My formative years were spent on nerdy endeavors. As such, while other 13-year-old girls were obsessed with boys, clothes and makeup, I was lost in space. I’d found Star Wars, and immersed myself in the universe, from the movies to the novels and games. So I didn’t think twice that Halloween when my mom asked who I wanted to be. The answer was obvious: Princess Leia. The reason? Just as obvious.
“She got to *do* stuff.”
Princess Leia wasn’t waiting in a tower. She wasn’t counting on a prince or a godmother. Maybe Obi-Wan was her only hope, but when Luke, Han, Chewie and the gang showed up to help her, she didn’t let them fight for her. She fought alongside them, armed, capable and cunning, and wasn’t afraid to get dirty. Even as a middle school girl, I recognized just how much more amazing she was because of this. Princess Leia was something better than self-rescuing; someone who recognized they needed help, sought it, and helped the people who helped her.
Of course, Carrie Fisher was more than Princess Leia. Show business was her birthright, some would say, with a pop singer dad, Eddie Fisher, and her widely adored mother, actress Debbie Reynolds. Star Wars launched her, but she held her own as an actress, from When Harry Met Sally to Blues Brothers and her most recent role on the British show, Catastrophe. She was an author, too, who wrote with great wit and honesty. And though successful, she was never afraid to poke fun at herself, or to face the labels put on her. She wasn’t perfect, and would tell you so herself, speaking openly about her shortcomings and struggles, from ill-fated romances to drug use and alcoholism. When diagnosed as bipolar, she became an outspoken advocate for those suffering from mental illness.
Despite all she was, when the bad news hit, I kept coming back to Leia. A princess who fought back. Smart, capable, sarcastic and passionate. Someone who wasn’t going to wait for things to get better or get someone else to do the work, but who was willing to jump in a trash compactor, pull out a blaster and take down a stormtrooper or two.
Carrie Fisher was Leia. All the fire and heart of that character were inside her, and it’s what made that role so iconic and drove so many little girls like me to want to be her. Carrie spoke out. She didn’t simply suffer from bipolar disorder, she embraced her illness and used her position to help others who had mental illness know that they could do anything.
The first and last time I saw Carrie Fisher in person was at Wizard World Chicago this past summer. In just over an hour’s time, she inspired, wryly telling a packed panel audience of her fans that if she could have a successful career, anyone could. She spoke frankly, yet humorously about her own struggles with body image, both in her infamous metal-bikini-clad days and when she returned to her role as Leia for The Force Awakens, while reminding the women in the audience that beauty wasn’t an accomplishment and vanity was a waste of time, at the same time encouraging men to recognize and praise women for their intellect and character while striving for the same traits. As she wrapped up the panel, a young girl, there with her helper dog, approached the mic, and shared her own story of her struggles with severe social anxiety and mental illness. Fisher immediately reached out, delicately and empathetically, inviting the girl to bring her dog to meet Gary Fisher, her twitter prolific French Bulldog. And rather than end the panel “officially,” Fisher simply let the dogs play as she chatted one on one with the girl, finally taking her hand and walking them both backstage, dogs in tow.
Carrie Fisher wasn’t perfect, but she was a survivor. There were times in her life when she needed rescuing. But just like Leia, she wasn’t afraid to ask for help. And when she got it, she didn’t stop fighting. Instead, she became a part of something bigger and used her voice to help those who still needed saving. She taught us to fight, laugh, love, and speak out. That’s how you save the galaxy.
May the force be with us all.