I often note that I was 10-years-old when “Star Wars” came out, which was a prime time for me to get sucked into that galaxy far, far away.
It was also a great time to learn that women can be just as strong and effective people and leaders as men.
A lot has been made of the female leads in the last two “Star Wars” movies: Daisy Ridley’s Rey in “The Force Awakens” and Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso in “Rogue One.” But they are following in the footsteps of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa, who led the Rebel Alliance in dealing the Galactic Empire multiple defeats in what we now know as Episodes IV through VII of the “Star Wars” series.
True, her character may have been couched in some damsel-in-distress conventions in the course of the original trilogy, but she always quickly shook them off, staring down Darth Vader, grabbing a blaster in her own defense, choking Jabba the Hutt and making grave, risky decisions as battles were launched. And she had some of the best lines: “You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought,” she said, seeing the bucket of bolts that was her future beau’s pride-and-joy, the Millennium Falcon; “Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?” “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
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My friend Shannon Cline may have put it best on Facebook: “RIP Carrie Fisher. Thanks for showing me, when I was a very little girl, what a real princess is.”
It is a sad irony that “Rogue One” gave us a reminder of the Leia we all met for the first time back in 1977 just days before Fisher was felled by a heart attack that ultimately took her life at age 60.
Fisher was just 19 when she started the “Star Wars” series, but as we got to know her in later years, it was clear there was a lot of Fisher in Leia, who eventually went from princess to general.
While she came from Hollywood royalty, as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actor Debbie Reynolds, she did not go for a leading lady career, making her career outside of “Star Wars” with quirky character roles, becoming the bestselling author of “Postcards from the Edge” and “Surrender the Pink” and other books, as well as gaining a reputation as a skillful script doctor in Hollywood.
Fisher was part of the judging panel on the 2007 Fox reality-competition series “On the Lot,” which I followed because Winchester’s Jason Epperson was one of the directors in the running, and it struck me that she was exactly what I expected: smart, witty, uncompromising — as I recall, she gave Epperson’s first effort a scathing critique — and ultimately fair. It was an impression that started to be forged in those first “Star Wars” movies.
For many of us, Fisher was probably our first movie star crush and if we now take it as a given that women can be strong, independent leaders and fully faceted people, a little credit has to go to the fact we grew up watching Carrie Fisher play Princess Leia.
Her appearance in “The Force Awakens” was one of the moments that took fans’ breath away, and there is one more turn as Leia in the can for next year’s “Episode VIII.” It will be a bittersweet farewell to an actor and a character who had a huge influence far beyond that distant galaxy, right here on Earth.