Be nice to the nerd girls today. None of us knew how much this would hurt — the passing of Carrie Fisher — even given a few days of limbo to consider the possibility that after last week’s heart attack, she would no longer be with us.
There are two sides to Carrie Fisher’s presence, for those who have been ardent admirers of the actor and writer for decades. Of course, there’s the iconic role she played as Princess Leia; if you grew up loving “Star Wars,” then you grew up with Leia as the only princess you ever needed in your life.
Sleeping Beauty took naps. Ariel combed her hair with a fork. Leia fought for the rebellion with blaster skills and battle strategy, with no patience for those who might get in her way. Fisher got no shortage of other acting work over the years, of course, but she would always represent, in the eyes of the young women who grew up adoring her, the character who taught us to stand up for what was right.
And then later, when we got to know Carrie Fisher the writer, we got to know where some of that iron spirit came from, as well as the realities of life with mental illness, addiction, and more; about which she was frank, open and funny. From her novels to her memoir work, Fisher’s talent for expressing her inner narrative on the page (or on the stage, in the case of her one-woman show “Wishful Drinking”) meant so much to those struggling with similar issues. And even those of us just dealing with the weirdness and confusion of life that arrives on our doorsteps, so often we could take solace in her clear, strong point-of-view, which accepted the past with a wry smile and looked to the future for something better.
What’s remarkable is that these two sides to her persona have never felt mutually exclusive. The actress and the woman are inseparable, but in the best way. For example, it was Fisher’s wit and intelligence which took one of “Star Wars'” least feminist moments — the infamous Slave Leia bikini from “Return of the Jedi” — and recontexutalized it as yet another instance of why Leia was such a badass:
There’s been some debate recently about whether there should be no more merchandise with you in the “Return of the Jedi” bikini.
I think that’s stupid.
To stop making the merchandise?
The father who flipped out about it, “What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?” Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.
A fascinating essay to examine is a 1999 piece Fisher wrote for Newsweek, in the lead-up to the release of “The Phantom Menace.” In it, she shares an assortment of memories about shooting the original trilogy, along with journal entries she wrote about her crush on Harrison Ford “before it became a trend.” Altogether, it paints a portrait of a woman who’s become completely comfortable with her identity as Leia; a journey that has taken some time, though. There are all sorts of different writers in the world, but the greatest are the ones who can communicate their truest selves through nothing more than words on a page. Fisher did that, and she made the world better by doing so.
In a newly published interview, “BoJack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg told me about his uncertainty about the actual value of storytelling. His feeling was that following the 2016 presidential election, he was having trouble believing whether or not creating art actually mattered when it came to affecting real change in the world. “What kind of stories do we want to be telling right now? Is this the best use of any of our time?” he mused.
During that conversation, a good answer to his hypothetical question eluded me because, after all, maybe a “Star Wars” movie can’t sway a political climate. But thinking about it now, a story can, perhaps, sway a person. Especially if the storyteller has the strength and honesty to tell something true.
In both the stories she told about her life and the stories she represented as a fictional icon, Carrie Fisher taught us that girls could fight, girls could fail, and that we could rise up again; that we could own our lives, and take ownership over our stories.
And in that way, Carrie Fisher’s own story will never end.