There’s a brief, but powerful moment in The Last Jedi where Leia, the storied Princess turned General, stands alone in a cold expanse. Behind her, in the dark, her defenses are at their weakest. Ahead, trouble quickly approaches. Despite these dire straits, Leia keeps her eyes fixed on the horizon, ready to meet what comes. Though this sequence only lasts mere seconds, the quiet intensity of the scene serves as a perfect cinematic portrait not only of the iconic character, but also of the incomparable woman who portrayed her.
I’ve been thinking about Carrie Fisher a lot lately. Naturally, the release of the new Star Wars film has contributed to this fact, but also the knowledge that this December 27th marks a full year since her passing.
Like many kids of my generation, Star Wars was always sort of pop culturally omnipresent in my life. As is the nature of such zeitgeist behemoths, it was almost impossible to not be held in its thrall: I remember clutching my Ewok stuffed animal tight while watch the original movies on VHS and recall getting swept up in the fever pitch leading up to the release of the prequels. Even if tangentially, there’s something magical about bearing witness to a piece of storytelling that has touched so many lives. And, as someone who has since devoted his own life to storytelling, it’s a phenomenon I cannot help but admire.
That being said, in comparison to the far more dedicated members of the fandom, I would definitely consider myself a casual participant in the world of Star Wars. For no better reason than often the interference of life, my attention to the franchise has occasionally waned here and there over the years, though I have never forgotten my appreciation for its innate magic. However, the one thing that has never waned is my appreciation for the galaxy’s grand dame: Carrie Fisher.
Like many, my first introduction to Carrie Fisher was as Princess Leia. I always liked this rebel rouser who, even while the men were attempting to mount a rescue mission, would invariably rescue herself. As a little boy who grew up with the male-driven media of my generation, Leia broke the mold of merely being a damsel in distress. She took charge, she fought back, she stood defiant. In a galaxy that didn’t necessarily believe in her or her form of rebellion, she believed in herself.
…and though I didn’t realize it at the time, as a little queer kid growing up in small town America, she was exactly what I, and so many others, needed to see.
Granted, Leia’s agency notwithstanding, it was actually Fisher’s life beyond the galaxy far, far away that left the most profound impact on me. I’ve been an avid reader most of my life, and when I was in high school, I picked up a copy of Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge at a bookstore by happenstance. I had heard of the movie, but honestly may not have even thought to get the book had it not been on sale. Luckily, being a broke student led to me discovering something that, in a way, changed my life.
Within the pages of Postcards was a tale, not of space, but of the intricacies of humanity. Of the tragic flaws that exist within all of us, the cracks in our relationships, and the struggles to overcome the darkness we create for ourselves. It was a raw, honest work.
…and it was also funny as hell.
I read that book multiple times and, for the better part of a year, carried it in my backpack wherever I went. I was taken with Fisher’s engagement of humor and her ability to take those things that hurt us most, lay them bare, and choose to laugh in their face. Not only was this the essence of her writing, I suspect it was the essence of her being. For a kid and would-be writer who had lived solely on a diet of Stephen King (another big influence) up to that point, Fisher gave me a whole new perspective on how to engage with telling stories and revealed that sometimes our Achilles Heel is also our greatest strength.
From that point forward, I devoured Fisher’s novels. Consistently, Carrie Fisher willingly showed us her scars and helped us understand that scars were okay. She taught us that sometimes the rebellion had to begin with us getting over our own selves and learning to love what we saw in the mirror.
In January 2017, I attended the Women’s March in Los Angeles. At that point, Fisher’s passing was still relatively recent and on the minds of fans across the world. Still, as I walked through the streets among the hundreds of thousands who gathered that day, I was overwhelmed by how often I saw the visage of Leia adorning signs and imagery. I couldn’t help but be amused to discover that with her death, like a Jedi Master, Carrie Fisher had only become stronger. As a symbol of rebellion and a beacon of hope, Leia had transcended the confines of a movie franchise to become iconography of a larger ideal. I have zero doubts that Carrie Fisher’s commitment to unapologetically living out loud helped contribute to this rise. Surely there would be those who would criticize use of Fisher’s image for such purposes due to her storied personal struggles. However, I would argue that, in conjunction with Leia, it makes Fisher all the more perfect for such a cause. Carrie Fisher owned her flaws. She put them on display. She showed the world that the dents in our armor are often what save us.
When her defenses were weak, she kept her eyes on the horizon, even if trouble was coming.
No one is without their weaknesses, but it takes a special person to not only laugh at them, but makes us laugh too.
As of the time of this writing, Carrie Fisher has been gone a year. And while I can’t speak to whether she’s become one with The Force, I do know that she was a force…
…and sometimes that’s all the spark you need to light the fire.
Rest in Peace, Princess. General. Queen.