Women Who Lust is an essay by Sarah Kuhn, author of the awesome Heroine Complex urban fantasy series (Heroine Complex, Heroine Worship). This essay first appeared in the fourth volume of our Quarterly Almanac.
Women Who Lust
There’s an officially licensed Star Wars book where Princess Leia tells Han Solo, “I like the way your pants fit.”
I think about this sometimes when I’m down, just to remind myself there are good things in the world.
The book is called The Courtship of Princess Leia, it was written by Dave Wolverton, it came out in 1994, and it was apparently a formative experience for a small subsection of Star Wars fanpeople who, like me, spent the majority of their pre-teen years rewinding the “my hands are dirty” scene in The Empire Strikes Back.
Hold on, let me back up and tell you what the book is about. After the events of Return of the Jedi, Leia and the New Republic are on the hunt for powerful allies to bring into the fold. They enter negotiations with the Hapes Cluster, a matriarchal society that is totally rich and as the book keeps reminding you, only populated by people who are devastatingly attractive. To solidify things, the Hapans offer Leia the hand in marriage of their crown prince, Isolder. In addition to Isolder being devastatingly attractive—as all Hapans are, remember!—the advantages of this include much-needed wealth for the Republic and the fact that Leia will eventually become ruler of the Hapes Cluster and…you know what, I’m honestly kind of fuzzy on this because I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to the parts of the book that are about intergalactic political machinations as I did to the parts that are about kissing.
So let’s go back to another piece of the scene where Leia likes the way Han’s pants fit:
Han bent down and kissed her fiercely, passionately, and the blood thundered in her ears. Leia suddenly realized how much she had missed this, missed feeling such raw, elemental fervor for a man.
Y’all, more than any other line in any other Star Wars book, this is burned into my brain forever. It perfectly captures the brain-singeing chemistry those two characters had onscreen and conveys one of the most irresistible pieces of the opposites attract trope: that the person who’s completely imperfect for you on paper is actually the most perfect for you in real life.
It is worth noting that a lot of the book outside of this sexy little scene is totally bananas. In order to prove his love and keep Leia from marrying Isolder, Han wins a planet—a planet!—in a cantina card game and offers it up to her as…I mean, does it really need another purpose? It’s a freakin’ planet. But okay, he offers it up as a home to the displaced survivors of Alderaan. This is both romantic and stupid (one of my favorite combos, I’ll admit, people making grand gestures that are so grand they obviously didn’t think them through beforehand), but then he also basically kidnaps her to show her how great the planet is and of course it’s actually not great at all because it’s currently occupied by a warlord. (As a kid, I think I just skimmed over the kidnapping. As an adult, I’m like, “What the actual fuck, tho.”)
This is not even getting into the, like, five other subplots that are going on concurrently or the Force Witches who ride rancors (yes, this book actually introduced the whole Nightsisters concept!) or C-3PO’s terrible song he makes up in honor of Han (sample lyric: He’s more sensitive than he seems/Han Solo/What a man! Solo/He’s every princess’s dream).
I’ve seen a lot of people dismiss this book entirely over the more bananas elements. But it will always hold a special place in my heart and in revisiting the book, I think I’ve figured out why. Yes, the focus on romance—the fact that the entire plot hinges on Star Wars’ greatest romance and embraces it fully—would probably be enough. But I think the reason it seared its way into my brain and stayed there in such a next level formative way is this: it explicitly shows us Leia’s sexual desire. And it shows us that as a powerful part of her already powerful persona, a woman who feels “raw, elemental fervor” and is all the more badass because of it.
At this point in my youthful media consumption, I was still used to seeing women in pop culture as objects of lust, but they were never allowed to feel that desire in the same way, at the same level, or at all. Or if they did, they were shamed for or weakened by it. I didn’t understand how powerful seeing something through a more female gaze-y lens could be until Princess Leia showed me.
Thinking about this has made me appreciate—even more!—some of my other formative specific bits of geek entertainment in this area. And like Courtship, they are often, in my opinion, totally underrated. For instance, I know a lot of my fellow nerds like to say Deep Space Nine didn’t get good until season 4 or so, but I’ll stan for the first two seasons forever because of all the awesome stories focusing on Major Kira, the tough-as-nails first officer and Bajoran freedom fighter who inspired a whole generation of Trekkie girls to invest in stompy boots. One of my favorite stories was the really, really excellent romance between Kira (fiery, struggling with her spirituality) and Vedek Bareil (quiet man of the cloth) (opposites attract again!). There’s a scene early in season 2 where Kira has a sexy “orb vision” where they’re both naked and doing stuff that is perhaps outside the bounds of what the spiritually enlightening orb visions are usually for. I loved the way this relationship unfolded solidly from Kira’s perspective, how her sexual desire was put front and center, how—again—this was shown to be a powerful part of an already powerful female character. And I definitely rewound that orb vision scene as many times as I rewound the “dirty hands” bit from Empire.
Or, you know, people tend to mock that scene in Superman II where Superman and Lois Lane, everyone’s favorite ace reporter, zip back to the Fortress of Solitude to get it on. But I always appreciated how the Lois/Supes dynamic played out in those movies—we are often in her POV since we too are humans learning about Superman and so we get a good feeling of her attraction to him, her desire for him, which culminates in that moment of Fortress of Solitude boinkatude. (Also, I’ll confess that I still think that ostentatious metallic oyster hammock bed is amazing.)
Even as these pieces of entertainment age, even as new ’ships make themselves known on my geek radar, I will always appreciate these stories for showing me the power of women lusting—and the power of that being part of their strength rather than a detriment to it. For showing me that even if you have to endure petty warlords, unwanted marriage proposals, and C-3PO’s terrible songs, you can still take a moment to appreciate how someone’s pants fit.
Sarah Kuhn is the author of the Heroine Complex series of novels—starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote “The Ruby Equation” for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance, a series of Barbie comics for Papercutz, and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her writing has appeared in The Toast, The Mary Sue, Uncanny Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, StarTrek.com, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. You can visit her at heroinecomplex.com or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn.
THE BOOK SMUGGLERS’ QUARTERLY ALMANAC
A quarterly collection of awesome, selected and edited by The Book Smugglers
Collecting original short fiction, essays, reviews, and reprints from diverse and powerful voices in speculative fiction, THE BOOK SMUGGLERS’ QUARTERLY ALMANAC is essential for any SFF fan.
IN THIS VOLUME (JUNE 2017):
(With a brand new story called “Nice”, set in the world of the upcoming novella Temporary Duty Assignment)
(An essay, about Slipfic)
(A reprint of the author’s award-nominated short story “The Mussel Eater”)
(An essay, on body horror and coming out as trans)
(An essay, on diversity and language)
(A new short story called “Nini” about an AI, a space station and an old goddess. The cover art is based on “Nini”)
(An essay, on superhero registration tropes, power fantasies and Western-centrism)
(A new short story, “El Periodista y la Guerrera”, a story featuring LGBTQIA superheroes fighting for justice for marginalized groups)
(An essay, on romance, women who lust and The Courtship of Princess Leia)
(A review of Bitch Planet volume 2)
(An essay, Where to Start With the Star Wars Expanded Universe)
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