In Charge…and Charging Ahead
She was a princess when we first met her, but she was always so much more than that. She was an imperial senator, a rebel operative, a steely-eyed adult in a world of overgrown boys ready to stare them down and let them know exactly how full of it they were.
Now, she's a general, and the change likely suits her. No matter what's going down in that galaxy far, far away, this is the lady you want organizing your team.
Leia is older and wiser than she was when we first met her, and there's been a lot of water under the bridge in that time. She's sadder now than she was: she's dealt with the loss of her son and her husband, as well as the whole First Order thing, which must have been a bit of a blow after she fought so hard to take down the Empire. It's toned down some of her youthful brashness and added a lot of galactic know-how.
Sadder and Wiser
When your baby boy goes off the reservation and sends your twin brother into exile, it can leave a mark, as she explains to Han during their reunion:
LEIA: I just never should have sent him away. That's when I lost him. That's when I lost you both.
Having said that, she's still the Leia we remember, starting with her commitment to duty. When she first appears, she has a little moment with Han, but she definitely gets down to business before she'll hash it out with her favorite romantic sparring partner:
LEIA: That was incredibly brave, what you did. Renouncing the First Order, saving this man's life—
FINN: Thank you, ma'am—but a friend of mine was taken prisoner—
LEIA: Han told me about the girl, I'm sorry.
POE: Finn's familiar with the weapon that destroyed the Hosnian system. He worked on the base.
LEIA: We're desperate for anything you can tell us.
FINN: That's where my friend was taken. I've got to get there, fast!
LEIA: And I will do everything I can to help, but first you must tell us all you know.
And that old fire hasn't left her yet, either. She's still happy to call out the boys on their idiocy (Han, especially):
HAN: I'm trying to be helpful!
LEIA: When did that ever help? And don't say the Death Star.
Plus, she still has the Force. There's some question as to how she developed it since she's clearly not a Jedi, and her skills are now being used for planning and tactics rather than wading right in with a lightsaber.
A Force to Be Reckoned With
But we know she has them—watch her facial expression when Kylo Ren kills Han, for example—and we suspect that the Force helps her out on the whole general/politician/leader of men thing, too. Negotiating with someone can be a lot easier if you know what they're feeling, and she can sense when and where the best spot to launch an attack might be. It may not be Jedi-level awesome…but it ain't exactly chopped liver, either.
And as one of the Big Three from the original trilogy, we get to see how she's grown and changed since we left her partying down with the Ewoks 30 years previous. She's older, she's wiser, life hasn't been kind to her, but she's still that ready-for-anything princess we remember...wild hairdo and all.