was out alone that night when he came upon a woman in trouble. We soon realized Tim was missing. Night after night we scoured the city, running down every lead, pressing every underworld connection, but no one had seen any sign of Robin. For three agonizing weeks, there was nothing. Then, one night, we were sent an invitation.
You know who doesn’t get nearly enough recognition? Mon Mothma.
Mon Mothma was one of the founding members of the Alliance to Restore the Republic (aka the Rebellion). She was the youngest senator ever in the Republic, elected at age 19. Not long after that, as the Republic became an Empire, she was among the first to voice opposition alongside Padme Amidala and Bail Organa. Mon Mothma struck an uneasy balance during the reign of the Empire. She was more obvious in her opposition than Organa, yet she used her position as a senator to attempt to make changes within the system. She was the political mentor of Leia Organa during this time as well.
Her leadership during the war itself was also interesting. During the early days, the Rebellion was led by her, Bail Organa, and Garm Bel Iblis. After Organa’s death, Garm Bel Iblis worried Mon Mothma would take on too much power and left the Rebellion, but his fears were unfounded. She was a firm believer in democracy and insisted on having elections for chief of state every two years. At the victory of the Rebellion, she led the transitional government and served as the first chief of state of the New Republic. She also lost a son during the war. Mon Mothma was a leader, a true politician, and strong advocate of the Republic’s ideals. I hope more people will recognize her as more than just the person who says “many Bothans died.”