*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “A Princess on Lothal.”
“Don’t act so surprised, Your Highness. You weren’t on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by Rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.”–Darth Vader to Princess Leia, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
For nearly forty years, Princess Leia Organa has been an icon of virtue, strength, and bravery. And yet, how those attributes developed during her early life has been barely explored. When we first meet the plucky princess in A New Hope, it’s clear that she’s garnered something of a reputation in the galactic community, and one can reasonably assume that she and Darth Vader have something of a contentious history. “A Princess on Lothal,” the mid-season premiere of Star Wars Rebels fills in some of that history by showing us a younger Leia who is already on the path to becoming the Rebel leader we know and love and who is already in the habit of subverting Imperial operations from the inside.
Picking up immediately after the events of “Legacy,” this week’s episode begins with Leia on one of her early “mercy missions” to help those oppressed by the Empire. In this case, that means going to Lothal with three Hammerhead corvettes loaded with supplies and meeting up with Kanan and Ezra–the latter of whom is still dealing with the recent news of his parents’ death. As Leia is technically on Imperial-approved business, the two Jedi are disguised as Stormtroopers in an effort to allay any possible suspicion. Nevertheless, the Imperial in charge of receiving the Alderaanian relief ships, Lieutenant Yogar Lyste, has decided to take extra measures to ensure the safety of all the craft and has decided to use gravity locks on each of the three ships.
While she is discouraged at the increased difficulty in getting the supplies to her intended recipients, Leia remains hopeful that her mission will ultimately succeed. It is with this same spirit of hope that enables the young princess to console Ezra in regards to the loss of his parents and to inspire the crew of the Ghost to formulate a plan to steal the relief ships from the Imperials despite seemingly insurmountable odds. As young as she is, Leia feels a responsibility to act because she can for those who cannot. Both her peers (like Ezra and Sabine) and her elders (like the rest) immediately feel a renewed sense of purpose and follow her example.
Leia plays a pivotal role herself in the plan as the Imperials believe her to be a prisoner of the Rebels rather than a co-conspirator. Kanan and company take full advantage of this misconception and use Leia’s return as a diversion when they land at the site of the heavily guarded relief ships. Distracting Lyste with tales of her supposedly dramatic rescue and pulling his attention away from the gravity locks, Leia frees up Kanan, Ezra, Sabine, Chopper, and former Lothal governor Ryder Azadi (a somewhat reluctant but extremely valuable participant in the proceedings) to quickly begin freeing the Alderaanian ships from Imperial control.
Despite this advantage, the Rebels still face vigorous opposition from both the Stormtroopers and the AT-ATs stationed at the site. It takes a superhuman (or in this case, Jedi) effort to defeat the Imperials and free the ships, but the group’s teamwork and a stunning lightsaber takedown of one of the AT-ATs by Kanan makes it possible. All three ships are retrieved and Leia’s cover remains intact thanks to her willingness to be stunned and knocked unconscious by Ezra during the Rebels’ escape. In fact, Leia even manages to solidify her loyalist reputation with Lyste and manipulate him into compensating for her lost ships. She plays the victim while taking full advantage of her enemies’ willingness to paint her with that brush.
In short, the Leia we see in “A Princess on Lothal” is most assuredly on her way to becoming both a powerful leader within the Rebel Alliance as well as a perpetual thorn in the side of the Galactic Empire. And to see her working in such close quarters with those she is constantly subverting serves to illuminate how dangerous her young life truly was. I only wish we could have seen her interact with Darth Vader in this episode to raise the stakes still further. Perhaps Star Wars Rebels will still give us that chance at some point. But for now, those encounters that occur between “A Princess of Lothal” and A New Hope will have to live in our imaginations. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.
Thank you for reading! If you have feedback or just want to say hello, you can leave a comment on this page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me on Twitter @influxman or check out my Rogue page on “Star Wars in the Classroom.”
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