Its impossible to think of Star Wars and not think of Luke Skywalker. He follows Joseph Campbell’s classic Hero’s Journey path in A New Hope practically down to the letter so it’s a no-brainer to think everyone’s favorite Jedi is the main character of Star Wars. But what if he’s not?
If you look at Star Wars overall as the story of a fight for freedom in the galaxy, there’s one character who’s there through it all. Princess Leia’s fight for the galaxy begins long before A New Hope, and as we’ve seen in the new trilogy, continues long after. What if Star Wars is ultimately her story? In the original trilogy and beyond, Star Wars is the story of Leia Organa, and her fate may decide everything in the galaxy far, far away.
As Master Yoda first tells us, "There is another." Leia as the main character of Star Wars isn't just another hot take or fan theory, but an idea put forward by none other than George Lucas himself. In an interview in James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction published earlier this year, Lucas says:
[Leia] is the one who knew everything. She was the one driving the whole story... I insisted that they do action figures of Princess Leia. When you’ve lined them up, she’s the main character, for God’s sake.
Leia’s fight for the good of the galaxy started long before A New Hope and never ended. Leia is the first character of the main trio we see in A New Hope, minutes after it begins, literally fighting the Empire. We’ve seen her since in Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One, already a quiet part of the Rebellion; in the Rebels episode "A Princess on Lothal", set three years prior to A New Hope, she's comfortable taking charge to do what she can to help undermine the Empire's efforts.
Even earlier story-wise, thanks to the compelling novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan, we learn how she ended up involved in it all as a teenager when she uncovers her parents' involvement during the beginning stages of the Rebellion.
Fighting for the greater good and never losing hope is what defines Leia. She faces the greatest losses in Star Wars, from her entire planet to those she loves the most, and never considers giving up. She keeps fighting. We know what she was facing after Return of the Jedi thanks to another fantastic tie-in novel, Bloodline. Leia was a senator in the New Republic, still devoting her time to helping others through her extensive knowledge of government and diplomacy, when the revelation about her true lineage derails her political career. But she keeps fighting for what’s right, especially when rumblings of a new threat to the galaxy reach her ears.
While Leia does fit some parts of the Hero's Journey, like tests, allies, and enemies, she never never refuses the call to heroism. In The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, we see that her resolve has never wavered.Â As in the original trilogy, she is not the focus of the Hero’s Journey in the sequels. But she is the leader of the Resistance, mentor to Poe Dameron, and the last of the trio from the original trilogy still standing. (Not the last hero: Chewbacca and R2-D2, the unsung heroes of the Rebel Alliance, are still in the fight.) Her fate will be shared in Episode IX, and it’s likely tied to the fate of the entire galaxy.
As long as Leia keeps fighting, so does the Resistance.
Viewed by itself, Luke is obviously the hero of Star Wars: A New Hope. He saves the day and destroys the Death Star, dealing the Empire its first major blow. But beyond that, what journey does Luke go on? His story in Star Wars then becomes a personal one; it’s not as much about saving the galaxy, but helping his friends and guiding his father to a small amount of redemption. His characterization in The Last Jedi seems to continue (and finish) that theme. It’s his personal journey as a Jedi and as a nuanced character that’s always been Luke Skywalker's most important story to tell in Star Wars.
Does looking at Leia as the main character of Star Wars change your feelings about the story as a whole? Probably not, although it might make watching The Last Jedi feel like a slightly different experience. And none of this is to say that Luke Skywalker is any less of a hero or protagonist. Whether their journey through Star Wars is a personal one or one that determines the fate of the entire galaxy, Luke and Leia will always be dear to Star Wars fans’ hearts, timeless characters that we can always look to when we need a little hope and courage ourselves.
Who do you think the main character of Star Wars is? Tell us in the comments.
All Images: Disney / Lucasfilm