Beyond Leia: A Tribute to Carrie Fisher
This year is already being written into the history books as one where we lost more greats than we can count; David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, amongst many, many others who meant a great deal to a huge number of people. And, of course, there is a sadness that comes with the passing of anyone, especially people who came to hold this sacred place of respect and admiration and joy in the minds of so many of us. But when the news came through an hour or so ago that Carrie Fisher had passed away at sixty, for the first time this year, I felt it; I remembered that feeling, the one that comes when you lose someone who you’ve never met but has meant an almost absurd amount to you over the course of your life.
The first time I encountered Carrie Fisher, I was watching the original Star Wars trilogy, where she plays Princess-and then General- Leia Organa. I can’t remember how old I was, but I knew for sure that I had never seen a woman like this before in the shows and movies I watched. Where Luke and Han wound up caught up in the rebellion tangentially, she was a lifer, a profoundly moral, passionate, and utterly badass freedom fighter with a cause and nothing she would allow to hold her back from pursuing it. She sasses Darth Vader; she murders Jabba the Hutt; she’s the one who contacts Obi-Wan and sets into motion the sequence of events that leads to the Death Star being destroyed. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I didn’t know what feminism what at that point, or that I would come to view Leia as one of those few fictional women I still look up to after decades of pop culture consumption. But I knew I had seen something, someone, special.
Despite my love of Leia, it was years before I sought Carrie Fisher out as a woman in her own right. In a particularly bleak period of my life, I wound up reading some of her writing- Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic, Postcards from the Edge. And in them, I found a woman talking frankly and without romanticism or apology about her mental health problems and her addiction. At a time when women with mental illnesses were being viewed as either tragically romantic or just plain unpleasant, I found this woman who didn’t seem to give a shit what you or I thought of her. She laid her feelings out simply and hilariously and beautifully. I, and many other people, found a kinship with her and the way she presented herself. If, I remember thinking, Leia could get through something like this and still be so charming and funny and downright brilliant, I could probably manage it too.
Now that she’s gone, I feel a genuine grief for her passing; not just because of her work on the iconic Star Wars franchise, but for her compassion, intelligence, and just how hard she worked to destigmatise mental illness and addiction. I don’t want to end this on something as trite as “may the force be with her”, because I think that, more than anything, Carrie Fisher was a force who was with us.