I wrote this the night Carrie Fisher died. But my heart hurt too much to finish it. When her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died the next day, I couldn’t put my thoughts to words. So I waited until mother and daughter were laid to rest and put to peace. My heart is broken due to the passing of Carrie Fisher. She was only sixty years old.
I remember when George Harrison died in 2001. As soon as I heard the news I called my dad. I knew he would be upset at the passing of one of his heroes. Of course he was. I grew up knowing how the Beatles impacted his young life and shaped his musical tastes. They played the soundtrack of his world. I didn’t feel grief then, but I had sympathy. I knew that someday I would lose a hero.
It’s another type of rite of passage. It’s another moment that changes us. Maybe people think it’s silly that I should grieve for a celebrity. Especially one I never knew and, sadly, never got to meet. I know Carrie was more than a space princess. She was a fierce warrior for mental health awareness and her openness later in her life about her struggles endeared her further to me. She was a strong writer with a quick wit and a sharp tongue- honest to a tooth. She was funny and crass.
My gateway to Carrie Fisher was Star Wars. Princess Leia was my first idol. She’s been with me my whole life. As a child I often faced difficult dilemmas with the question, what would Leia do? But that character was just words on paper until Carrie brought them to life. And she did.
I am an obsessed Star Wars fan who read all of the (now non-canon) books outside of the movies. And every book I read, when Leia spoke, it was Carrie’s voice I heard in my head. It was her eye rolls and eyebrow raises I saw in my visualizations.
Like a lot of fans, I had all the Princess Leia action figures as a kid and I still have most of them. I played with them liberally, and often all at once. I gave each version of Leia its own personality. Bespin Leia was the most refined and princess-like while Hoth Leia was the tomboy. Endor Leia was the leader/soldier who made all the decisions and Boushh Leia was the I-don’t-follow-orders badass. The original Leia was always my every person, the Dorothy/Alice/Wendy character. In my play they were sisters, navigating the world together.
Early on my favorite was Hoth Leia. I thought her hair was pretty and I liked her outfit. I liked her so much I took her to school for show and tell. My mom told me to keep her in my bag but I didn’t. I lost her in the snow by the mailbox a block away from my house. I was young and foolish enough to wait until the snow melted, assuming I would find her again. I never did, but a decade later, my dad surprised me with a loose version of her he found at a toy show.
I still have her.
My overall favorite by far was Bounty Hunter Leia, dressed as Boushh. I loved her because she was badass. She snuck into Jabba’s Palace and freed Han Solo. For the first time in my young life I watched a Princess save the Rogue Pirate.
It changed my world.
There’s a good book- though no longer canon- called Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry, which takes place immediately preceding Return of the Jedi, following the lengths Leia and Chewbacca went to in order to find and save Han.
Tattoine Ghost by Troy Denning was another good one for me. It follows Leia as she wrestles with the truth of who her father was as she visits other planets, trying to hold the pieces together after the fall of the Emperor.
There are dozens of books of the saga of Han and Leia (and everyone else) including some massive heartache for both of them, and how they struggle through that… together. When the books were dismissed as non-canon before The Force Awakens was released, it was hard for me. I lived the literary timeline with and through them and it got fairly brutal for our heroes. I was in it with them.
But, I am also a Doctor Who fan and I like all things timey-wimey, so a new storyline where some beloved characters are still alive but other ones never existed… I came to terms with it. I can love both versions. It’s more Star Wars world and what can be bad about that?
Last year, along with millions of others, I watched Carrie Fisher breathe new life into Leia, in a new chapter of Star Wars where we learned what happened after Return of the Jedi. I was with her journey, with her heartache. To revisit with my idol in her later years felt like a homecoming. As someone of middle-age, it felt sadly reassuring to find that they had destroyed two Death Stars and saved the Republic, but not even the Princess was assured a happy ending.
After the movie came out I picked up the book Bloodline by Claudia Gray at the local library. It takes place in the new canon-world, between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s Leia-heavy and layered. A lot of the non-canon books brush Leia off as the Princess, the Senator, the Leader of the Republic… always some kind of figurehead, stuck in her position (although in the New Jedi Order series, she trains to earn her own lightsaber). But Bloodline understands Leia’s place in the Star Wars Universe.
She was the bravery and the heart of the Rebellion.
I know that the death of Carrie Fisher doesn’t mean the end of Princess Leia. But it’s the death of her face and her voice and that matters. Leia’s legacy will outlive us all, for a while anyway. I will spend my days grateful to Carrie for gifting me with Leia. I wish her family space to grieve and peace when they find it.
Carrie Fisher herself said, “I like Princess Leia. I like how she handles things. I like how she treats people. She tells the truth. She, you know, gets what she wants done. I don’t have real problem with Princess Leia. I’ve sort of melded with her over time.” May the force be with them both.