On the Passing of a Legend
I am still reeling from the loss of Carrie Fisher on Tuesday.
The news broke around 1 pm, while my family and I were in the middle of watching Rogue One for the first time. My brother’s best friend texted him about it, and my brother showed the text to me. I was sad, but able to put my emotions on hold to finish watching the movie.
Until the end.
If you’ve seen it, you know why I burst into inconsolable tears at the final scene. If you haven’t, it isn’t too big of a spoiler to say that this movie ties directly into A New Hope, and you can probably figure out the rest.
My father was a fan of Star Wars from the moment it hit screens in 1977. My mom jokes that he saw it so many times because he was avoiding wedding planning (they got married that August). In the mid-80s, one of my aunts taped the trilogy off of HBO and sent the VHS tapes to us so my dad could watch them whenever he wanted. I literally have no memory of the first time I saw Star Wars and I cannot remember ever not knowing that Darth Vader was Luke and Leia’s father. I never had that moment of reveal and surprise. It was always my truth. Star Wars is an integral part of the fabric of my being.
A different aunt (my father’s baby sister, 16 years his junior) gave my brother and me all of her Star Wars figures when she got too old to play with them. We had the Millenium Falcon, a bunch of smaller ships, and all of the main characters in action figure form. We didn’t have bun-Leia, but we had Hoth, Bespin, and Boussh, and I played with those constantly. When my brother and I played with our female cousin, I got to be Leia for two reasons: 1) I am short and have brown hair. 2) My real name is Carrie, like Carrie Fisher. So my cousin had to be Han and my brother was Luke, as you might guess.
In elementary school, I had a crush on a boy whose last name was Fisher. I think a huge part of the appeal was imagining that we would get married one day and my name would be Carrie Fisher.
After that, I never lost my love of Star Wars, although I did stop playing with the toys in middle school, and for the most part moved on to epic fantasy books for my go-to strong female fix (thanks to authors like Robin McKinley and Martha Wells, the latter of whom wrote my definitive Princess Leia book, Razor’s Edge). But when the special editions were released in the 90s, and then the (shudder) prequel trilogy movies, my family went to see them (often at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD).
As I grew up, my feelings about Leia and Carrie Fisher became more complex, but–drug addiction aside–I never stopped wanting to be her, both the character she resembles and her, the outspoken, honest, unrepentant woman who didn’t take shit from anybody. She is my hero, as a writer and as, honestly, just a human being.
I hadn’t gotten around to reading her new memoir, The Princess Diarist, yet, what with my very full holiday schedule and lots of other things going on. But I bought it immediately after her death and am almost finished reading it.
What gutted me most (other than the frequent mentions of how she would be remembered after her death and how her obituaries were going to all show her with the buns at 19, which is only partially true, thank goodness), were the excerpts from her diary while filming Star Wars.
That diary was me at 19. I was working in theatre, not film, and my affair was with an emotionally-distant guy my own age who was still in love with his high school girlfriend, not Harrison Ford, but the underlying emotions were all exactly the same. Looking back at my own journals from that age, I even used many of the same metaphors and my diaries are also peppered with poetry.
What that likely means is that the experience of being 19 is fairly similar across the board in our culture, even though I was 19 twenty-ish years after her. Or maybe it’s because the feelings of a bipolar teenage girl aren’t lightyears away from a girl with clinical depression and anxiety.
Whatever it means, I see myself in her words. I’ve always seen pieces of the woman I want to be in her, in her fiction and non-fiction writing, in the characters she’s portrayed, from her autobiographical turn in Wishful Drinking to her triumphant return to Star Wars as General Organa. But now I feel an even stronger resonance, a kind of cosmic similarity between two Carries. I always wanted to be Princess Leia when I was little, but now I aspire to be something between Carrie Fisher herself and General Organa. I want to be honest, and open, and driven. I want to fight for a cause and not give up even when everything in the world is against me.
I want to find hope in the dark times.
Her loss is devastating and incalculable, but the body of work she leaves behind is a ray of light. She said once, “I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.” That’s my aspiration, too.
(All images on this post are from Carrie Fisher’s official website, carriefisher.com, except the first and last, which are from tumblr, and my own picture, of course!)
For some more awesome (if poorly proofread) Carrie Fisher quotes, check out this page.