It has taken me a bit to digest my reaction to the passing of Carrie Fisher, and while I’ve seen some beautiful tributes on Facebook, I wanted to speak to my personal impressions and reactions.
Princess Leia was a first for me, and eye-opener, a paradigm shifter, and while Carrie did not write the role, I am certain that her portrayal did more than its fair share to ensure the character took hold. She also came to open my eyes on a more personal level, but more on that later.
Princess Leia is a badass. It really is that simple. In the space fairy tale that is Star Wars Episode IV, she took the image of the imprisoned princess, and spun it into something wonderful.
We all know the image of the princess as the damsel in distress, the weak and helpless girl that sits imprisoned in the tower until the heroic knight comes to save her. Well, that ain’t Leia.
The first time we see Leia, she’s slipping who-knows-what into a droid, but then she takes out one of the troopers searching for her. True, she gets stunned, but the next time we see her, she’s back on her feet and defiant as hell. Face to face with Vader, who is already a big scary villain who we’ve seen committing casual murder, she doesn’t flinch or balk.
She stands up to Vader more, and we’re told she’s resistant to the Empire’s horrible torture probe. She’s brought before Tarken, and she lips off to him constantly. Then they threaten to blow up her whole home planet, and she’s scared (because she’s not a monster), but she still doesn’t give them what they want- she lies about it.
They blow up her planet, and I’m sure she shed her share of tears, but when we next see her, is she a wibbling wreck? Nope, she’s chill in her cell, and cracks a joke at Luke in his ill-fitting armor. Once out of the cell, she grabs a gun and takes charge, immediately butting heads with the loose cannon rogue. But it’s not a spoiled princess trying to boss people around, like we see in so many tales, it’s a confidence that is obviously born from helping to lead the Rebellion. She’s accustomed to having her orders followed because she’s usually right.
When she meets up with the Rebels, and Alderaan is mentioned, what does she say? “We have no time for our sorrows.” We’ve got stuff to get done.
She may not participate in the assault on the Death Star, but she is just as instrumental in its destruction as Luke.
I had never before seen a female character in an adventure story, especially not one carrying a royal title, be anything more than an object of desire- and while she certainly is that for both of her male companions, she’s the crusader in the group. The Rebellion is the object of her desire.
She took that unflinching attitude, and it was present in the rest of her life. Carrie was a young star in 70’s and 80’s Hollywood, and that came with its dangers. I’m sure I don’t have to make a list of young stars who spiraled down into drugs, alcohol, depression- sometimes to their deaths. Carrie fell into some of those pits, and her mental health issues didn’t help. But she clawed herself back out of it. It wasn’t neat, and it wasn’t pretty, and I heard some very un-complimentary things said about her over the years.
But then I happened to see a documentary that she made about what it’s like to grow up a young star, the child of established Hollywood personalities. It was another eye-opening experience, and it was my first real insight into how fame can destroy people. At the end of the film, she showed a very zoomed in view of a toddler playing in a yard. Then the camera zoomed back, and Carrie was sitting there, and she said “This is the closest I will any camera to come to my daughter,” and I remember feeling this swell of “hell yes, you go girl!” because she was doing her best to break the cycle.
Carrie Fisher, like Leia, was a warrior, and I will cherish the battles she fought both on the screen and off of it.
-Christopher J.P.S. Roberts