Beyond Leia

Image: Rolling Stone Magazine/Aaron Rapoport/Corbis

Image: Rolling Stone Magazine/Aaron Rapoport/Corbis

 
I am Princess Leia, no matter what. If I were trying to get a good table, I wouldn’t say I wrote Postcards (From the Edge). Or, if I’m trying to get someone to take my check and I don’t have ID, I wouldn’t say: ‘Have you seen (When) Harry Met Sally?’ Princess Leia will be on my tombstone.
— Carrie Fisher
 

I was five years old in 1977, the year Carrie Fisher first took on the role of Princess Leia. As a toddler, I didn't see Star Wars when it first came out; so my earliest visual memory of Leia was not in a white robe with side buns, but rather in this gold slave bikini and long braid from 1983's Return of the Jedi.

I eventually saw the first film, along with its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, and witnessed the debut of the gun-toting Leia, with her sharp tongued quips and calm under fire demeanor that not only left Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in dumbstruck awe of her, but also firmly established her as the original cinematic female action hero. 

Leia was stubborn, courageous and formidable... put simply, a genuine badass. The image of her in that gold bikini, chained to the slimy, alien slug gangster Jabba the Hutt, definitely stuck with me; not to mention how she killed him wearing that same outfit with the very chain that bound her.

So much of Princess Leia's charm, grit and attraction is due to the fact that Carrie Fisher was the one who brought her to life onscreen. Leia exuded Carrie's strength of character, resilience, and dogged determination to reject norms, defy limited expectations, and surpass and defeat the literal and figurative restraints that an alien slug, or anyone else, tried to put on her.

Yet as strong, lovely, and memorable as she was in the Star Wars films, Carrie Fisher was much more than Princess Leia to so many, including me. In the whole of my life, she emerged beyond Leia, inhabiting other roles and other identities that have endeared her to me even more...

... more as Meg Ryan's best friend in one of my all-time favorite films, When Harry Met Sally. While in college in the early 1990's, Carrie was a big part of nursing me back to health and comforting me when I just needed to cuddle up and escape into a movie. As a Film Studies major, this was my go-to movie to put on when I was sick, burnt out from studying, or in need of a break from all the cerebral and abstract foreign films I watched in film class.

... more for her connection to my family, as the daughter of the late Debbie Reynolds, the legendary entertainer who headlined Vegas alongside my dad in the late 1970's; and as the half sister of Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher, daughters of Connie Stevens, also a renowned actress and singer, who started a vocal group with my dad back in the 1950's and who ultimately became one of my mom's best friends.

... more for the kinship I felt with her as a fellow daughter of an entertainer father that seemed to be much more accessible to his fans then he was to his children.

... more for her bravery and transparency about her mental illness, and how she didn't let it stop her from living her life on her terms. I know a thing or two about being outspoken and honest to the point that it sometimes makes others uncomfortable, and I love that Carrie spoke her mind on topics that mattered to her, or of which she had a strong opinion. Not only did she free herself from the stigma of an illness that is often misunderstood and dismissed as imaginary or manufactured; but she helped others to feel free of it through her public candor and her writing.

... and yes, more than anything, Carrie Fisher is endeared to me for her talent as a writer, and her propensity to tell the barefaced truth. To be a good writer you need to be fearless and free; not only do you need to possess the courage to say what others won't, but also to have the forte to write what others can't. Carrie was all this and more. I aspire to be like her, and to write with the same courage and flair that she did.

The overwhelming respect and regard I have for her, her work, her honesty, her love of words, and her legacy of living life in the most unabashedly real way, far eclipses any admiration I hold for her as that beautiful, bikini-clad woman. Carrie was proud and unashamed to be who she was, and she worked and lived to ensure that her worth was not solely measured by the veil of her perceived privilege, nor the fleeting nature of her physical beauty.

And for that, I believe she succeeded famously.

Rest in peace, badass princess.

Carrie Fisher
1956 - 2016

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Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.
— Carrie Fisher