You don't get rich by writing cheques, and you don't become the world's biggest entertainment company without having a tough, nimble team of lawyers at your beck and call. Lawyers who, for better or worse, have had their workload hugely affected by the death of Carrie Fisher.
Fisher's death in late December was a tragedy for her family and a harsh bruise on the people, globally, who loved her. But it also presents a problem for Disney, who acquired Lucasfilm and hence all Star Wars properties in 2012. How will the death of their employee affect their franchise, which Fisher still played a huge part in? How, in essence, do you make Star Wars without Leia?
Fisher's likeness as the young Leia appeared in the final frames of Rogue One, which presumably had Fisher's approval, considering filming occurred before her death. Disney's concern now is whether they can use Leia footage for future Star Wars projects, which will presumably go on until the end of time.
Meanwhile, a Change.org petition to turn Leia into an official Disney princess has had signatures from over 30,000 fans. “After the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher, we feel that it is only fitting for Disney to do away with the rule that an official Disney princess must be animated,” the petition addressing CEO Bob Iger reads. “This would be a wonderful way to remember Carrie and a welcoming to one of Disney’s new properties that is beloved by millions.”
There are, of course, already reactions to both these news items. Most of the women I know are disgusted at the idea of Carrie Fisher being paraded alongside Belle and Ariel, whereas others love the idea of their daughters seeing Leia as a hero. To some women, Disney princess is an honour, bestowed only on the very brave and the very best of women. They see bow-slinging Princess Merida from Brave, or fierce Mulan, or powerful Elsa. For others, they see a narrow, damaging stereotype – another box for women to fail to fit into for the simple error of not being imaginary. They see the waspy waist of Aurora and the bland domesticity of Cinderella and they shudder.
It’s not up to me or you or anyone, really, to decide whether being a Disney princess is a compliment or a profound insult
It’s not up to me or you or anyone, really, to decide whether being a Disney princess is a compliment or a profound insult. The only thing that seems to have got lost in the argument – both around Disney’s legal conundrum and the princess problem – is that Carrie Fisher is not Princess Leia.
We should have to remind ourselves of that, but it seems to have been forgotten. Carrie Fisher was an actress who once played a character called Princess Leia. That character belongs to Disney, a major corporation that is free to do with that character as it wishes. If Disney were to decide that Princess Leia is to be deaf or blonde or Chinese, they are absolutely within their rights to do so. If they decide to take a James Bond approach to Princess Leia and swap her for someone else every five years, they can do that, too. Carrie Fisher’s legacy will not change.
There is nothing that you can do to Princess Leia that will change anything that Carrie Fisher did. Princess Leia cannot un-write Postcards From The Edge. Princess Leia cannot re-cast When Harry Met Sally.
Intellectually, you know this makes sense. You’re probably whispering, “Duh” at your screen right now, reading this completely obvious sentiment with total disdain. But I genuinely think that people have a very hard time with this and I predict that, in a couple of years, when they get Jane Fonda or Idris Elba or whoever to play Princess Leia, people will call it an affront to Fisher’s memory. But it won’t be – it will just be a company deciding to do something new with their highly popular and profitable character. And y’know what? Carrie Fisher knew that.
“You always act the heroine; I snort the stuff in the feeble attempt to dim the glare of your intense, intergalactic antics,” Fisher wrote in 2014. ‘You take the glory; I give way to age. You: so physically well and well-meaning it makes me mentally ill — well, something does, anyway. While you fight the dark side with your light, white ways, I'm in the sarlacc pit, covered in Jabba's vile body fluids. Will it ever end? It probably won't, but I will. I'm pretty sure I will. My sequels will finally, blessedly stop, while yours will define and absorb an age.”
Carrie Fisher was too big and bright a personality to need our protection or our arguments over what should or shouldn’t be done with Princess Leia. Carrie is not Leia, and Leia is not Carrie.
The only thing that would be an affront to Carrie Fisher’s memory is to let the intense glare of intergalatic antics be the sum of her existence. To forget her books, or her jokes, or her work for mental illness. To fool yourself into thinking that Carrie would give even one shit about what Disney does.
“Whatever Leia’s has been or will be,” Fisher finishes. “Carrie’s will be, at least periodically, dwarfed and disappointing, riddled with self-pity, old and over-exposed, rendered sad and irrelevant in comparison with her counterpart's rich and uninterrupted adventures.”