Carrie Fisher 1956-2016

Admittedly, this is close to the last piece I’d ever want to write and I don’t think I would be doing it this soon.  Sixty years and two months is too young.  Given that Fisher’s exploits are well-known (heck, she always talked about them) it shouldn’t be so surprising and shocking, yet for all of us, it is.  She seemed almost indestructible no matter what she did to herself or what life threw at her.  If there was anyone would could’ve bounced back from  this, it would’ve been her.  But alas, 2016 has given no quarter to the famous, no matter how much we wished for different.

Fisher was of course far more accomplished than playing a beloved character or a pop culture icon.  She’d started performing as a singer she was 13.  She had her first bestselling novel at 30 and launched a second career as a successful novelist and script doctor.  She appeared in a number of well-regarded hit films like “Shampoo,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”  She spent the last 15 years or so being a public advocate for mental health; no doubt her busy schedule and return to the saga showed those with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses they too can survive and even thrive.

But let’s face it.  We love her because she brought Princess Leia to life, and we love Leia.  Leia was of course George Lucas’s creation but it was Carrie’s personality who helped make Leia who she is:  snarky, brash, sophisticated and feminine yet with an edge, a tiny body that hid a tough-as-nails strength.  It’s easy to forget now in an age where “girl power” is fashionable in film and t.v., but in the ’70s, Leia turned heads because she was an entirely new kind of fantasy heroine.  As Fisher put it, she wasn’t a damsel in distress, she was a distressing damsel.  Absolutely no one in mainstream Hollywood would’ve written a character like Leia; part of the reason why Fisher took the part was that her mother Debbie Reynolds read the script in tears because she’d wished somebody would’ve written a part like that for her.  And absolutely no one in mainstream Hollywood would’ve picked Fisher to play a princess; somebody blonder, more ethereal, “sweeter” would’ve been a more likely choice.  But Lucas wasn’t exactly mainstream and casting director Fred Roos had a good eye for who was going to be memorable in these roles.

At the time ANH came out, Leia was heralded as a “liberated woman” which was the hip ’70s way of saying “feminist.”  But I didn’t care about those labels; I just thought she was the coolest.  She was a competent fighter and she was smart but she was also funny and not always all sugar and spice.  One thing about Leia I still love about her til this day is how she was always free to be herself warts and all.   A lot of studios would’ve been nervous about that kind of character and would’ve demanded somebody “tone” her down.  Or that she got some kind of comeuppance.  But Lucas never sought to punish Leia for being Leia.  And for a 7-year-old in the mid-to-late ’70s, that was extraordinary.  The only  other significant heroine of my childhood was Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.  My teen years brought Leia-inspired characters like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor (trust me, James Cameron wishes he’d thought of Leia first).  I gravitated toward larger-than-life rock goddesses like Siouxsie Sioux, a real-life gothy punk version of Leia.  She instilled a type in me and that’s what I wanted to be like:  take no prisoners, take no baloney, and speak what’s on your mind.  Oh and stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves.  Which is ultimately the best thing about Leia.

As for Carrie the person, I have to be honest.  There’s a part of me who absolutely admired her.  It’s impossible to love a character so dearly–Leia is probably tied with Anakin for my absolutely favorite character–and not have that affection bleed onto the real person.  But there were times when we weren’t cool.  Sometimes she made me laugh, sometimes she made me cringe.  The drug stuff disappointed me greatly as a teenager; for a period of time I couldn’t stand her.  Even now there’s a part of me that’s saying, “Dammit, why didn’t you take better care of yourself?”  All of that said, in the end she had been a big influence on a character who had a big influence on me and that means something.  There are people who are examples of what to do and examples of what not to do, and in her case, she was was a little bit of both.

I’d seen in her person a few times, the first time actually in a Georgetown parking lot in 1987.  I was too chicken to approach her.  She came off as a little intimidating.  The next time I saw her was at Celebration II in 2002.  At one point, she and her entourage had to cross a line I was in to get somewhere and fans respectfully parted like the Red Sea.  Nobody bugged her or mobbed her.  She still seemed a little intimidating.  I never did meet her in person although most of the people I know who did meet her at various cons had great things to say about her, that is if they didn’t mind getting glitter cast upon them or something.  I know that at Celebration II some fan had been in line for hours to meet her and she felt so bad for this guy who hadn’t eaten all day, she had her assistants bring him something to eat.  I have seen her speak a couple of times, once at a Celebration and again at SDCC in 2004.  I think she was very intelligent.  She was also funny as hell.  Her kind of humor was always just beyond appropriate with a big dash of “that’s so wrong.”  She loved writing naughty messages on some of her autographs but I think she had a pretty good gauge as to who was up for that sort of thing and who wasn’t.  I also remember seeing this at a past SDCC; she was signing autographs next to Jake Lloyd, who was signing for the first time at that particular show.  Before she left, she made it a point to go over to Lloyd and talk to him and shook his hand.  I know that she made it a point to make the Star Wars  stars who came after her feel like they were part of the family so to speak, even if she had a touch of a competitive streak.   That includes the cast of Clone Wars and of course TFA and Episode VIII.

Fisher completed filming Episode VIII and voiced her digital doppelgänger in Rogue One.  What ultimately happens to Leia is still up in the air; Fisher had said she was going to return in IX.  This will have to be sorted by Lucasfilm over the coming weeks and months.  But Leia is forever, a part of the mythology of our time.  She lives beyond her portrayer and  likely beyond any of us.

Fisher had become the First Lady of Star Wars so to speak.  I think she finally realized it within the last decade or so of her life.  Of course she can never be replaced.  But there are great ladies of Star Wars still with us–Natalie Portman, Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones, Ashley Eckstein, Vanessa Marshall, just to name a few–and now what they bring to future generations is that much more important.  Some are already wonderful ambassadors for the saga, others have yet to step into that role but likely will over time.

My sincerest sympathies go to Fisher’s friends, former co-stars, and family, especially her daughter Billie Lourd, mother Debbie Reynolds, brother Todd Fisher, and beloved dog Gary.  I hope they will find some comfort from the outpouring of love, respect, and appreciation not only from Star Wars fans but also from people who loved her other films, people who loved her books, fellow writers, the entertainment industry, mental health advocates, among many others.

Update:  Reynolds has passed away just over 24 hours after her daughter from a stroke.  Damn.





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28 Responses to “Carrie Fisher 1956-2016”

  1. piccolojr1138 Says:

    Nice tribute, R.I.P. Carrie Fisher

  2. Heidi :( Says:

    This is very sad. Was she close to her mother, since Debbie very unfortunately just passed on as well? What a tradgey for the Fischer family. I know very little about them, but all the same my heart goes out to them.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      They were extremely close. They even lived next door to each other. According to Todd Fisher, Reynolds’s last words were, “I want to be with Carrie.” This is a damn tragedy.

  3. Noah Evans (The Artist) Says:

    I have nothing to add to this… it’s, this is… this is a great work of writing, sadly for the worst of reasons, but it’s publish-worthy….

    Still, tragic, and I even learned from my family before turning my computer on and reading this about Debbie… geeze, I’m trying to end this year on a good note and not pass it off as a horrible year because of the multiple deaths from Rickman to Grimmie, Ceckov to Willy Wonka, (I even learned that Robbie from Spider-Man died in September..): I want to remember the good stuff, the accomplishments… 😦

  4. Independent Radical Says:

    “One thing about Leia I still love about her til this day is how she was always free to be herself warts and all. A lot of studios would’ve been nervous about that kind of character and would’ve demanded somebody “tone” her down. Or that she got some kind of comeuppance. But Lucas never sought to punish Leia for being Leia.”

    Very true. I’m disappointed that Leia seemed to have been toned down somewhat, but I’ll admit that it makes sense given her age and she’s still in a position of power.

    I disagree with the statement that Leia was feminine. Despite being labelled a princess, she didn’t have a feminine personality at all and I like that. She was bold, angry and prepared to use aggression when necessary (maybe a little too prepared, though he actions make sense given what she’d been through).

    The only time Leia when her behaviour could be described as feminine, was when she met the Ewok in Return of the Jedi, but to me femininity implies excessive gentleness (I define femininity as whatever behaviours our society encourages women to practise and our culture encourages women to be selfless and gentle to the point of self-abasement) and her gentleness in that situation made sense and wasn’t naive or submissive. If she had been nice and sweet or even polite towards Vader and the imperial generals in New Hope I would’ve seen that as feminine, but thank the Force she wasn’t.

    Rest in peace Carrie Fisher

    As a side note, I think the prominence of the feminist movement and similar movements resisting oppression had a lot of influence on the original Star Wars trilogy and its success. How many films can you think of that consistently represent rebels as the good guys? Even the Hunger Games series ends up taking the approach of suggesting that the rebellion against the Capitol went too far in their violence (though I will praise it for inspiring real world resistance).

    Had the original trilogy came out at the time of the prequels, I think it would’ve received just as much hate. Luke would’ve been seen as whiny. Leia would’ve been seen as weak (because she didn’t shut up and “cope with” the horrible things happening to her, but instead got angry) and C3PO would’ve been seen as annoying and cheesy. Our positive-thinking culture condemns anyone who isn’t totally happy about their circumstances and demands that everyone be stoic and unemotional.

    The prequels are not bad films according to the aesthetic standards that people usually site when talking about what makes a film good. I think prequel hate is product of current cultural norms, particularly those that dominate the internet. It frustrates me that people feel entitled to declare the prequels to be objectively terrible without examining how their own values and assumptions influenced that judgement.

  5. Michael Says:

    Beautiful tribute, LP.

  6. jonedney124 Says:

    It’s really sad that both of these iconic ladies have died. I think it also shows how you CAN die of a broken heart (or whatever the fancy name for it is in this day and age). Please, no more this year 😦

  7. Eduardo Says:

    If this is any indication, no one will ever question a movie charatcer losing her will to live or dying of a broken heart ever again. If anything, losing Debbie within a day is living proof.

    • Hunk a Junk Says:

      I was thinking the same thing. We’ve all heard that knock against the end of ROTS: “It’s lame to say Padme died of a broken heart.” But it’s true. It happens. It’s not uncommon for spouses who lived together for decades to die days or even hours apart from each other. Even Shakespeare knew that young love is so intense that people sometimes choose death instead of life. It’s a tragedy, but human emotions are not subject to the rules of logic. The heart wants what it wants.

    • Marshall Says:

      When I heard what Tod Fisher said about Debbie dying of heartbreak, I thought: “Padme”.

  8. Marshall Says:

    I’ve been listening to all the emotional pieces from Star Wars: “Leia’s Theme”, “Han Solo and the Princess”, “Luke and Leia”, “Anakin’s Theme”, “Across the Stars”, “Birth of the Twins and Padme’s Destiny” and wearing my Obi-Wan shirt, lightsaber necklace and rebel gloves to honor Carrie’s passing.

  9. bansheegun Says:

    Part of me would rather have them write Leia out of the story rather than recast the role. Carrie was Leia, no doubt about it and there isn’t anyone else I would want to see playing her. I hope I’m not the only one still in the “this can’t be real” phase. It’s all been so sudden it feels like it can’t be real.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      There’s no way in hell they’d recast.

    • maychild Says:

      They wouldn’t dare recast. There was talk of recasting for Episode VII, but the fan reaction was so violent that they backed off. It would be even more violent now. I don’t know how they will resolve Leia’s story in the rest of the ST, but it sure as hell won’t be with a recast.

      • lazypadawan Says:

        It would be seen as a huge insult to Carrie’s memory and to the fans. There are going to be a lot of meetings to figure out what to do, especially since Carrie had said she was going to be back in IX. I suppose there is a way to fit Leia into IX a la “The Crow” (outtakes, stand-ins shot from behind) along with the CGI tech shown in “Rogue One.” But ultimately, there will have to be a resolution to Leia’s story and it has to be done in a way that’s tasteful and means something.

      • Hunk a Junk Says:

        They’ll likely handle it the same way JJ and co. handled Leonard Nimoy’s death in Star Trek Beyond. Leia’s death will happen off-screen, some character will deliver the news, and there will be scenes of strong reaction. It’s really the only way to do it. You can’t have her end violently, like in a planet or spaceship blowing up. People won’t accept that. And they can’t CGI her. It’s too soon.

  10. ladylavinia1932 Says:

    Perhaps they’ll find a way to re-write Leia’s character at the end of Episode VIII or kill off the character off screen before Episode IX. I just cannot deal with a CGI version of Carrie Fisher in Episode IX. It seems too ghoulish to me. The CGI Tarkin and Leia didn’t work for me.

  11. rynnbowers Says:

    Thank you for this. It was sad to learn of Carrie’s passing. I was at work on my lunch break when i read it. First the shock came, then denial, then finally the realization it had really happened and the tears. I sat in my car and cried reading the email that had said Carrie had passed.

    I found out yesterday that Debbie Reynolds had passed as well and this has just been a very bad year for celebs and only makes people really think about and realize this life is short and anything can happen at any time. RIP Carrie and Debbie.

    On a sidenote…I pity as well as dare Disney to even remotely think for even one second that recasting Leia would be a smart descison. They could pretty much kiss their fatted calf goodbye.

  12. jarjarbacktattooguy Says:

    Very insightful tribute, lazypadawan.

    Carrie, was not of our generation, but she was certainly a movie star *for* our generation. That character, and Star Wars as a whole rewrote the rules for all action/adventure films that would follow.

    The great thing about Leia’s snark and humor was that it always served the story, as did all of the humor in the saga. Leia was single-mindedly focused on helping the rebels defeat the empire and would put down anyone or anything that stood in her way. Even when that thing was love and the person was Han Solo.

    Luke and Leia were intended to be twenty-ish, so Leia’s “smart-ass” persona fit. She was regal and business-like on one minute, but a big immature smart ass the next! She was twenty! There is something fascinating about a young person who wields so much power. Lucas would go there again with Queen Amidala, but with considerably less sass.

    While Leia had passion for the rebellion and didn’t suffer fools gladly, on the whole she was a very formal and reserved type of character. Carrie on the other hand, seemed to find the humor in everything, and looked for excitement everywhere. A wild child indeed, in her youth. So while their were traces of Carrie’s humor and gusto in Leia that another actress may not have brought, overall they were quite different personalities.

  13. lovelucas Says:

    I took my sons and grandsons to see Rogue and the timing was: Carrie died while we were watching it. My family and me hugged in the parking lot headed home and my son was on the phone immediately with the sad news. Now I want to see Rogue again – primarily for Carrie. Tarkin and Leia CGI did work for me. Especially Leia and hearing Carrie’s voice. It takes on such a huge significance now –
    I also immediately thought of Padmé when I heard about Debbie. George knew this could happen and not just in a GFFA. Yet those haters never stopped complaining about how this wasn’t believable. I don’t feel better that they were wrong. I just wish we still had Carrie and her mom both still here.
    Some have questioned the closeness of Carrie and Debbie due to the very vivid writing by Carrie in “Postcards from the Edge” but I don’t doubt their closeness for a second and Debbie seemed to be on board with both Postcards and autobiographical elements in other books by Carrie that were almost too real. They both did not run from the reality of their life stories.
    My first experience meeting Carrie was this: CIV (in LA) after hours waiting I finally got my turn and blurted out (this is true) that my dad had dated Debbie (only one time, but still) and that sort of ruined things as Carrie didn’t believe a word of it – she said “Yeah, sure” and had the snarkiest look on her face. I realized I had really screwed up. The best was in Orlando – this time I paced myself and had a shirt on that said MTFBWY in 5 languages…she was intrigued with that. I mentioned I would see her later for a photo op and then gave her a James Michener book that described the running of the bulls in Pamplona (a Hemingway association I’m thinking). When the photo op came next day – I only had time to say one sentence “This means the world to me, Carrie” and the photo is my favorite of all my SW celeb photos. She and I are hugging like we’re sisters. How I wish she and Debbie were still here.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      Carrie and her mother had a very complicated relationship. Carrie was quite rebellious and had been somewhat dragged into showbiz when she had been drafted into her mother’s show because it was a “you want to eat, we need to work” situation when hubby #2 the gambling addict left Debbie Reynolds broke. In fact I believe Carrie had been paid in advance for her work on ANH to help keep a roof over her mother and brother’s heads. Then poof, Carrie became a star in her own right just as her mother’s star was dimming. Plus all of the drug and bipolar disorder stuff. But for the past several years they all lived on the same compound. They were always hanging out together and sometimes performing together. You don’t just die the day after your child after crying how much you want to be with her if you weren’t close at all.

      • lovelucas Says:

        Oh – I’m very familiar with the family history and how bad choices affected both mom and daughter. They seemed happily indebted to each other, though. Living arrangements – “compound” – seemed natural. I’ve seen several newly posted vids and they seemed to have a symbiotic living arrangement that strengthened everyone.

  14. maychild Says:

    For a while, Carrie, like Mark and Harrison, made a concerted effort to separate herself from her SW persona (the three of them had, to say the very least, wildly different degrees of success in doing so). But eventually she made peace with it and turned it into fodder for her various formal and informal comedy acts. Indeed, I recently saw a tribute cartoon of Carrie, as Leia of course (white dress, double buns and all) at the Pearly Gates, to be greeted by three angels wearing haloes on either side of their heads; one says, “As you can see, Carrie, we’re huge SW fans up here.” I bet she would have loved that.

    She wrote in “Wishful Drinking” about her future obituary, which would include her name and two dates under a picture of her “absurdly bewigged face.” Actually, the buns weren’t a wig, they were hair extensions, but never mind. She recognized the fact that, for all her gifts as a writer and comedienne, she would be remembered as Princess Leia, and hey, what’s wrong with that?

    Even the famously cantankerous Harrison Ford made a (kind of) peace with his Han Solo persona; really, is it SO BAD to be remembered as the fan favorite character in a phenomenally popular movie series? Mark Hamill, like his good friend and onetime roommate Robert (Freddy Krueger) Englund, is practical enough to know that most actors aren’t remembered at all, so being an instantly recognizable part of an iconic set of movies is really nothing to complain about.

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