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.