2016 has taken a lot of greats, with only a few days to go it got its claws on another; on December 27, aged 60, Carrie Fisher died. As an actor in one of the most enduring franchises of all time, she holds a special place in public consciousness; it’s hard to meet anyone who doesn’t identify her as Princess Leia.
Star Wars holds different meanings for different people – for me, it’s pure escapism. Four years ago, I was on an island in Thailand with my family. I’d had food poisoning for the previous two days and was now in the middle of a three-day downpour; the beach seemed like a distant memory. At the front desk of the hotel we were marooned in, there was a bookshelf full of old DVDs that guests could borrow, including worn copies of the original Star Wars trilogy. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for it but thrust all three under my arm and sprinted back to my room. After days of being bed ridden, I opted not to watch the movie from beneath the covers. I rotated the T.V so it faced out to the balcony and ran the hot tub that had been eying me up ever since we’d arrived. It was a ridiculous affair, with coloured lights and jets that made you feel like you were in a theme park, but it made the viewing feel like an event. I put the miniature bottles of bath bubbles to good use and poured three vanilla ones in, the sickly sent piggybacking on the hot air to billow out. I climbed into the foamy mass with the booming sound of John Williams’ score marking the occasion. After days of staring at the inside of a toilet bowl, it felt pretty good. I watched the whole of New Hope in there and was a wrinkly mess afterwards, with fingers that were decorated in mini craters. But I was hooked, I watched all three that day. Sure, it was Harrison Ford’s swagger that had me transfixed, but it was also the profound sincerity of Leia, the no-bullshit Rebel Princess. She was light years away from how I felt. One of the really special things about her is that she’s become so much more than that symbol of composure.
2015’s The Force Awakens meant that Fisher sprung back into the spotlight in a major way. Now, as a woman in her late fifties with an offbeat sense of humour and a canine with a sideways lolling tongue, Fisher represented a new sort of candidness: it was okay to ask her about her mental health problems; she wrote openly about her love affair with Harrison Ford in her 20s; it was well received when she went on chat shows representing a billion-dollar franchise and laughed at the idiocy of people asking her questions about her weight. She was utterly charming.
She was also open about the effect that being marketed as sex-symbol had on her life. Fisher didn’t exactly warm to the infamous gold bikini from the offset, claiming it made her nervous and uncomfortable and she urged Daisy Ridley not to go down the sex-symbol path. Of her captor in the scene, she said:
“What redeems it is I get to kill him, which was so enjoyable … I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with. I really relished that because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him.”
For others however, the gold bikini holds different meanings. I listened to a podcast from Adam Buxton where he interviews Caitlin Moran and talks to her about feminism. He tells her that his daughter, who at the time was five years old, had watched Star Wars and thought that the gold bikini was actually a really nice dress and then when Leia got rescued she should have asked if she could keep wearing it because it was so lovely. The conversation between Buxton and his daughter was turned into an animation which you can watch here:
Buxton tries to suggest it’s not very nice for men to make women dress that like, she ignores that. For all the negative elements of that costume moment, if a young girl looks at her and thinks she looks pretty awesome, then that’s okay. That image of Fisher in a gold bikini is a permanent staple in pop culture one that she didn’t necessarily choose, but so too is the Carrie Fisher in her 50’s: the witty, steadfast ball of energy who reclaimed her public image. She’ll also be treasured for giving fans General Organa, aka Leia grown up good.
For many, it will be her openness about mental health that will be remembered most. At the age of 24, she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and included details of it in her three memoirs. She’s someone that the word hope is now closely linked to, it’s timely that she should utter the word in Rogue One.
A day after Fisher’s death, her mother Debbie Reynolds died. Allegedly her last words were “I want to be with Carrie.”