For as long as I can remember Princess Leia was my hero. Smart, brave, and sassy Leia didn't let her petiteness or her gender define her or hold her back in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Certainly if you were looking for a female role model in Episodes 4, 5, or 6 you didn't have many choices. Mon Montha and Oola are not exactly awe-inspiring characters to get very excited about. Princess Leia was the only real game in town for young girls looking for a woman to look up to. And luckily for us, Leia was more diplomat than princess and more rebel than wallflower.
However, we never truly got to see the Leia I was hoping for at the end of Return of the Jedi. Sure Leia held her own in Episode 6 - she took out Jabba the Hutt, made allies out of Ewoks, and helped save the day on Endor. But Leia had so much more to offer that we never got to see. Yoda talked about it to Obi-Wan "Hey if Luke goes down we've got Leia to save us" (not a direct quote, sorry Yoda). Darth Vader talked about it in his threat to Luke about turning Leia to the dark side. There was a lot of talk about how even more amazing Leia could be but we never got to see it.
I'm hoping like crazy that Leia is a Jedi Knight in [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](movie:711158). How can she not be? But I'm hoping even more that Daisy Ridley's character fulfills the promise of a female Star Wars character. I think Natalie Portman did everything she could with the Padme Amidala character in the prequels, but it just wasn't satisfying enough for me.
It seems fair now to say that Ridley's character is the "Rachel" role in the casting call that went out almost a year ago (I'm assuming this is not going to end up being the character's real name). She is a street smart orphan (is there really any other kind?) who appears to have the 'don't mess with me' attitude of Leia and perhaps the Force is with her?
I personally can't wait to find out more about Ridley's character and all of the other new Star Wars characters in The Force Awakens. As long as J.J. Abrams made sure that the focus was characters first, visual effects second I think audiences are going to be in for an amazing adventure.