Remembering Carrie Fisher
By Karen Valenzuela, @VictoriaNoir89
Carrie Fisher was an actress, a screenwriter, an author, a comedian, a satirist, a rebel, a feminist, a princess, a general, a fighter…and, as she consistently and courageously reminded us throughout her life in the public eye, she was a person. A person who lived, fell, survived, lived again.
We know her as Princess Leia, later as General Organa. Leia would never have been as influential–powerful as a princess, a woman, and as a human being simultaneously–if Fisher hadn’t been casted. She regularly laced the sweet honey tone of a princess reared in diplomacy and manners with biting sarcasm, through gritted teeth that made us wonder whether the swaggering rogue Han Solo would even survive the day. She was a smart ass and commanding. She was capable and intelligent. When she was captured and enslaved by Jabba the Hutt, they dressed the outspoken rebel princess in an outfit that might have destroyed the dignity of the character if any other actress had adorned the revealing bikini. Instead, she wore it like it was armor. She became Leia the Jabba Slayer. 40 years later, women still walk the halls of science fiction and comic book conventions wearing Leia’s metal bikini as their own set of armor. Little girls make their parents twist their hair into Leia’s legendary buns, one on each side of her head, and like magic, they are infused with the strength to lead a rebellion, the way Leia did.
When Fisher returned for “The Force Awakens” a year ago, she wasn’t the young and somewhat naive but brave and strong princess we knew in the original trilogy. Instead she was a general–General Organa. We saw everything she’d been through in that performance. She was a little more hardened, her skin thickened, beautiful though we saw the misery of losing so much she held dear. Leia was suffering from a great deal of personal loss and she was still leading a rebellion. It’s a reminder that no matter what happens to us personally, the world (or worlds, if you’re in a movie about a war that affects multiple planets) keeps turning. Time marches on. Life continues. There is work to be done, lives to be saved, and an empire to topple.
When the news broke that she’d passed away on Tuesday morning, it wasn’t just a bunch of Star Wars fans on social media who mourned. Everybody has been a Carrie Fisher fan in his or her own way over the last 40 years. Not just because of her role as Princess Leia/General Organa in what will eventually be 5 films in the Star Wars franchise once the untitled 8th episode is released next year. But also because of what she did behind the scenes, off screen. Her script editing credits are expansive, having had a hand in doctoring scripts she rarely got credit for, such as “Hook”, “Sister Act”, “The Wedding Singer”, and “Empire Strikes Back” even.
In her own life, Carrie Fisher was a fighter. She didn’t pull punches. She didn’t shy away from putting her wounds down on the page for everyone to read. She didn’t hide or deflect. She approached her fans, the press, and the public in general with bravery and honesty in a way few in her business ever have.
And she did it with a sincerity that made it hard for even the harshest critic to see her straightforwardness as attention-seeking. Instead, her sincerity made us see her comedy specials, her books, her interviews, even the tweets from her official Twitter page, as what she meant them to be: she wanted to help people. And she did, with irreverence, spontaneity, and honesty. She made us laugh and cry. She inspired us. Sometimes she even made us uncomfortable. The Guardian gave her an advice column called “Ask Carrie Fisher: Advice from the Dark Side” in which she’d give advice to folks reaching out for help. Her last entry was a little under a month ago, when someone asked for advice fighting their own battle against bipolar disorder, a disorder Carrie herself suffered from and talked about quite often. “We have been given a challenging illness,” she wrote, “and there is no other option than to meet those challenges.” She finished her advice with, “Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me what you can do.”
She wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until she was in her mid-twenties. Looking for a way to escape, she fell into a dangerous pattern of substance abuse which she overcame and discussed at length in an effort to help others. Her desire and strength to lift herself out of that, to deal with her mental illness instead of finding ways to escape it, became something she used to inspire others who suffered. We all have failings…we all make mistakes, we all slip. Fisher talked about hers to help others start or continue to heal, while also working to do away with the stigma against mental illness in our society.
“I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you,” she once said. In a world when those who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses feel alone in their situation, like no one around them understands what it means to go through life every single day that way, like everyone misunderstands them at every turn, Carrie Fisher used her far-reaching platform to give others dealing with mental illness hope.
She was a celebrity, always in the public eye from the time she was a child, as the daughter of legendary musical actress Debbie Reynolds. She was constantly in the limelight for decades, and she used that limelight to do good for others, even if some didn’t appreciate her fondness for profanity. She willingly let us in. She let us see her imperfections. She made us all feel less alone with our own imperfections, no matter what those imperfections were. She was so incredibly important.
And she’ll forever be imprinted into history not just as a leader in the rebellion, but as someone who did so much to battle mental illness in herself and help others to do the same. Her legacy will continue to live on. Little girls will continue to fix their hair in cinnamon roll buns and feel the rush of strength and rebellion in their blood.
Though I never knew her personally, she made me–all of us–feel close to her. We were all in on her inside jokes. She never took things too seriously, whether it was her career, her mistakes, or criticism from others. She was accessible. She was warm. She was hilarious. Unflinching in her bravery and honesty, she was our space mom, teaching us how to walk and then to fly in spite of whatever we’re dealing with, and how to laugh when it’s hard to even smile. She understood the impact Leia had on so many people–women especially. She owned it. And she left us with a legacy that will never be replicated.
But Carrie Fisher was also a realist. So we’ll mourn her today, tomorrow, and the days after that. But we’ll also remember her own words about moving through the feelings and meeting her on the other side.
After all, life continues. There is work to be done, lives to be saved, and an empire to topple.