If not for Princess Leia, Star Wars would be a mainstay of gay culture. Consider the two approximately male, co-dependent droids, one of them overtly camp; opposites-attract couple Han and Luke, pairing cynicism and naivety, Han luring Luke away from his conservative older 'mentor'; and S&M pair Vader and the Emperor. Something had to be done. Lucas needed to set his characters on the straight and narrow and convince us that this was family entertainment. He needed, somewhat ironically, a beard.
What he ended up with (one suspects, almost in spite of himself) is one of science-fiction's best female characters. Impatient, opinionated and completely self-assured, Princess Leia Organa is often dismissed as bossy. But she is the boss. She is a princess, senator and leader of the Rebel Alliance; in the Extended Universe, she's a key architect of the New Republic, as well as being instrumental in forging the alliance with the Ewoks that proves decisive in the battle for Endor.
If she is occasionally reduced to the role of bikini-clad slave or handwringing observer, the ever-spiky Carrie Fisher ensures that Leia is never a snivelling damsel. "Even though she gets captured," says Lucas of Leia, "she is very capable of taking care of herself. The guys are the ones who are fumbling around in trouble." She's handy with a blaster or, when necessary, a slave chain, so one suspects that, had Obi-Wan handed her a lightsaber and sent her after Vader, the saga would have finished by Cloud City.
Most fans fell for her at first sight when, a vision of purity in white, she saved the Rebellion by dispatching Artoo on his mission, shot (at) a few stormtroopers and went toe-to-toe with the looming Vader, without ever losing her cool. And her slave-girl costume in Jedi directly caused the sexual awakening of an entire generation (ask Ross Geller in Friends if you don't believe us).
As time's passed, her role has been sidelined, perhaps because even the best breakfast-pastry hairdos get a little stale. The naysayers focus on the high-handedness, that messy incest thing (it was just two fairly chaste kisses! She didn't know!). But Leia's a worthy cinema crush, a credit to her gender and an essential part of the Star Wars universe. No wonder she was able to steal her brother's man...