In 1987 the novel Postcards From The Edge came out and I thought, I’d like to read that, even though at the time all I was reading was science fiction and a semi-autobiographical story of a recovering drug addict was about as far from that as I could get. Except it was by Carrie Fisher, and that intrigued me. Sure, in my mind she was and would always be Princess Leia, but it was fascinating to think of her as a real person, independent of the part she played. Unfortunately I didn’t read it then; maybe I should now.
Like a lot of my generation I was a Star Wars fan. Like a lot of my friends I had, among other things, all the action figures, including Princess Leia. Most of my friends were boys and while in those days it might have seemed a little strange for a boy to have a female action figure in his collection Princess Leia was cool. Part of that was the way she was written George Lucas is a director who’s known for not giving his actors a lot of direction at least part of it is what Carrie Fisher herself brought to the role.
In fact one of the most disappointing things about the original Star Wars trilogy is the gradual decline of Princess Leia. She starts off a sharp, sarcastic, laser-shooting warrior princess, but by Return Of The Jedi, even though it’s revealed she’s got as much Jedi potential as her brother Luke, her personality diminishes even as her outfits multiply. The irony of Star Wars is that a light fantasy film about the defeat of an empire would become a sprawling empire of its own, and the tough, witty, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” Princess Leia would be one of the first casualties.
I think I missed that partly because I was a guy and partly because I was such a Star Wars fan, but it hit me many years ago when one of the cable channels was running a marathon of what were, at the time, the only three Star Wars films. This was post-VHS, pre-DVD, and very definitely pre-Phantom. Between commercials there were segments of Carrie Fisher offering up comments. During a Jedi-break, just as Luke, Han, and Chewie were about to be tossed into the Saarlac pit, Fisher said on set she’d improvised a line: “Don’t worry about me guys! I’ll be fine!” She then smiled and said, “I’m really glad to see George left it in.”
That’s when I realized Carrie Fisher was funny. I should have realized it earlier. I remember staying up late to see her host Saturday Night Live–the only member of the main cast to do so. And I’d be reminded of how funny she could be when I heard about non-Star Wars things she was doing, like her one-woman show Wishful Drinking. The strong, independent, and funny Princess Leia from the first film seemed to be the closest to Carrie Fisher herself, and that would be the character who’d influence strong, independent, and funny women who followed, like Tina Fey who wrote a great tribute.
Even now I kind of have mixed feelings about it, and I wonder how she herself felt. She was extremely talented but nothing else she did ever matched that first success. And yet that amazing success is more than most actors will ever know. Princess Leia helped bring down an empire, but the woman who played her helped build one.