“I was something men and women could agree on. They didn’t like me in the same way, but they liked me with the same intensity, and were all fine with the other sex liking me, too. Isn’t that weird? Think about it. And then stop and ponder something actually important,” Carrie Fisher writes about Princess Leia in The Princess Diarist. You can just hear her laughing! She embraced her role – over forty years – as the keeper of Leia, “feeling honored to be her representative here on earth,” while sometimes “wishing she’d finally just go away and leave me to be myself alone, but then wondering who I’d be without her.” Carrie and Leia were intertwined in her own mind – and in ours. What did the Princess – and Carrie – mean to you? Thank you for your passionate, provocative, funny, responses, Sara Bhatia, Mary Laura Philpott, Barbara Keith Payne, Joelle Herr, Daphne Butler, Betsy Wills, Julie Kennon, Patricia Eastwood, Kate Satz, Karlen Garrard, and Amanda Hampton! (More to come tomorrow.)
From Sara Bhatia: I was never much of a Princess Leia fan (confession – I never really understood Star Wars), but I loved her post-Star Wars work. Her supporting role in When Harry Met Sally was pitch perfect, and her books were wry and funny and painfully honest. More recently, I loved her reaction to all the fussing over her inevitable aging when she reprised the Princess Leia role. My favorite comment: “Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy byproducts of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.”
From Mary Laura Philpott: The year I was five years old, three things happened: 1. The Empire Strikes Back came out. I wasn’t allowed to see movies in theaters yet, but I knew about it because Princess Leia and friends were showing up not only on lunch boxes and action figures, but on a series of Coke glasses you could get with a meal at Burger King – and I coveted fast food restaurant-issued collectible glassware with a greed I’ve never known before or since. 2. The University of North Carolina defeated Duke in the ACC Basketball Championship, a fact I was aware of because our household in Chapel Hill was pro-Carolina, anti-Duke, for reasons I didn’t understand but with which I was fully on board nonetheless. (I had a little brother, so I knew all about rivalries and taking sides.) 3. The Sony Walkman was released, which, according to the ads, meant you could roller skate anywhere you wanted to go with your personal soundtrack playing directly into your ears. What more could a person want? Correlation may not equal causation, but you couldn’t tell five-year-old me that a rebel warrior in space-buns, a ram with curly horns, and a free-wheeling teenager in musical earmuffs weren’t somehow related in joy and success by their headwear. When I think of my earliest impressions of what it meant to be a real badass, I remember a time when victory, prosperity, and freedom were worn on one’s head – and I push my sunglasses up to hold back my hair.
From Barbara Keith Payne: I was ten years old when Star Wars came out, and I remember boasting about seeing it in the theater four times – probably the Belle Meade Theater. Loved it. I am sure I saw the sequels as many times.
Since the death of Carrie Fisher, I have read several articles about Princess Leia as the first great commercial feminist icon, but also several about her as a terribly failed feminist icon. Contemplating it now as a 49 year old, I am not sure what I think about either theory and frankly I feel conflicted about her influence.
In my experience as a schoolgirl of the late 70’s, Princess Leia was probably one of the first figures besides my working mother to tell me that I could chart my own course, make my own way, save my own universe, while still rocking a trendy hairdo and seducing Han Solo. At the same time, the ad about bringing home the bacon and cooking it up in a pan was running on TV for Enjoli – i.e. you can do it all but you’d better look good while you’re doing it and get yourself a man in the process or you won’t be the full package. Is this the right message? So really how far have women made it? There’s no question that feminism in 1977 was very different from that of 2017, but we still have a long way to go. My daughter will have to fight battles that my sons will not, and we still have not elected a female president, nor do women receive equal pay. Princess Leia was a step in the right direction, but in my view we have a long way to go.
From Joelle Herr: With her gumption, bravery, and no-nonsense sass, Princess Leia was an intergalactic idol – to me and countless other girls of my gen(X)eration. She frequently figured in recess scuffles (verbal ones, of course) over who among my friends would get to play her. (Resolution often involved Daisy Duke and/or the Bionic Woman showing up in our imaginary galaxy far, far away.) But my favorite Carrie Fisher role, hands down, is Marie in When Harry Met Sally….
I first saw that movie in high school, when I was a shy, angsty teen, a fount of sarcasm and self-doubt. While Sally Albright was a little too… bright (as in, sunnily-dispositioned) for my liking, Marie was a gal after my own heart, the flawed-but-wisecracking, tells-it-like-it-is pal. “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.”
One of the scenes I love the most takes place in – surprise, surprise – a bookstore (Shakespeare & Co. at Broadway and 79th, which has since closed). “Someone is staring at you in personal growth,” Marie whispers to Sally. Harry is indeed lurking nearby, peering from behind a copy of What Jung Really Said. Sally and Marie are browsing at a table displaying books with seriously knee-slap-worthy titles like Making Life Right When It Feels All Wrong, I Love You, Let’s Work It Out, and Loveshock: How to Recover from a Broken Heart and Love Again. I always assumed that these books had been mocked up for the scene, but a recent Google search revealed that they were actually real books, presumably published for emotionally needy yuppies in the self-help heyday of the late ’80s. “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.”
When I heard about Carrie’s death, I, along with the rest of the world, felt like I’d been punched in the gut by a nerf herder. I’ve since bumped her most recent book, The Princess Diarist, to the top of my TBR list. I also renamed the self-help section in the tiny bookstore that I own “personal growth.” I look forward to the conversations this is sure to spark, about the movie, Marie, and Carrie’s delightfully spot-on portrayal.
While I admire Carrie Fisher and her role as the groundbreaking (for the time) badass Princess Leia, her character always disturbed me – in later years I came to know her character as that of those bosses I never liked!
From Betsy Wills: Star Wars was released in the summer of 1977 while I was on vacation with my family in Santa Fe. At 10 I was likely wearing an IZOD and a pair of painters pants. Princess Leia Organa looked familiar to me the minute she popped on the screen. Her white gown was a ringer for the habit worn by the Dominican nuns who taught me at Catholic school, but the comparisons stopped there. Obviously we have to talk about that hair! Seriously? Those muffs were precursors to Beats. Her demeanor was smart, clever, and bold. Her posse consisted of worshipful droids and handsome men. Her mission was big, and the Force was with her.
From Julie Kennon: I was so excited when I won this record from a Nashville radio station back when I was 12. I assumed all women could be like Princess Leia. Speak their mind, stick up for themselves, with or without a laser gun, and sucessfully combat the enemy. At that age, I didn’t notice the lack of other strong female characters. I was just entranced with the savvy, strong Princess Leia.
From Patricia Eastwood: A day after the news of Fisher’s death, one of my best friends called me and said – “I have a confession.” I braced myself for the news, and she then said, “Carrie Fisher did not really mean much to me. I am really not that broken up by her death.” That’s how I feel too. Nice lady. She had struggles and so does everyone – but she’s not my hero or even that influential in my thinking. Her books were ok. I liked Augusten Burroughs’ book Dry too. Debbie Reynolds’ death was not that unexpected (at least to me) and very sad. I really like “Singing in the Rain” and own it. Someone gave it to Suzanne as a baby gift – I should remember that as a great baby gift. You cannot be too sad covered in baby spit up at 3 am if you have that movie whirring in the VCR. I now also own it on DVD. Debbie and I have spent a lot of quality time together.
From Kate Satz: It was all about the hair. I tried hard to replicate those buns. And in the final ceremony, the bun plus flowing pony… It stuck with me. I may have tried to replicate for prom one year.
From Karlen Garrard: Who can argue that Carrie Fisher wasn’t royalty? Iconic in both Hollywood and the galaxy, she was indeed a manifestation of lineage and legacy. We will never forget the colossal impact of our tiny princess in her avant-garde hair buns, her metallic bikini, and off-screen, in her steely, honest accounts of her struggles addiction and bipolar disorder. In her fierce writing, advocacy and activism, Carrie Fisher fought the good fight. She was a pioneer in the wilderness of mental illness, blazing a trail of destigmatization. In Carrie Fisher, we have an enduring, multidimensional heroine, much like Princess Leia, who, trapped in the 3D hologram, bravely cried out, “help me.”
Why did I spend $150 of my 1989 dollars on Carrie Fisher’s autograph?
Why did I work as a chef at Skywalker Ranch for 3 years in the late 1990s? Why have I changed my FB profile pic to a photo of Princess Leia?
Simply put, she is my enduring hero. And has been since I first saw her on the screen one rainy summer day in NYC in 1977.
My patronage endured way past most others. Past 1980 when I played hooky from school to see the first showing of The Empire Strikes Back, and years past 1983’s The Return of the Jedi when I nervously sat next to my huge crush in a beach town cinema on a hot summer day.
When I was in college in the late 80s, Star Wars had fallen by the wayside somewhat… it had been 5 years since the last movie (Return of the Jedi) and sci-fi was on the decline. Not to mention the last scene of Episode VI had been a nightmare furry drum circle in the forest.
So proposing watching the ‘trilogy’ to my frat brother friends in 1989 was met with ‘what trilogy?’ We watched 6+ straight hours. No one left. That speaks to the power and allure of Star Wars though for me it was all about my hero Carrie.
And what do I mean by hero? As Star Wars premiered in the 1970s, I contemporaneously idolized Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett on Charlie’s Angels and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. I also thought Maren Jensen as Athena on Battlestar Galactica and later Ornella Muti in Flash Gordon as Princess Aura were beyond beautiful and wished I looked like them.
But Carrie Fisher as galactic Princess Leia was different. From the start. it was never about beauty, she was unapologetically brave, bold and strong. And she didn’t have to hide her strength like Wonder Woman masquerading as Diana Prince. Not Princess Leia. She went toe to toe with Darth Vader in the first 5 minutes of the film and then withstood torture from that floating probe. She goes on to save Luke, rescue Han Solo and kill the foul Jabba the Hutt.
That’s what made her special and different to me. She was not, at least originally, a ‘sex symbol.’ She was a princess, a space princess and a rebel leader. To me there was no more inspiring combination. All the fantasy elements of a princess, an innocent with a fancy dress and fabulous hair combined with the steely feminist ideal of being a leader on the side of ‘right.’
Back to 1989: I was in heaven watching Carrie Fisher on the screen with my college friends. There she was taking charge, standing up for herself and cracking one liners. Everything I was struggling to be in my late teens. Funny, tough, confident, smart and respected. Han Solo may have given her a hard time, but he let her lead. And then he fell in love with her. As a young adult, that resonated. To be strong and lovable by the hot guy. Simply wow.
The next step in the evolution of my unending admiration took place the next year in 1990 after reading Postcards from the Edge. It wasn’t a role, it was truly her. Could there be anything more fulfilling than to discover that your favorite film heroine wasn’t a total fabrication and fantasy? In fact that she was even better in real life, even more heroic? She was by far the most authentic voice I had ever read – raw, funny, honest, reflective, articulate. Somehow, she was able to admit to all her flaws without sounding pathetic or worthy of pity. She owned her life utterly and completely.
And she continued to until the end. She kept delivering her personal truth. Books, TV appearances, one-woman shows, even her choice of urn (a Prozac capsule!).
To able to give zero f&*ks and pull it off is a true feat of genius. And that is why she will always be my hero. To fully own who you really are, to proudly share it, and to pull it off so that you are loved, admired and revered.
As someone who has struggled to reveal and revel in my true self, who has felt they finally have found a way to be authentically me only to be rejected, who has taken huge risks to find self-fulfillment, and continues on the journey of self discovery, she was a light…a bright star. A Life Star.
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Top image: https://dave-daring.deviantart.com/art/Carrie-Fisher-Princess-Leia-XLII-Colourized-437923151