What If Princess Leia and Luke's Roles Were Reversed in Star Wars?

by Ron Vitale

"I want to come with you to Alderaan. There's nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father." Leia faced Ben, turning away from the destruction the stormtroopers had caused.

With all the controversy surrounding the changes in the Blu-ray versions of the Star Wars films, I thought I'd muck around with the story as well: What if Leia had become a Jedi, following in her father's footsteps instead of Luke and their roles were reversed? In today's world of reimagined and rebooted franchises, making a woman the central character in Star Wars would have been timely and thought-provoking.

I have been a Star Wars fan since 1977, when at 6 years of age my grandfather took me to see the movie. The question all Star Wars fans ask themselves at one time or another is: "What character do you see yourself as?" For me, it's always been Luke Skywalker. But what if I toyed with that idea and flipped it on its head? Princess Leia, in Carl Jung's collective unconscious theory, would represent my anima--the inner unconscious feminine side of my personality. (If you're not familiar with Jungian psychology, it's well worth learning more about.)

In thinking about Leia in the Star Wars films, I started wondering about changing her role in the entire story arc. Don't get me wrong: I think Lucas did a great job in how Leia is portrayed in the films, but choosing to have a woman be the central focus of the film would have been a bold move for 1977.

In the current films, Luke and Leia are separated by distance and circumstance. Leia has taken a political path and is a Princess who holds great influence, following in her mother's footsteps whereas Luke is a farm boy stuck on a planet farthest from the core. If roles were reversed and Leia grew up on Tatooine, would she have learned to fly a T-16 skyhopper and shoot womp rats? Or, would she be relegated to serving blue milk with Aunt Beru? Lucas chose to make Luke Skywalker his central character, focusing on the father-son relationship. Through his child, a corrupt father sees the good man he once was and is redeemed.

Yet what if Leia and Vader had faced off in the carbonite chamber in Cloud City? It is unclear in the films how long Vader has known that Luke is his son, but would not the climatic battle between Leia and Vader brought about a different result? Could the Dark Lord of the Sith have taken arms up against Leia and wished to turn her to the dark side? Would she have used a diplomatic solution to save Vader or switch to aggressive negotiations (with a lightsaber)? Generally, men and women have played different roles in books and films. The Princess "needs to be rescued" and the guy "gets the girl" at the end of the movie. Imagine breaking these rules and a woman's power being shown on screen to teach young women that, no, women don't need to be rescued. They are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves.

Back in the mid '90s, I took up this theme while writing my M.A. thesis and studied how women in literature overcome their trauma and adversity by empowering themselves and achieving self-actualization by telling their stories. They rescue themselves by owning the suffering they have lived through, sharing their story with others and choose to change and grow through self-acceptance and self-empowerment.

How amazing would it have been to see Leia face Vader in Return of the Jedi and claim her own power? Instead Leia is down on Endor working with Han to save the day with a bunch of ewoks. Yes, she still plays a central role, but Luke's growth from a boy to a man is completely shown on screen. He not only avoids the temptation to join the dark side, but saves his father as well. There is no central conflict for Leia. She is not tempted to do anything except kiss Han and fall in love.
There is much discussion for the need of strong female role models for women in modern day film and books. With Hollywood looking to reinvent tried and true series (Batman, Superman and now even a reboot for Spider-man), imagine the possibilities if the Star Wars universe was reimagined as well, but with Leia as the lead.

With both Star Wars trilogies being released on Blu-ray this month, I thought it a great time to wonder and imagine: What If Princess Leia's and Luke's Roles Were Reversed? For me, I've always liked Star Wars as Luke's journey resonates so closely with my own. But as I am now a father to both a son and a daughter, I want to be certain that I teach my children the full truth: Boys are not just the heroes in stories. Women are, too. 

Ron Vitale is the author of the fantasy series Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries who never gave up hope of finding his own happy ever after.