A naive boy from a rural desert town is radicalized by religious zealots after his family is killed by foreign soldiers. His religious training leads him to join a terrorist group and ultimately fly a plane into their headquarters and destroy hundreds of lives. Comparisons have been drawn recently between the story of Luke Skywalker and the recruitment process for the Islamic State. The question remains, if Luke is an analogue for religious radicalism, what then then are we to make of Leia? A well educated, political idealogue, a revolutionary, the leader of a rebel army, a brazen commander often underestimated due to her youth and beauty; All of these descriptions could easily fit Princess Leia, but in fact describe Fusako Shigenobu, the founder of the Japanese Red Army (JRA), a militant-marxist group whose stated goals are to overthrow the government of Japan, as well as spread communist revolution around the world. This group’s presence in the middle east predates ISIL/ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban by more than 10-20 years, and yet their members are almost entirely Japanese.

A photo of Fusako Shigenobu from her time at Meiji University where she became increasingly involved in the student movements to protest tuition hikes.
A photo of Fusako Shigenobu from her time at Meiji University where she became increasingly involved in the student movements to protest tuition hikes.

Much like Leia leaving her cushy royal life on Alderaan at the age of 19 to fight for the resistance on a remote world, Shigenobu left her comfortable life in Japan for the distant nation of Lebanon, after her experience with the student movements at Meiji University turned her on to the plight of the Palestinian people. When members of Princess Leia’s ragtag rebellion were captured, like Han Solo being frozen in carbonite, she concocted complex schemes to facilitate their return. The attack on Jabba’s sail barge was nothing compared to the 1974 storming of the French embassy in the Hague where 10 hostages were exchanged for JRA member Yatsutaka Furuya. Or the 1975 capture of 50 hostages, including the US consul in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which secured the release of 5 more members who had been imprisoned. Besides taking over embassies, the JRA also hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 472 in 1977 and used the incident to negotiate the release of 6 members as well as a handsome ransom (rhyme unintended).

Leia also knew her way around a blaster and could hold her own in a firefight. Remember when Leia entered Jabba’s palace disguised as a bounty hunter and managed to sneak in a thermal detonator? Not so different from the 1972 Lod Airport massacre in Tel Aviv, Israel, in which three Japanese militants disguised as musicians pulled grenades and assault rifles out of their violin cases and fired indiscriminately at airport staff and travelers. A total of 26 people were killed and another 80 were wounded. The attackers being Japanese helped them to easily pass through security. They conducted a second airport attack in 1976 at the Istanbul Atatürk airport in Turkey. This time four people were killed and twenty wounded. Five more were killed in the 1988 bombing of a USO club in Naples, Italy. The JRA was certainly not a group quick to shy away from a shootout.

Shigenobu may not have commandeered a speeder bike, but she did plan raids similar to the attack on the shield generator on Endor. For instance the 1974 take over of the Japanese embassy in Kuwait, or in 1986 when the JRA fired mortar shells at the Japanese, Canadian and US embassies in Jakarta, Indonesia – an attack they would repeat at the British and US embassies in Rome the following year.

Shigenobu is regarded by many as a brave freedom fighter, and by others as an international terrorist, a crime for which she is currently serving a 20 year sentence. Certainly her rap sheet is extensive, as the group she founded was involved with 4 airplane hijackings, the take over of 3 embassies and 1 oil refinery, two mass shootings, and several bombings. But in the eyes of her sympathizers, of which there are many, she is a revolutionary heroine. Perhaps she is both, or perhaps she is neither – the same things have been said of Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, and yes, Princess Leia. Perspective is the difference between Bin Laden and Ben Franklin. In the eyes of the Japanese courts, as well as the CIA, Fusako Shigenobu is a convicted terrorist, but she may also be a real-life Princess Leia Organa, as Obi Wan Kenobi put it, “from a certain point of view.”

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