In her 2008 autobiography Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher, after a particularly wonderful anecdote regarding George Lucas’ aversion to the notion of underwear in space, took it upon herself to pen her own obituary. Fisher wrote–in an extract that has made the rounds more than a few times in the last week or two–that, “no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
It’s a statement that encapsulates Fisher perfectly: witty, beautiful, and utterly fierce. That tinge of sarcasm is unmistakable, but there’s a truth present somewhere in those words too; they’re the words of a woman who lived and died not only by the force of her own character, not only by her femininity–but by the stars.
You probably know her story. Her parents were entertainers. She wrote poetry as a teenager. Her career in film began in 1975, with the little-known Warren Beatty film Shampoo. Later, she went on to make appearances in dozens of films, ranging from The Blues Brothers to When Harry Met Sally… to Hook. She struggled with demons, chiefly bipolar disorder and drug addiction.
To the wider world, though, she was Leia. George Lucas, when casting Star Wars, chose Fisher over a long list of young actresses, which included names such as Jodie Foster and Terri Nunn. It was a role which brought down upon her an avalanche of expectations and problems. For one, she was told to lose ten pounds for the role. She was also made to tape down her breasts because of Lucas’ fears that she would come off as “too aggressively feminine,” according to Brian Jay Jones, Lucas’ biographer. And then, of course, there was the whole underwear thing. Many would be crushed by what Fisher was faced with, but, rather than capitulate, she instead went on to become an icon. Only fans of Star Wars can truly know what she meant to fans of Star Wars, in much the same way that only women can truly know what she did for women, or how only her beloved pooch Gary can possibly know all that she did for dog-kind.
Star Wars begins with many villains and few heroes. Luke is young and green, Obi-Wan is too old, living in exile, and Han wants nothing other than a payday. Vader and Tarkin, meanwhile, tighten their grip on the galaxy in the Emperor’s name. Leia, though, is a fighter. She represents the Rebellion for much of the film–she sends the Death Star plans to Obi-Wan, she refuses to give up the location of the base on Yavin IV, she rescues her rescuers from cell block 1138. In subsequent films, she helps lead the defence of Hoth, saves Luke on Bespin, kills Jabba the freakin’ Hutt, fights on Endor, single-handedly leads the Resistance against the First Order and now, we know, was even present at the Battle of Scarif. General Leia was a bona fide badass–Fisher herself in all but name and circumstance–but her impact on the real world is every bit as magnificent as her impact on the Star Wars galaxy.
The list is long and the accomplishments are many. She was, of course, the ultimate role model for women. I’m in no position to know or explain much about this, having only watched from afar her impact on the lives of young women. Just because you haven’t experienced it, however, doesn’t mean you can’t see it in others. In A New Hope she was no damsel in distress. She needed rescuing, sure, but does Leia swoon and fall into the arms of her rescuers, as so many others have throughout cinema history? Did she hell. She sassed them into oblivion, took up a blaster and fought some stormtroopers. Outside of Star Wars too, her brazen outspokenness and unashamed honesty–in the media, in her writing, and in real life–was nothing short of inspirational, and was all too rare for women in Hollywood for far too long.
Her candour regarding the issues that plagued her was as crucial as any film role, too. She suffered from bipolar disorder, but spoke freely and frankly about it–one of the first of few in a world where mental illness is still, to this day, highly stigmatised. She offered advice in the Guardian in November 2016 about living with the disorder, and, in the same year, received Harvard College’s Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism for “her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness, and agnosticism.” She even, for a time, helped James Blunt work through his PTSD.
So, she represented a lot, but there’s a common theme to all of it: Carrie Fisher was a fighter. She fought space fascists, drug addiction, mental illness and sexism, and she didn’t just fight for herself–she fought for other people, too. She became the face of rebellion on-screen and off; a woman who could show others how to fight; that they can fight at all. Yes, she had her demons, because everybody does. The best thing we can take from her life, however, is the lesson that, above all else, those demons are worth fighting. And if you ever manage to defeat them, whatever they may be, you’ll walk over to them, stand tall above them–and then give them the middle finger. Because that’s what Carrie would do.