Leia was the best of the Skywalkers by a parsec: not only did she overcome an unimaginable amount of pain, but she championed freedom and democracy with Padmé’s political savviness and Shmi’s resilience through the darkest times. When Leia became one with the Force, she left behind a fully-formed Resistance ready to save the day. It would have been easy to make Princess Leia a classic space damsel in distress, but George Lucas avoided this trope by making Leia’s sarcasm and ingenuity rise as her situation becomes direr.
In 2016, Carrie Fisher published The Princess Diarist, a book that was half-memoir and half-collection of her journal entries from 1977. While the main selling point of the book was the confirmation that she’d had a short-lived affair with Harrison Ford, (“It should have been Mark,” she says), she also brings the reader into the fun and chaos of being a young actor filming an under-the-radar sci-fi flick in London, and the shock felt when it became a world sensation.
“We’d done this little low-budget film. They’d even flown us economy to our location in London to save money, and we lived off a per diem that came nowhere near the vicinity of luxurious. We’d done a cool little off-the-radar movie directed by a bearded guy from Modesto. A thing like that wasn’t going to make people want to play with a doll of you, was it? It was one movie. It wasn’t supposed to do what it did – nothing was supposed to do that. Nothing ever had. Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.”
Fisher reflected on how everyone loved Leia — both men and women — although for slightly different reasons. As an action princess, she provided a much-needed feminine role model for little geekettes and became a representation of all the great things that a woman could be — golden-bikini notwithstanding, an outfit that she hated with a passion. In Return of the Jedi, she felt very exposed, and she had to sit very straight for a very long time so that it would look good on camera. However, the golden bikini brought her some joy later in life, when she was doing convention rounds. “My favorite [costume] to see is the metal bikini — on men! That is what has been happening a lot. A lot.” she said to NPR.
Later in life, Carrie became a script doctor. She even helped Rian Johnson to hit the right notes in The Last Jedi. “I would go to her house,” Johnson said. “We would sit on her bed for hours and go through the scripts. I would just scribble on my script everything she said, and at the end of six hours, there would be like a four-word line of dialogue that was the distillation of all of that that was brilliant.”
The Last Jedi would be Carrie Fisher’s last film. She passed away on December 27th, 2016, long before The Rise of Skywalker started filming. J.J. Abrams completed the movie by unearthing cut scenes from The Force Awakens. When Leia became one with the Force, she left behind a fully-trained Resistance led by Poe and Rey to carry her legacy.
Carrie Fisher had a different idea about how she wanted to go. In Wishful Drinking, she remembered George Lucas’ insistence that nobody could wear bras in space, because the lack of gravity would cause the bra to choke the wearer. “Now I think that this would make a fantastic obit- so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
She was joking, of course — Fisher joked about everything and everyone. This sense of humor helped her open up about her personal fight with bipolar disorder, depression, and substance addiction, combating the stigma around these issues. “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, its something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
But the most touching insight about Carrie and Leia’s impact came from her daughter, Billie Lourd (Lieutenant Kaydel Connix in the films):
“She used to say that in the original movies, she got to be “the only girl in an all-boys fantasy.” But with each new Star Wars movie, the all-boys fantasy started to become a boys-and-girls fantasy. She was no longer a part of a fantasy, but the fantasy herself. Leia was not just a sidekick one of the male leads had on his arm, or a damsel in distress. She was the hero herself. The princess became the general.”
This part of her legacy is explored in the documentary series Looking for Leia, an homage not only to Carrie Fisher but also to all the fans that would have never been a part of Star Wars if Leia hadn’t existed, and how their presence changed a galaxy far, far away into a better, more inclusive place, worth fighting for.
Leia Organa and Carrie Fisher's presence changed a galaxy far, far away into a better, more inclusive place, worth fighting for.