by Nicholas Pendergast
Carrie Fisher’s life and energy brought the original Star Wars trilogy one of cinema’s most powerful and profoundly iconic heroes.
“She has no friends, no family; her planet was blown up in seconds – along with her hairdresser – so all she has is a cause,” Fisher once said of her mythical role in a Rolling Stone interview dated all the way back to 1983.
Princess Leia did not have super powers, but Carrie Fisher did seem to have a super natural flare and grace. In the films, she was the Skywalker who did not openly exhibit any influence over the Force. Only a few quotes and a few scenes spread throughout Return of The Jedi hinted to her potential and revealed the bond shared between Leia, Luke, and Vader. Leia was just adopted into royalty on a doomed planet, a homeless refugee jumping around the galaxy with rough necks and fugitives rallied against space fascists in a galaxy far far away. George Lucas and his team worked hard to create a character that was more than just a male’s fantasy or damsel in distress, but it would be an impossible effort if the shoes weren’t filled by a talent the caliber of Fisher.
At first glance, there was nothing immediately outstanding about the character of Leia Organa, and yet she was a woman who stood out like a beacon even surrounded by some of the most sensational characters in our motion picture pantheon. Her entourage included a Jedi in training, a smuggler who piloted the fastest ship in the galaxy, a seven-foot-tall Wookie, and two very special droids. Princess Leia could have been a powerless character overshadowed by the rest of the original trilogy’s cast, but Carrie Fisher conjured an icy cool and implacable spirit that would champion her entire team against the Empire.
Although she was in peril in numerous situations throughout the trilogy, neither of those scenarios played out in a way that would make Leia seem weak or helpless. Carrie conjured a strong, charming, and intelligent leader who would risk anything to preserve the ideology she believed in. A less talented star may have had trouble showing a combination of vigor and terror when Grand Moff Tarkin signals the order to obliterate Alderaan. Carrie had something vicious about her, an undeniable fire that came to life throughout the first film, and that carried over into Episode V and Episode VI. No one can ever forget the brutality during Jabba’s death, as Leia strangles him in his death throes over the Sarlaac.
Princess Leia and her struggle to liberate the galaxy is the nexus from which the original trilogy begins and ends, the central point that the films loop around to in each of their closing moments. She is the spirit of Rebellion, and that very spirit is established in the first scenes of A New Hope; Leia’s desperate last stand against a squad of Stormtroopers on the Corellian blockade runner establishes her right away, firing off a sneak shot that kills one of the iconic armor clad oppressors, before she is captured and brought before Darth Vader for her transgressions. Standing toe to toe with the second most terrible figure in the galaxy, Leia becomes the plot’s foundation of strength and moral righteousness before Luke, Han, or Obi Wan are even introduced.
Despite her success and fame, much of Fisher’s career brought with it shadows that were often publicized. Carrie Fisher was born from an iconic ‘50s Hollywood power-couple, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, who divorced in ’59 amid Fisher’s affair with Liz Taylor. That scandal landed in Carrie’s life when she was only an infant, and her early life would be perpetually mixed in the limelight and drama of her parents. Toxic energy followed Carrie through later stages in life as she struggled with drug addictions and affairs of her own. Despite her shadows, Carrie owned those moments of grief and channeled her fight with Bipolar disorder to create often comical and outstanding representations in her stage work and bibliography.
Fisher even stroked lashes at her own legacy, making such notes in her book Princess Diarist:
“Who wears that much lip gloss into battle?” She joked of her role as Princess Leia.
“Perpetual celebrity — the kind where any mention of you will interest a significant percentage of the public until the day you die, even if that day comes decades after your last real contribution to the culture — is exceedingly rare, reserved for the likes of Muhammad Ali.”
She has even been candid about her mental illness, saying in a 2009 Vanity Fair interview, “If you claim something, you can own it. But if you have it as a shameful secret, you’re fucked; you’re sitting in a room populated by elephants. I have a lot of elephants to kill. But I also have a lot to be grateful for. Most of my problems are high-class. As Mike Nichols used to say, ‘The champagne is flat and the caviar has run out—will it never end?’”
Fisher’s early work included stage plays with her mother, including roles on Broadway and in Las Vegas. When she was 17, Carrie Fisher performed in her first full length motion picture, Shampoo, a 1975 comedy that poked jabs at the Nixon-era. Two years later, at the age of 19-years-old, Carrie Fisher would beat out over two dozen other actresses for the role that would immortalize her forever.
Fisher is listed in 444 titles on iMDB. Aside from Star Wars, her films include a memorable role in The Blues Brothers (1980), The ‘Burbs (1989), the unforgettable dark comedy Drop Dead Fred (1991), and an uncredited scene in Hook (1991). Carrie Fisher hit a renaissance of sorts in the late ‘90s and 2000s, with memorable roles in Scream 3 (2000), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003).
After Disney bought the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas for over $4 billion in 2012, it was certain that new movies were in the works. Princess Leia returned to theaters as General Leia, leader of the Resistance – a reformed militant group like the Rebellion. Carrie Fisher commented on the reprisal in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, saying;
“I settled in. You know, think about it, what it would be to make three of these movies a million years ago, and now, ‘Let’s do it again, only you’re 40 years older and there’s a lot to live up to or down – take your pick.’ People want it to be the same but better … I don’t know. So there’s pressure on it, more than most films. But then you get over yourself and say, ‘By the way, it’s the younger people doing it.’ You have to sort of like get over yourself fast.”
She once requested that her obituary read; “I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 AM PST on Tuesday, December 27, 2016, just five days after suffering a freak heart attack on a plane 15 minutes from landing in Los Angeles. She is survived by her daughter Billy Lourd, mother Debbie Reynolds, brother Todd Fisher, and half-sisters Tricia Leigh Fisher and Joely Fisher. Carrie Fisher was 60-years-old, and she contributed a lifetime of magic that will endure throughout the ages.
“Princess Leia will live as long as ‘Star Wars’ does,” author George R. R. Martin wrote in his LiveJournal blog. “Probably forever.” Leia’s final line in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is “may the Force be with you.”