Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion – Razor’s Edge and the Perfectly Imperfect Princess

Tricia Barr | September 24, 2013

Today marks the release of the new novel Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion — Razor’s Edge, which headlines Princess Leia in a story set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Like last month’s Star Wars: Kenobi, the stakes are more personal for the main characters, and Razor’s Edge takes a deep dive into the motivations that drive the Rebel leader. In an interview at Hollywood.com, author Martha Wells talked about her approach to the character: “I think the key is not just seeing Leia as a stereotypical strong woman character, but as someone who is young but is a leader, who has taken on huge responsibilities, but also as someone who has an epic temper and can be sarcastic, and can make mistakes. She’s not a perfect princess, she’s a person with flaws and vulnerabilities who manages to do what she needs to do anyway, and I think those things were conveyed in Carrie Fisher’s performance.”

In the current issue of Star Wars Insider, I wrote about the impact Leia had on her fans and the future of storytelling. A New Hope relays the tale in the galaxy far, far away as an omniscient story. The audience observes events unfold, yet has to be able to find their own understanding for the characters’ motivations. Luke is a young man who wants to hang with his friends instead of his stodgy old aunt and uncle. Later he is orphaned, then left mentorless, as well. All of these visuals allow the audience to understand what drives him to leave Tatooine and fight for the Rebel Alliance without ever getting a glimpse inside his head. Unlike Luke’s evolution to hero, from the opening scroll Leia is presented as “custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.” In my Insider article I note that she is depicted heroically from the beginning: “In her first on-screen moments, Leia transfers the stolen plans to R2-D2, then engages stormtroopers as a diversion for the droid’s escape.” Unlike her brother’s arc, which has familiar and relatable storytelling beats, Leia’s motivations aren’t necessarily as clear once the story moves past the spectacular entrance that leads to her capture.

Razor's Edge

In her Star Wars Blog post titled “Why Leia is Awesome,” Lucasfilm senior editor Jennifer Heddle explained how Leia, even as she was held prisoner, exhibits extraordinary strength, not in physical might but rather willpower. Heddle wrote: “She is tortured by a Sith Lord to find out the location of the secret Rebel base — and tells him nothing. Vader even acknowledges the surprising depth of her resistance. Then, when she’s brought before Grand Moff Tarkin and threatened with the destruction of her entire planet if she doesn’t give up the location of the secret base once and for all, she stands there, with this merciless man before her and the man who tortured her gripping her shoulder behind her, and lies. She lies. It’s an incredible moment of steel will on her part.”

Movies are a highly collaborative form of art. George Lucas had to find actors who could recreate the motivations he had designed and project them out to the audience. Undoubtedly Carrie Fisher internalized what drove Princess Leia, hero of the Rebellion, and then sold it to moviegoers. As part of the roll-out toward Razor’s Edge release, Del Rey commissioned artist Magali Villeneuve to illustrate a scene from the novel. When I interviewed her at my blog FANgirl, I asked Villeneuve how she created the emotional depth in Princess Leia. She answered: “Simply by watching the movies and observing her expressions, the way she moves, her distinctive attitudes… And of course, by understanding her motivations. Leia is a beautiful character inside and out. Such a lady makes the work easier, I’d say. She’s expressive, she has charisma, she’s not the caricatured strong woman archetype I find so hard to become attached to.”

Over the years Star Wars novels have pulled back the curtain and let us peek inside the heads of iconic characters with books like Shatterpoint, the Revenge of the Sith novelization, and I, Jedi, to name a few. While Razor’s Edge uses Han’s and Luke’s points of view, the story’s focus is the personal struggles of a young woman who has lost her homeworld yet is unable to stop and grieve. The subtle actions we see from Carrie Fisher in her movie performance — each wince, defiantly raised chin, and pained expression — that bring the character to life are relayed from inside Leia’s head. As I closed the book upon reaching the end, I realized that Wells had distilled the mindset and spirit of the princess who has inspired me all these years, just like I had always imagined her.

Tricia Barr’s article “Leia: Princess of the People” is featured in the current issue of Star Wars Insider #144. For her full interview with artist Magali Villeneuve, check Tricia’s blog FANgirl.

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