Who could forget the very first time we heard the sound of a lightsaber or the cool factor one gets from being a Jedi? What about that moment when we all felt the rush of podracing with Anakin Skywalker through the sands of Tatooine, and the fear we experienced every time we heard Darth Vader’s theme? The Star Wars movie franchise was a phenomenon that wasn’t just made for die-hard fans — it was a film made for anyone looking for something new, for a thrill that was beyond what we were all familiar with.
Growing up, I’ll never forget collecting Star Wars stickers that came with Chupa Chups lollipops. I remember putting Darth Vader stickers on my brother’s closet because as a young girl I found both of them to be evil. I placed a Han Solo sticker on my father’s office desk thinking that they were both my heroes. I even placed a Princess Leia sticker on my bedside table, but I don’t remember why I put it there. I never really got into Star Wars the way my brothers and my cousins did, but I did enjoy it. From the countless sleepovers and marathons that we’ve had, I remember being drawn towards Carrie Fisher and what she made of Princess Leia.
There was something innately amusing about her character that I can’t pinpoint. Perhaps it’s because she always gave a verbal smacking to anyone that called her a princess or a sweetheart; or maybe it was because she rocked that donut hair like no one else could. Fisher’s portrayal of Leia made me — and thousands of others — love her character.
Despite the goofiness, Princess Leia was also very stern and strong. She never backed down and continued to fight. She fought stormtroopers the first time we met her, and during the later films saved Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. As the franchise and the story progressed, Fisher also showed a certain tenderness to one of the Rebel Alliance’s greatest leaders. Despite constantly arguing with Han, she was still able to show her concern for him. The smile she gave him during the medal ceremony in A New Hope was enough to give anyone the feels.
Last year, she came back as General Organa (or: the most badass Star Wars character to date) in The Force Awakens. As writer Anne Theriault puts it, “When I see Fisher as General Organa, I see a woman who has put up with so much shit from so many men and yet keeps showing up for them. I see a woman changed by loss but not destroyed. I see a brilliant commander with good people skills & tactical knowledge.”
Fisher too was a fighter in real life. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she became the voice of many others who have suffered from mental illnesses. She helped those unaware and uninformed about mental health understand; and empowered those who are dealing with it. She was a light to those who were in the dark. In her book Wishful Drinking, she said, “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, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” Her struggles changed her, and she put them in writing to help those who feel like they don’t have anyone to turn to. Fisher was a strong female hero who was right in front of us both in real life and on screen.
Maybe that’s why 12-year-old me and many others loved Princess Leia so much. We were looking to be like her: strong, outspoken, and compassionate. She may be resting well now, but her spirit as Carrie Fisher and General Organa remain with us. May the force be with you, Carrie, as you’ve always shared the force with us.