I started acting young, landing the first role in community theater I auditioned for at 9 years old: Amaryllis in “The Music Man,” which had lines and a singing solo, to my horror. The first rehearsal, I was cautioned by the adult actors: Careful, the director doesn’t like kids.
Was it WC Fields who said, “Never work with children or animals”? It makes sense. Children steal the scenes, chew the scenery. In the case of dogs, they might eat it. Later in my illustrious community theater career, I did a production of “The Wizard of Oz” where the dog, Toto, would simply wander off stage to be petted by the audience. The animal actor was replaced by the director’s daughter, who played . . . the dog Community theater in rural Ohio in the ’90s was wild.
But having a child in your production, especially a young one, can mean a host of issues, especially if the story is riding on their success, as it is in the Disney+ show “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” The Baby Yoda of this “Star Wars” ship is a little Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), whose appearance was the surprise in the show’s premiere.
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Social media has been quick to judge the tiny princess. She’s too mouthy. She’s too smart. “Too precocious, too clever for her age,” writes Forbes. I’m sensing lots of too muchness here for a female character. She doesn’t behave like a “real” kid, say critics. As a parent, let me tell you: the only thing not real about this child is that her hair mostly stays in place and she’s not totally filthy. She’s also classic Leia. This kid is a kid and she’s canon.
Read is cute, likely essential for most kids onscreen, and seems small for her age (perhaps Blair was younger than her character’s 10 while filming). When Leia puts her hand in Obi-Wan’s, my own near-10-year-old gasped at the tininess. But her half-pint size makes Leia more vulnerable, which is likely a good thing for the character. Otherwise, she’s so capable she might not seem to be in danger, even when kidnapped.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (Lucasfilm/Disney+)“Obi-Wan” finds our titular hero in “retirement” on the planet Tatooine, hiding out and trying to keep an eye on Luke, the young son of his former protégé Anakin Skywalker, who, as we know, went to the dark side . (It can make you doubt yourself as a teacher.) The show is set a decade after 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” which saw the Jedi destroyed and Anakin, who lost all his limbs thanks to Obi- Wan, ascending to the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Obi-Wan is in disguise on the dusty planet, working in a sort of fish cannery in scenes that recall David Cronenberg’s 1999 film “eXistenZ.”
Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (Disney+/Lucasfilm)Meanwhile, on one of our favorite lush and doomed planets, Luke’s twin, Leia, the adopted daughter of Senator Organa (Jimmy Smits, who awesomely seems not to have aged — or is a time traveler) is kidnapped by Inquisitors, who hunt Jedi, like witch-hunters from New England. Organa comes to Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) for help.
Read doesn’t listen. She’s not extremely grateful about being rescued.
As the show’s head writer and executive producer, Joby Harold, told SYFY WIRE, young Leia in danger was “the call to action for Obi-Wan . . . Her presence was one of the few things — if not the only thing — that could pull Obi-Wan away from Luke.” It’s rather upsetting and unremarked upon that Obi-Wan would be more concerned for the male child of his former pupil and not the girl, which seems to speak less to the Organa’s capable parenting and incapable guards and more to sexism. But anyway, out of his cave, away from his cannery and back into Jedi business Obi-Wan goes.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (Disney+/Lucasfilm)As a Jedi, Obi-Wan cannot turn away from an innocent life in need. Especially not this life. But this child is, as they say, more than he bargains for. Read doesn’t listen. She’s not extremely grateful about being rescued (recalling Leia later in life during another kidnapping, when she tells a disguised Luke, hellbent on saving her, he’s “a little short for a stormtrooper”). One gets the impression she could have rescued herself (she certainly tries). She’s willful, sassy and mouthy. She talks back to everyone, from her bullying, jerk older cousin to her kidnappers to Obi-Wan (“It’s just, you seem kinda old and beat up”).
Would the famously outspoken and fierce Fisher have wanted a meek, personality-less, not smart character — some people’s apparent idea of a child — playing her?
Read is not just a princess. She’s a “cool princess” and as the “cool girl” trope dictates, she’s a lovable tomboy. She does not conform to her role, which she says mostly consists of waving. She runs away into the forest to play, shirking her official duties and her annoying fancy clothes. Like her mother dela before her, Leia has a lady in waiting pose as a kind of decoy.
Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (Lucasfilm/Disney+)Something the “Star Wars” universe is so good at is always coming up with some new adorable droid (I’m still not over DO). So, Leia has Lola (L0-LA59), a pocket-sized, ladybug-like toy droid to which she’s terribly attached, perhaps in part due to the isolation of being a princess, like many children cling to a stuffed animal or favorite toy . Lola also gives Leia the chance to display the extraordinary empathy inherent in her character. She is as kind and gracious to droids as she is to people. Remember adult Leia and the Ewoks? She shares her snack.
Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) holding L0-LA59 (Lola) in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (Disney+/Lucasfilm)In the show, Obi-Wan is rusty at the Force, to the point of uncharacteristic incompetence, according to some critics. Not only Leia, who, being Force-sensitive, may be evading bad guys that way. Or perhaps, it’s less-than magical bad editing or directing that finds no adult able to catch the tiny girl.
But Leia’s realistic kid skills include lying once she and Obi-Wan go on the lam, reminiscent of a little Drew Barrymore as Charlie in “Firestarter” (who Blair resembles, more than a little, in demeanor and confident acting chops). She remembers their cover, even when Obi-Wan does not. Try getting a child to forget the dessert you’ve promised them.
It’s past time for Leia’s story, for the fiction to give the feminist leader the epic backstory she deserves.
Kids aren’t always sweet. They lie, manipulate, scam. They also adapt. Leia is resilient, as the toughest kids often have to be. And her outspokenness does children right. She also does the character—and Carrie Fisher, who immortalizes Leia as an adult—proud. Would the famously outspoken and fierce Fisher have wanted a meek, personality-less, not smart character — some people’s apparent idea of a child — playing her dela? She would not. The sparks of the powerful leader Leia will grow up to be here: independent, unconforming, defiant but loyal.
So are the sparks of the bond between Obi-Wan and Leia. Grown-up Leia and Han, after all, name their child Ben. Perhaps this is why.
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Little Leia marks an important shift for the story. When Obi-Wan gazes at a young Luke from afar, checking in on him as the boy plays on his aunt and uncle’s moisture farm, you might think the show is going to focus on the boy. Thankfully and importantly, it does not. It’s past time for Leia’s story, for the fiction to give the feminist leader the epic backstory she deserves.
And for those who say this little Leia doesn’t act like a child, let me introduce you to my child, outspoken and so precocious one of his babysitters used to keep massive lists of his sayings. A common reply to parents, especially women on the internet, relating stories about their own children is that it didn’t happen. (To which I would say: tell me you don’t have any experience with children without telling me you don’t have any experience with children.) “Obi-Wan” and the capable Blair get it right: right for children and right for this character at the very beginning of her journey.
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