What Carrie Fisher Taught Us

We were all shocked and upset on 27th December to hear the terrible news that Carrie Fisher, much loved for her role as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars, had passed away. Her life was cut short when she still had so much to give; but we should remember what she left us: great films, books, jokes and memories and try to act on her words of wisdom.


Girls can be princesses too

Carrie was just 19 when she was cast as Princess Leia in the big budget sci-fi film Star Wars in 1977, the same age her mother Debbie Reynolds was when she got her big break in Singin’ In The Rain. Yes, she was a princess, but despite her please of “Help me Obi Wan Kanobi; you’re my only hope”, this young woman was more than a damsel in distress; she turned into a feminist icon.

Yes, she still requires some rescuing, but she grabbed blasters and took part in shoot outs with Stormtroopers, was strong with the Force and was gutsy enough to stand up to Darth Vader (damn scary) in an attempt to save her home planet. And in subsequent films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, she turned from Princess Leia to General Leia Organa; a woman in a position of military power, directing rebel briefs and playing a vital role in leading the strategy on defeating the Empire, not just a figurehead.  

Star Wars Director, George Lucas said of Carrie Fisher: “She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colourful personality that everyone loved. In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess – feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think.”
  
True, her character was written by Lucas so her feminist words were not strictly hers, but they came from her mouth and she delivered them and enacted the iconic character that so many girls now want to dress up as come Halloween in a white robe with the iconic buns on either side their head. Leia was a distressing damsel rather than a damsel in distress, and now people are petitioning for Disney to make her an official Disney Princess.

She truly embraced the role. She once said: “I had a lot of fun killing Jabba the Hutt. They asked me on the day if I wanted to have a stunt double kill Jabba. No! That’s the best time I ever had as an actor. And the only reason to go into acting is if you can kill a giant monster.”

It became a role that defined her career. And while she fell of the radar and suffered following her abuse of drugs during and after filming the Star Wars sequels, she became one the most iconic female characters in film. Forget your Disney princesses, this is what a real princess looks like.


Writing is a great outlet

As well as being a celebrated actress, Carrie was also a successful author, penning memoirs about her life. Not only playing a princess on-screen, she was something of Hollywood royalty, born to Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher in 1956. It’s no wonder she went into the wonderful world of showbiz – and thank goodness she did, she had so much wit, poise and wisdom to share.

Following her turn in Star Wars, she wrote Postcards From the Edge; a frank experience about her struggle with drugs at the height of her fame. The book was adapted for the big screen to the synonymous film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Streep received an Oscar nomination for her role as an aspiring actress struggling with drugs and other life dramas in the successful film.

She went on to aid in the writing of Sister Act and So I Married an Axe Murderer. In terms of literature, she also wrote further books, including her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist: which she was promoting in the UK just weeks before her death.

  

It’s ok to talk about mental illness

Something Carrie talked about quite openly in her books was her struggle with bipolar disorder and depression. Carrie often came across as mad as bag of snakes in interviews, but that was part of her charm: she never offended, just spoke her mind. Unfortunately her mind was plagued by mental illness. But at a time when it was still taboo to talk about (you could argue it still is now), she was frank and honest about how she dealt with her mental illness: “I don’t feel I’m particularly messed up… I’ve always been quite sane about being insane.”  

She became an advocate for mental illness: professing that it does not define you: ”I don’t want to be… ashamed of anything. And because generally someone who has bipolar doesn’t have just bipolar, they have bipolar and they have a life and a job and a kid and a hat and parents, so it’s not your overriding identity, it’s just something that you have, but not the only thing – even if it’s quite a big thing.”

Many praised her for her openness on the controversial topic. She helped many people identify their own troubles and encouraged people to reach out for help. “When you get [in that mental stats] it’s hard to talk. You are reaching out from such a far away place. What do you say? You don’t want to be a burden and you don’t want to seem like you feel sorry for yourself and it’s humiliating among so many other things.”

Carrie was just 19 when she was cast as Princess Leia in the big budget sci-fi film Star Wars in 1977, the same age her mother Debbie Reynolds was when she got her big break in Singin’ In The Rain. Yes, she was a princess, but despite her please of “Help me Obi Wan Kanobi; you’re my only hope”, this young woman was more than a damsel in distress; she turned into a feminist icon.
 
Yes, she still requires some rescuing, but she grabbed blasters and took part in shoot outs with Stormtroopers, was strong with the Force and was gutsy enough to stand up to Darth Vader (damn scary) in an attempt to save her home planet. And in subsequent films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, she turned from Princess Leia to Commander Leia Organa; a woman in a position of military power, directing rebel briefs and playing a vital role in leading the strategy on defeating the Empire, not just a figurehead.  
 
Star Wars Director, George Lucas said of Carrie Fisher: “She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colourful personality that everyone loved. In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess – feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think.”
 
True, her character was written by Lucas so her feminist words were not strictly hers, but they came from her mouth and she delivered them and enacted the iconic character that so many girls now want to dress up as come Halloween in a white robe with the iconic buns on either side their head. Leia was a distressing damsel rather than a damsel in distress, and now people are petitioning for Disney to make her an official Disney Princess.
 
She truly embraced the role. She once said: “I had a lot of fun killing Jabba the Hutt. They asked me on the day if I wanted to have a stunt double kill Jabba. No! That’s the best time I ever had as an actor. And the only reason to go into acting is if you can kill a giant monster.”
 
It became a role that defined her career. And while she fell of the radar and suffered following her abuse of drugs during and after filming the Star Wars sequels, she became one the most iconic female characters in film. Forget your Disney princesses, this is what a real princess looks like.
 
 

It’s never too late for a comeback

“The curse of Star Wars” is often talked about as many of the actors (with the exception of Harrison Ford) didn’t go on to have sparkling acting careers. While Carrie had success with her writing and had a few small roles in films such as When Harry Met Sally and cameos in television shows like The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock and Sex and the City, her film career never really took off again.

That was until 2014 when Star Wars was rebooted and she returned to the role that made her famous. This reignited her passion for the spotlight, and she began to do press again: going on talk shows and giving interviews. She even wrote her final memoir and was filming scenes for guest starring in British sitcom Catastrophe.

She even shed light on a brief affair she had with Harrison Ford while filming The Empire Strikes Back, when Ford was married, which had remained secret for nearly 40 years. Of course the media sensationalised it: on-set affairs are always salacious gossip – even if it did happen four decades go!

Carrie has filmed scenes for the next Star Wars film, Episode VIII, but there are no questions around how Disney are going to conclude her character’s story in the final film following her early passing. In Star Wars: Rogue One, she made a brief cameo appearance as her 19-year-old self thanks to some CGI trickey. Additionally, Peter Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarkin, despite dying in 1994, by using highly detailed special effects. Perhaps they could do the same for Leia?

She may no longer be with us, but Carrie Fisher’s legacy will live on and we can look forward to seeing her in the next Star Wars instalment and episodes of Catastrophe. Her wit and enthusiasm will be sorely missed. In the words of Carrie Fisher, “There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.” RIP.

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