From A New Hope (1977). Image is a screengrab via 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm
3. She watched her home planet get blown up
So far these moments have been chronological, but I wanted to put this one up at the top of the list because it is so huge. Right at the beginning of A New Hope, we see Darth Vader trying to broker a deal with Leia in exchange for Rebel intelligence. The ultimatum: share her secrets or her home planet gets blown up.
That’s too much of a burden for one person to bear. Leia understandably divulges some information in order to save everyone she knows. And what does Vader do? He blows it up anyway. And Leia has to watch it happen.
To me, there is no more terrifying scenario: the planet’s fate is acutely hinged on your actions (well, this is a true statement, but I’ll spare you the environmental impact diatribe). I think Leia did what anyone would have done. And even if it were for purely selfish reasons, that would be completely understandable. I, for one, cannot fathom a life without Earth, and the idea of watching it explode into a million pieces is both overwhelming and nauseating.
We see that Leia is visibly shaken by this incident, but she persists in freeing the people of the galaxy in spite of it.