Editor note: Yesterday, the world learned the news that Carrie Fisher had died after suffering a major heart attack last week. She was an important part of many lives, including those here at FANgirl. Over the next week, some of us will share the impact she made on our lives.
“I’m not really one of those actresses like Meryl Streep. Those actresses travel outside themselves and play characters. And I’m more of an archaeologist. I play what I am. I dig what I can. It’s a character that’s not too far from myself, except I don’t have any laser guns.” — Carrie Fisher to Good Housekeeping UK
by Kristin Baver
If Carrie Fisher had her way, the obituaries Tuesday would have stated, as she once joked, that she died “drowned in moonlight and strangled by (her) own bra.”
The woman who was inextricably linked to Princess Leia Organa had an acerbic wit and bawdy sense of humor that she employed mercilessly to call out Hollywood’s misogynistic double standards and poke fun at her own seriously debilitating struggles with addiction and mental illness.
By all counts, the real Fisher wasn’t far off from her space opera counterpart, and maybe it was that authenticity that turned the Alderaan royal into an indomitable force in a franchise populated mostly by men, an outlier who still managed to be an equal, and a shining example for an entire generation of little girls and boys who saw the feisty rebel and realized we didn’t have to conform to the standard fairytale tropes.
In Fisher’s hands, Leia was at once formidable and feminine, proving that one need not choose between gender norms and stereotypes when it was possible to forge your own path, picking and choosing from both sides to live on your own terms.
Her elaborately coiffed hair and fine floor-length gown did not preclude her from shooting her way into a garbage chute and diving to safety. Leia refused to be relegated to love interest, sex symbol, or in later years, maternal figure. She was all of those things, yes, but so much more: a complex character who had just as much to offer as the rest of the core ensemble, regardless of her gender, a vital cog in the fight to restore freedom to the galaxy.
The royal rebel senator showed admirable leadership from her first moments on screen in A New Hope when she safely stows the Death Star plans with R2-D2 then prepares to essentially go down with her ship and willfully become a prisoner of the Empire. Leia was gutsy and fiercely intelligent, staring down Darth Vader and plenty of other opponents and allies while never letting on if she was intimidated.
She was unabashedly and uniformly outspoken, an expressive heroine who upended stereotypes, immediately taking charge of her own rescue mission inside the Death Star and later literally strangling the slimy slug who would try to debase her.
Leia was grounded by her own virtuous beliefs and hope for the Rebel Alliance, putting the greater good ahead of all else. She never stopped fighting for what was right and it was a mistake to think that even something as devastating as annihilating her home world would be enough to slow her down. Indeed, upon arriving at the Rebel base at Yavin 4, the first person to offer condolences is met with her clipped, no nonsense reply: “We have no time for our sorrows, commander.” Leia could be brusque, but she was still vulnerable and kind, a fully-formed, realistic and capable young woman who happened to be hell-bent on surviving.
Leia vanquished the idea that princesses (or anyone for that matter) got a happily ever after free of hardship, but she remained as ever self-reliant, bold, and capable in her later years. By The Force Awakens, the now founding general of the Resistance has lost everything once more and continues to fight, undeterred and unrelenting even if it means rallying against her own son.
Fisher was so much more than her role in Star Wars, but through her character she captivated an audience for four decades and showed us the truth — that we could be so much more than the demure damsel in distress, powerless and relegated to sitting around waiting for help to arrive.
And for that, all I can say is: thank you, your worship.
Kristin Baver is a feminist and lifelong sci-fi geek who puts her journalism skills to good use as a regular contributor at StarWars.com and other internet venues. Follow her @KristinBaver.