It’s weird that one of the most iconic images of Carrie Fisher is a depiction of her Star Wars character, Leia Organa, being held as a slave. Everyone is familiar with Leia, furious, trapped scared and sexy in a gold bikini – it’s harder to picture her killing her captor, Jabba the Hutt, immediately afterwards. We refer to Fisher’s character Princess Leia, not General Leia or Agent Leia, although all of these titles apply. It’s reductive, it’s infuriating, but perhaps it’s not wholly bad. As little girls, we’re primed to search for princesses. By the time many of us first encounter Star Wars, we’ve already swallowed the message that there’s only ever one girl in the movie. We learn to look for these icons of femininity and use them to work out who we’re going to be. Yet Fisher’s Leia was a feminist Trojan horse. When I first became aware of Star Wars, I wanted to be a girl in a gold bikini. Now, thanks to Fisher, I want to be a badass. That’s her legacy.
Personally Star Wars isn’t my favourite part of Fisher’s great body of work – even though the lady herself told Web MD “I am Princess Leia, no matter what. If I were trying to get a good table, I wouldn’t say I wrote Postcards [From the Edge, her best-selling novel]. Or, if I’m trying to get someone to take my check and I don’t have ID, I wouldn’t say: “Have you seen [When] Harry Met Sally?” Princess Leia will be on my tombstone.” As an actor, she was consistently compelling, and her performance as Sally’s best friend Marie in When Harry Met Sally shows the woman at her wittiest. She might not be the obvious star of the movie, but Marie has all the best lines. I can’t imagine anyone but Fisher doing justice to Nora Ephron’s script. “You’ll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that someone else is married to your husband,” is delivered with such assured, sardonic calm that Fisher could have written it herself. I think that writing is what Fisher did best.
She showed me that it’s better to be flawed and funny than perfect but silent; that warmth and intelligence will serve you better than beauty and fame
Her first novel, Postcards From The Edge, is a semi-autobiographical story of an actress going through rehab for drug addiction, and trying to piece her life back together. It is one of the funniest, darkest and most elegantly written books I have ever read. Fisher proves herself to be the equal – for my money, the superior – of late 20th century greats like Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. I suspect that Fisher, like Ephron, was never fully appreciated as a literary heavyweight because she wrote about women and relationships.
Fisher wrote several screenplays including the adaptation of Postcards From The Edge, as well as working on Sister Act, Last Action Hero and The Wedding Singer. I thought I was a fan, but the more I read, the more I realise that I haven’t come close to even fully comprehending Fisher’s entire body of work. She died far too soon, but she created her own cultural canon, contributing more than most of us could manage over several lifetimes.
However, Fisher didn’t stop at being a novelist, actor and screenwriter. She was a revolutionary. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her twenties, she was radically open and honest about her struggles with depression and drug use. When women are under constant pressure to be perfect, and encouraged to look to Hollywood to find inspiration on how to attain that perfection, Fisher’s honesty was explosive. This year, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism prize from the Harvard Humanist Hub. The organisation commented, “Her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”
Right now, a growing body of writers are exploring painful, personal topics with honesty and humour, and everyone who shares their work is making their readers feel a little bit better, and more understood. I simply wouldn’t have the courage to write if it wasn’t for Fisher; gorgeous, glamorous – yet smart enough to speak out and tell us that nothing is as it seems on screen. She showed me that it’s better to be flawed and funny than perfect but silent. That warmth and intelligence will ultimately take you further and serve you better than beauty and fame. That you can laugh at yourself and stay strong, if you’re the one telling the joke.
She was an iconic princess, but a true Queen. We’re so lucky that she shared so much of herself and left an awesome body of work for us to explore. It was a privilege to live in the same galaxy as her. I shall miss her very much.