It is a matter of family legend that my brothers and I owe our lives to George Lucas. To wit, my parents’ first actual date was to see Star Wars: A New Hope (then referred to simply as Star Wars) when it was first released in theaters in 1977. I always thought that my parents saw it together on opening night. I was recently informed that was slightly wrong. My father saw it opening night, and liked it so much he took my mother shortly thereafter. I was not happy to learn this, because I like the “my parents first date was to see Star Wars on opening night” story, and it busts up the rhythm to have to start adding those kinds of clarifications. Still. My parents went to see the film at the very start of their relationship, and I suppose if they hadn’t both liked it so much, I might not have eventually come about some three years later (shortly after the release of The Empire Strikes Back, in point of fact.)
We take our fandoms seriously in my family, so the end result of having parents whose first date was to see A New Hope, and having my earliest memories be around the time that VHS tapes became a thing, is that I literally have no recollection of the first time I saw a Star Wars film. They’ve always been in the background of my life. I can remember bits of what must have been the first time I saw certain films. For example, I can vaguely remember my poor mother had to try to explain incest taboos as a concept when very-small-me became totally distraught upon watching Return of the Jedi and learning that Luke wasn’t going to get the girl. I wanted Luke to get the girl because in my small-children-love-predictable-tropes brain, he was the hero and the hero is supposed to get the princess. I did not take being told otherwise, no sir, I did not.
Why didn’t Luke want Leia? I demanded. (Because she is his TWIN SISTER, my poor mother patiently explained). Well, what did that have to do with anything? (Because people don’t fall in love with their siblings, my mother repeated. I should at this juncture note that I was an only child until I was nearly eleven years old, so the concept of “my siblings are gross” was utterly foreign to me). It took me some considerable time (it felt like years, but I was also around four, so as a practical matter it was probably more like an entire week) for me to come to terms that, for reasons that were totally mystifying, Luke was an idiot and did not want Leia. He had to be an idiot, because it was patently obvious to me that only an idiot would let the other guy, who is not even the hero (read: Han Solo), swoop in and woo Leia out from under him.
Princess Leia was, to my four-year-old mind, all things awesome and perfect and to be aspired to. For years, she was the only example I had of a female character (in any of the male dominated genres I already liked) grabbing the story by the horns and telling it she can rescue her own damn rescuers (since they so plainly needed it), and anyway they are just coming along with her part of the damn plot right now, thank you very much, so sit back and watch how it’s done.And then she did it again. And again. I didn’t just love that she would pick up a blaster (or a chain or the CHAINS OF COMMAND!!!!) and start firing. Though it was TOTALLY AWESOME that kept happening. Little me also loved that she was funny, as much as a small child can understand things like “droll wit” and “devastatingly well-delivered sarcasm.” I loved that she didn’t stand back and let the story stuff her in the fridge to be motivation for the men around her. Even when she sort of was (such as in the “You have a twin sister? If you will not be turned, then perhaps she will!” exchange from Return of the Jedi), do you really think Vader could have broken Leia and forced her to the Dark Side? Not me. I never bought it. He’d done his worst to her once, this father who didn’t even know his own daughter, and she came out of it ready to grab her entire rescue party by their collective ears and drag them along in her considerable wake. I could buy Luke falling while flailing about trying not to make his father’s mistakes. I just couldn’t buy Leia doing it. She simply seemed to know herself too well. And I needed that growing up, so very badly. I was a bullied little girl who was too smart for anyone’s good (least of all her own), while her father’s military service shuffled her all over the globe, and she, me, I, needed a heroine to love, a constant, some character I could look to and go, “There is something I can aspire to be.” Leia gave me that, and again, nothing else would. Not for decades.
So much of my love of Leia came from Carrie Fisher’s performance of her, of her refusal to be another damsel, not if she could help it, of all the vicious wit that would later make her one of the greatest script doctors in Hollywood history and all the grim determination it must have taken to go “you can put me in a chainmail bikini but I can still choke the bastard and have the last laugh, just you watch.” I know that Carrie Fisher grappled to a degree with the character, and I get that. But I hope she knew, by the end of her life, how much that role had meant to little girls like me, to that part of me that grabs all the bullshit life keeps dealing by the jugular and tells it, “No, I don’t think so,” and finds a way to make it work for instead of against me, all of that came from her. That matters. That has value, so much value, and I hope that when she made her peace with the role she came to know that too.
I don’t cry for celebrities. It’s just not in my nature, by and large. I feel sad when an actor whose roles I generally liked dies or an author whose work I’ve loved, but I move on. I was very sad, for example, to hear of Alan Rickman’s death, as I’ve never seen him in a role I didn’t think he was smashing in, and sometimes he was the only saving grace in the whole picture (see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). But I didn’t cry for him, and I’ve been crying off and on for Carrie Fisher since the client who was sitting in my office when the news broke shrieked and dropped their phone and yelled that Leia was dead and then shrieked again because they suddenly realized that Leia was all over my office.
I don’t know what else to say. Death comes for us all and life is a terminal condition, as I often say in my primary line of work as a disability attorney. But I had hoped after the news broke last week of her heart attack on that fateful flight back from London that this crummy year, with so many celebrity deaths, wouldn’t take her too, because I still need her, and I don’t know how to process that she is gone.
Carrie Fisher is one with the Force now. While whatever remains of her may be rolling her eyes in the afterlife at so many broken-hearted fangirls and boys saying that, I hope she knows, too, how much love is behind it, how very much she meant.