Leia Organa has fought her way out of garbage compactors. She’s chased down Imperial soldiers on speeder bikes. She choked a handsy crime lord to death, and helped bring the Empire to its knees. She was an accomplished diplomat and a cutthroat politician, but Leia was always known best as a princess.
And then, the Force awakened. When Leia Organa returned to the big screen for the first time in 32 years, she had traded in her royal title for a new one: general. Now, instead of presiding over kingdoms, she leads armies. The Resistance is her domain, and its soldiers, pilots, techs, and spies are her subjects.
But how did Leia go from a young noble to a war-hardened military leader? Naturally, it’s all Darth Vader’s fault. Here’s what you need to know about Leia’s journey from princess to general before we say goodbye for good in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
From royalty to rebel to representative
It didn’t take long for Leia to immerse herself in the world of politics–and the world of espionage. At the age of 14, Leia began working for her father, Bail Organa, as a junior legislator in the Imperial Senate. Before she turned 19, Leia took over for Bail as Alderaan’s elected representative, making her the youngest-ever senator in the Senate’s history.
Just because Leia worked in the Imperial government, however, didn’t mean that she supported it. On the sly, she started to fight back. Outwardly, Leia focused her efforts on humanitarian causes. But, as shown in Claudia Grey’s novel Leia, Princess of Alderaan, she snuck a handful of refugees off of the planet Wobani and took them back to Alderaan. She smuggled sensitive data out of an Imperial stronghold with the Mandalorian outcast Sabin Wren in Star Wars: Forces of Destiny, and helped Kanan Jarrus’ crew of rebels steal three battleships in Star Wars Rebels. All the while, the public dismissed Leia as a simple, flighty princess.
Soon, they’d know better.
After Leia helped smuggle the Death Star plans off of Scarif, Darth Vader captured her, branded her a traitor, and destroyed her home planet, Alderaan. The Emperor dissolved the Senate, and Leia’s time as a monarch and a politician came to an abrupt end (Naboo, where Leia’s birth mother served as queen, has an electoral monarchy, not a hereditary one). After all, it’s hard to rule when your kingdom no longer exists.
Yet Leia couldn’t escape her royal moniker. It stuck with her when she helped the surviving Alderaanian citizens find a new home in Marvel’s Princess Leia miniseries. She commanded a mission to capture Darth Vader on Vrogas Vas in Vader Down, stole an Imperial Star Destroyer in Marvel’s Star Wars, and led Operation Yellow Moon, a feint designed to distract the Empire from the Rebellion’s upcoming attack on Endor, in Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure. All the while, her friends and followers still called her “Princess.”
After years of conflict, Leia and her friends destroyed the second Death Star, bringing the Empire’s reign of terror to a close. In the resulting power vacuum, the Rebel Alliance rebranded itself as the New Republic and re-established the Galactic Senate.
Leia played a pivotal role in the new government, bringing Naboo into the fold and serving for years as the Alderaan sector’s senator. But despite her pedigree, not everything went in Leia’s favor. As implied in Aftermath, Chancellor Mon Mothma passed the Military Disarmament Act against Leia’s wishes, reducing the size and scope of the New Republic’s military. In Aftermath: Life Debt, Leia tried to convince the Senate to help liberate Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, but the New Republic refused to intervene.
Family life got in the way, too. Leia married Han Solo in a small ceremony on Endor, and they had a child named Ben. But Han had no patience for politics, and often took off for months at a time to participate in starship races around the galaxy. When Ben grew older, he went off to train as a Jedi with Leia’s brother, Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile, Leia was stuck serving in the Senate, and spent most of her time alone, separated from her family. (Although she’s Force sensitive, and possibly as powerful as Luke, she always sacrificed her own power in favor of her responsibilities.)
After 23 years of service, Leia decided that she’d had enough. That’s when everything fell apart.
Sins of the father
When Claudia Grey’s Bloodline takes place, the Senate has been stuck in deadlock for years, and Leia’s fed up. Her party, the Populists, wanted a government that gave control to individual planets. Their opposition, the Centrists, argued in favor of strong central government and powerful military. The Senate was deadlocked. As politicians bickered, the citizens suffered.
Leia had no interest in returning to her aristocratic roots, either. She inherited a royal governorship on the planet Birren, but Leia was over the royalty thing. She happily passed the title to the next-in-line, a Centrist senator named Carise Sindian.
But just before Leia submitted her resignation, the Loyalists nominated her as their candidate for First Senator, a Prime Minister-like position designed to cut through the Senate’s gridlock. Meanwhile, Lady Cerise found a secret message in Birren’s treasure rooms that revealed Leia’s biggest secret: Darth Vader was Leia’s biological father.
As a dedicated Centrist (and a secret member of the First Order), Cerise made sure that the public learned the truth about Leia’s heritage. Leia’s political career crumbled in an instant. Longtime Populist allies abandoned her, accusing her of keeping secrets, while the Centrists publically questioned her motives, integrity, and credibility. Just like that, her time in the Senate was over.
That’s why, when Leia discovered that a group of Centrist planets were secretly funding a large-scale paramilitary operation called the First Order, nobody listened. And so, Leia did the only thing she could. With the support of a handful of loyal politicians, military leaders, and soldiers–not to mention a stockpile of thermal detonators snatched from First Order weapons smugglers–Leia founded the Resistance, an unsanctioned militia dedicated to keeping fascism at bay.
Without Leia’s leadership, Luke Skywalker would still be lost among the stars. The planet-destroying Starkiller Base would still be causing havoc around the galaxy. We’re not sure what The First Order is going to throw The Resistance’s way in The Last Jedi, but whatever it is, expect General Leia to be right there fighting it. She’s not just a princess, after all. She’s a bona fide hero.