The Skywalker bloodline is perhaps defined by a series of failures. Anakin’s attempts to protect Padmé brought about the rise of the Empire. Luke’s pressure to live up to this prophecy of the chosen one brought about the undoing of his fledgling Jedi Order and his own nephew—who himself saw a moment of weakness and ran away into the dark. But while failure is indeed a great teacher, not all Skywalkers carved a path that way.
The moment Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker flashes back to Luke and Leia training as young Jedi on Ajan Kloss is perhaps a perfect summation of everything great and frustrating about the movie. With the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher in 2016 permeating throughout the movie, on one hand it’s a gut-punch of nostalgia to see her again as she was in Return of the Jedi, wielding the fabled weapon of a Jedi Knight. The moment is made all the more bittersweet with the behind-the-scenes factoid that in the moment, Leia is in fact played by Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, her performance layered under the computer-generated visage of her mother.
On the other hand, it’s an example of J.J. Abrams’ deeply cynical desire to provide answers to questions raised by reactions to The Last Jedi—questions that didn’t need answering but could be done so in the name of fan service, an attempt to appeal to those dismayed by Rise’s immediate predecessor. How could Leia use the Force to save herself in The Last Jedi? No, we couldn’t just assume it was because she’s literally the daughter of the chosen one, one of the most potent Force users in living memory, and in a moment of crisis, reacted in a way that was as natural to her as it would have been to her brother. It must because she secretly trained as a Jedi all along! Look, she’s got her own lightsaber and everything! Please, be happy, we chose not to leave something to obvious interpretation and answered it for the fans.
And yet, it’s also a moment that is in lockstep with some of The Last Jedi’s most fundamental messaging about Star Wars. Beneath the ephemera of clashing lightsabers and nostalgic youth, the flashback sees Luke impart an important revelation to Rey about Leia’s training: Leia had sensed the fall of her son in the Force, and came to the conclusion that it was not her destiny to follow in the footsteps of Jedi before her as Luke and her father had. Instead, she left her weapon to the generation of Force users that would continue on that legacy beyond her, and carved her own path—one that would in turn carry on the work of her adoptive father, Bail Organa, and inspire even more generations to carry on that same work.
Although The Rise of Skywalker is not particularly concerned with it—it is, for better or worse, more wrapped up in the nostalgia of the moment—Leia’s reaction to this glimpse of darkness in her own child is incredibly telling, contrasted to Luke’s own brush with dire portents in The Last Jedi. In the moment she sees this vision, she realizes this is a future she alone cannot stop, stepping away from the Jedi path with faith that her brother, the Jedi he trains, and the people beyond her may one day turn her son from this darkness. When Luke sees that same portent, he internalizes it deeply, a failure not of the Jedi Order he spent his adult life chasing, but a failure of his own doing—a failure he alone could absolve, leading to the tragic moment he ignited his lightsaber above his nephew’s bed, a tragic and profound low that pushed Ben Solo away seemingly for good (he got better, of course, because it wouldn’t be Star Wars without a little redemption).
If anything, it’s a commentary on how the Skywalker siblings both interpret the selflessness that defines them. Leia’s selflessness is predicated entirely in the strength she draws from those around her, the way she supports those connections as a leader of first the Rebel Alliance and then the Resistance—organizational embodiments of her highest ideals, but ones that she has the faith in to continue even without her, inspired by her legacy but not so beholden to it that they would fall apart without her direct presence. Luke, meanwhile so ardently places his faith in those around him—as Palpatine needles him in Return of the Jedi, that faith is his greatest “weakness” above all else—that for much of Star Wars, and especially coming into The Last Jedi, his self-doubt in spite of everything he achieves is so strong that any perceived failure, systemic or otherwise, becomes a burden that he alone can attempt to fix. That is, if said burden doesn’t haunt him to the point of paralyzed indecision.
It’s in that selflessness that Leia leaves her ultimate gift, eventually passed on to the next generation in the form of Rey: her lightsaber. It’s a symbolic choice, not just of Leia to forge her own path away from the Skywalkers’ Force-bound heritage and in her own career as a Senator of the New Republic, and eventual General of the Resistance, but of her express belief in the work of the people that will come after her. The saber is left to Luke with that explicit message, one he forgets until Yoda’s Force ghost reminds him of it in his deepest throes of angst on Ahch-To: pass on what it represents, the teachings it holds, to a generation that will grow beyond their own, for the good work will need to continue far beyond Luke and Leia’s lives.
Leia perhaps understood the cyclical nature of Star Wars’ larger conflict more than any of its other protagonists—even Luke and Rey, embedded in the teachings of the Jedi and their eons-spanning ebb-and-flow conflict with the Sith. She had seen through her adoptive father’s eyes the rise and fall of one Republic. She had witnessed the rise and fall of another herself. But unlike Luke, who, chained by the prophecy of Anakin’s legacy as the chosen one, withdrew into despair when he alone could not break that cycle, she crucially realized that it was never meant for her, or her brother, or any one person to break it.
It’s why we see her push Poe to become the leader he needs to be throughout The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, knowing he would have to take her place one day. It’s why she leaves that lightsaber behind, in the hopes that someone else, whether it’s her son or otherwise, will one day wield it and the lessons it represents. It’s why, when she eventually does pass into the Force after reaching out to her son one last time, she does so in peace, knowing that the network of people she leaves behind will support him, and will support each other, in the fights to come.
For a series so utterly entrenched in fate and prophecy, of chosen ones, what makes Leia so special is her refutation that change on a galactic scale is beholden to the destiny of a single prophecized individual. Leia always believed that change would only come about by people from all walks of life coming together with a singular purpose: hope, for a better future for the people that would come in the wake of those fighting for that hope.
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