Teaching with Star Wars: Leia’s Empathy and Acceptance in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Leia's thoughtful leadership is a model to follow.

Looking for an activity that’s fun, engaging, and educational? Each week, Teaching with Star Wars will offer unique lessons for you and your younglings that promise to foster opportunities for discovery and learning, all through the lens of a galaxy far, far away. And it sounds like the bell just rang, so let’s head to the classroom now. Punch it, Chewie!

Leia Organa has come a long way since the destruction of Alderaan. She lost her planet, culture, and way of life, which would be devastating for just about anyone. And make no mistake, it was absolutely catastrophic for her. But she refuses to be a victim and has chosen to honor her family and heritage in the way she lives and how she treats everyone she encounters throughout the galaxy.

Leia and Wicket

A prime example of this is on display when she encounters an Ewok named Wicket. The furry inhabitant of the forest moon of Endor is initially skittish, even fearful of this stranger to his homeworld. Wicket and the other Ewoks have been victimized through the tyrannical villainy of the Empire, who have set up the Death Star’s shield generator on their planet, and have emphatically (as they do on every planet they invade) taken over Endor to shape it in their own image. The Empire does not care how Wicket and the Ewoks feel, and are certainly not empathetic to anything the Ewoks want or need. They just take what they want, and do not ask for permission or acceptance.

Princess Leia has a much different perspective on this. She instantly makes an offering of kindness, sharing her food, talking with compassion, and embracing Wicket and his culture. While the Rebellion is in desperate need of aid, she does not press the issue but allows for Wicket to show where he is from and what his people are about. His language, manner of dress, and behavior are different from what the Alderaanian princess is used to, but instead of asserting her values and beliefs, she listens to him, gets to know Wicket’s culture, and even changes her clothing to reflect the customs and heritage of the Ewoks.

Leia and Wicket

As a leader, Leia’s empathy and charisma are second-to-none. However, the reason she is able to collaborate and earn the respect of the Ewoks is due primarily to her acceptance of others who are different from her. Leia has no intention or interest in changing the status quo, but rather, bridges the gap in societal differences. Unlike the Empire, Leia does not want to change other people to meet her needs but seeks to understand what the Ewoks are about, explains her philosophy, and allows them to choose on their own terms.

A scene from Return fo the Jedi

Leia is not afraid of who she is or fearful of losing where she came from. She carries it with her and embraces it within, just as she welcomes others from different planets, species, and points-of-view. Ask your Padawan to think about other people they have encountered in their lives who are different from them. Maybe they speak a different language, dress differently, have different skin tones, or different opinions about things. Then ask them to reflect on what Leia does, as well as how she does it, which makes her such an effective diplomat and leader. While it probably won’t impact the fate of the galaxy, it just might make the difference in what kind of relationships he or she may have in their lives.

Dan Zehr is the host and brand director of Coffee With Kenobi, a podcast that examines the mythology of Star Wars from a place of intelligence and humor. He is also a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning.

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