In a galaxy far, far away, women have always been a force to be reckoned with. “Someone has to save our skins,” notes Princess Leia in 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, as she blasts a hole in the wall to provide a means of escape for her and her would-be rescuers, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Carrie Fisher played the character with humor, courage and an indomitable spirit that made her one of the most iconic heroines of the Star Wars franchise, or any film franchise.
Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, producer of Star Wars: The Last Jedi—the highly anticipated next installment of the Skywalker Saga, which opens in theaters today—spoke about the character’s legacy. “People don’t necessarily give [George Lucas] enough credit for probably single-handedly casting one of the most important strong female leads in a popular movie, with Princess Leia,” Kennedy says. “She’s feisty and unique and George stepped outside the box in 1977. We were inspired to carry that forward.”
Forty years later, Leia is the first in a long line of strong, powerful Star Wars heroines that have been introduced in Lucasfilm’s features and TV series, from Padmé Amidala, Jyn Erso and Rey, to Ahsoka Tano, Sabine Wren and Hera Syndulla, among others. Fans are eager to continue Rey’s journey in The Last Jedi, and along the way they’ll meet two new Force-ful women, Rose Tico and Vice Admiral Holdo. “When I was growing up, there were many heroes and role models,” says Kennedy. “Today I think the character of Rey is providing an inspirational role model for girls, as well as boys, in the same way that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia did in the ’70s.”
Earlier this year, Disney and Lucasfilm launched Star Wars Forces of Destiny, a new initiative that celebrates the inspiring stories of the franchise’s heroines. Fans can hear familiar voices in the series, including Daisy Ridley (Rey), Felicity Jones (Jyn), Tiya Sircar (Sabine), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano) and Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata, as narrator). “Star Wars Forces of Destiny is for anyone who has been inspired by Leia’s heroism, Rey’s courage or Ahsoka’s tenacity,” Kennedy said. “Clearly the push towards having heroines on any television show or in any blockbuster movie today is being met with a huge sigh of relief. And clearly the box office speaks to the success of balancing the roles of male and female heroic characters.”