The Legacy of Princess Carrie

Carrie Fisher, 2015.

The sudden death of Carrie Fisher came as a shock to many people, including her close family and friends, as well as worldwide fans of the beloved actress and writer. Born into a family of Hollywood royalty, Fisher lived her entire life in the entertainment industry. Her mother was actress and singer Debbie Reynolds and her father was singer Eddie Fisher, who both were hugely successful and famous back in the day and embodied the Hollywood power couple. Carrie and her brother Todd grew up in the spotlight surrounded by stars, from time to time sharing the stage with their famous mother. Reynolds divorced Fisher in 1959, after he had started an affair with Elizabeth Taylor. The divorce caused a public scandal, and the event is now often cited as being the Brangelina of the time.

Carrie Fisher wrote about her tumultuous upbringing in her 2008 autobiographical work Wishful Drinking, which portrayed the surreal and illusive life in Hollywood she grew up in. It also featured her lifelong struggle with mental illness, being diagnosed as bipolar and undergoing several treatments, including electroshock therapy. Fisher also wrote a number of novels, screenplays, and plays, most notably the semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge (1987), which was made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, in addition to being a script doctor on several Hollywood screenplays. Her literary work stood out for its humorous take on life with a mental disorder, growing up to celebrity parents, and its eloquent and ingenious writing. Needless to say Carrie Fisher was a gifted writer, actress, and a Hollywood child, who found its way through this world with compassion and wit, that made her work recognizable and critically well acclaimed.

“Who’s more famous than Debbie [Reynolds] and Eddie [Fisher]? C-3PO and Darth Vader.”

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

To the wider public Fisher was first and foremost known in connection to the Star Wars films and its huge franchise, which featured her as Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, a sassy, and smart princess, who stood up against the Empire. Captured by the troops of the dictatorship of the Galactic Empire for being a spy for the Rebel Alliance, she manages to hide the plans for the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire’s most deadly weapon, and appears to be fearless of the imperial dark lord Darth Vader. She first emerges on screen in Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) with her iconic hairdo and a white dress, fighting back incoming stormtroopers and upon being captured talking pertly back to Vader, seemingly unimpressed by his robotic appearance. The success of the first Star Wars movie led to two more movies in the original trilogy named Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (1983), as well as three prequels from 1999 – 2005, and the current sequels starting in 2015. Carrie Fisher reprised her role of Leia, now General Organa, in the 2015 film The Force Awakens, and was scheduled to appear in the two upcoming films Episode VIII (2017) and Episode IX (2019).

While the 1960s science fictions classics like Planet of the Apes (1968) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), heralded the heyday of science fiction blockbusters in the 1970s and 1980s, it was George Lucas’ Star Wars, which kicked off the genre for mainstream audiences and paved the way for big budget productions in the upcoming years. The major success of the franchise catapulted the main stars, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) to instant fame. Given the huge success of A New Hope the commercial interest in the Star Wars franchise was immense, and resulted in a grand variety of merchandise, which featured Princess Leia embodied in various products. Amongst the most notable being a pez dispenser that allowed for candy to come out of her neck, and a shampoo bottle that worked by twisting her head off and pulling liquid out of her body, items the actress often referred to jokingly in interviews. The accomplishments of the movie and the commercialization of the characters added to the fusion of the real life actress and the fictional princess. Ever since Carrie Fisher stepped onto the screen in her white dress and with the iconic hair earmuffs as Princess Leia, the two became one, inseparable from each other.

“I am Princess Leia, no matter what. … Princess Leia will be on my tombstone.”

Princess Leia was much more than the typical damsel in distress. Even though captured by the evil Darth Vader, and locked in a cell in the Death Star, she didn’t need rescue. Sure, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca helped, but the rescuing was not alone their job. The first words Luke ever said to Princess Leia might have been “I am here to rescue you”, but he sure messed up the rest of the so-called rescue mission, as well as Han and Chewie, who very unwisely blocked the only way out of the Death Star prison by revealing themselves to incoming stormtroopers. In fact, in these still early moments of the Star Wars universe Leia made it clear that she could very well fend for herself. Essentially shooting her way out of the Death Star and coming up with a plan to get out of the prison, while along the way schooling the two male heroes on how to do so. Meeting her rescuers with a rather demanding attitude, much to their surprise, separated the character from earlier portrayals of women as being unable to defend or speak for themselves, usually portrayed in rather static and compliant roles.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien (1979)

Of course there were other earlier examples of popular female characters out there, that broke with convention of being in a usually passive role. In Gone with the Wind (novel: 1936, film:1939) the teenage daughter Scarlett O’Hara presented herself as rather unique, and in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (novel: 1958, film: 1962) Holly Golightly who decides for herself whom she will spend her life with, are some of the early examples of slightly unusual female leads. The early 1960s then marked the beginning of second-wave feminism and with it a rise in the popularity of feminist literature. A number of theoretical approaches like The Feminine Mystique (1963), were published during this time, as well as praised literary writings such as Revolutionary Road (1961), which critically addressed the topic of separate sphere for men and women.

While these and other publications in the feminist movement certainly left their mark, it was Fisher’s role of the headstrong and ingenious Princess in combination with the extravaganza of the Star Wars universe that left an impact for the mainstream audience. Princess Leia was a distinctively tough person, her actions were not carried by the desire to find romance, and she did not wait around for things to change by themselves, but she rather continued to take matters into her own hands by leading the Rebel Alliance and not letting anybody tell her what she ought to do, throughout the story. Other strong Sci-Fi female characters followed in the coming years, most notably Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien franchise (1979-1997), who single-handedly took out the alien who had infested her spaceship. Likewise the Princess, Ripley was a strong-minded fighter, who was able to handle things herself when it got messy. The introduction of such characters, and especially Leia marked the entry of badass women, unseen before into the mind of the mainstream.

“I like Princess Leia. I like how she handles things. I like how she treats people. She tells the truth. She, you know, gets what she wants done.”

Unlike some of the earlier strong female characters Princess Leia showed that she could be strong and independent without becoming a genderless persona. She personified a figure of female empowerment, that managed to stay relevant in the long run, and a character that depicted female characteristics in a manner unseen before. She was sassy but clever, strong and independent, and she showed compassion without being a mother-figure to the other characters. She was fierce, and fearless single-handedly killing Jabba the Hutt, while simultaneously becoming a sex symbol wearing a metal bikini, which did not force her into becoming a passive damsel in distress. Instead she took matters in her own hands, again likewise managing her own rescue out of the Death Star, refusing to be forced into the long list of passive women in movies. It was Leia who passionately talked Luke and Han into supporting the Rebel Alliance, a cause she had strong beliefs in and which she has dedicated her life for, as seen in her reprised role in The Force Awakens.

Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa in Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

Fisher herself might have been the biggest fan of her own character, finding strength and inspiration in the Princess. It was Fisher’s clever and humorous take on life that made her and the Princess a dream team for the feminist cause. Bluntly stating that she (Fisher) “wasn’t some babe running through the galaxy with my tits bouncing around”, but rather a strong character that “bossed” the others around, while saving the galaxy. Dealing with the legacy of Princess Leia has not always been an easy task for Fisher, who also had to deal with substance abuse and mental illness over the years, while being constantly reminded that she essentially is a personification of Star Wars. In 2015 Fisher explained: “I’ve always been in Star Wars, I’ve never not been in Star Wars!”, repeating what she narrated in Wishful Drinking and had talked about many times before, often saying that she “signed away [her] likeness” to George Lucas.

“You have owned my likeness, all these years, so that every time I look in the mirror I have to send you a check for a couple of bucks.”

The unfortunate passing of the wonderfully witty Carrie Fisher and thus the simultaneous death of one of the most beloved female Sci-Fi characters, Princess Leia, leaves an empty place not only in Hollywood, but also in the commanding seat of the Rebel Alliance in the Star Wars franchise. Her iconic status asks for a proper tribute, in real life, as well as in Star Wars. Fisher’s accomplishments as an author, an actress, and an advocate for mental illness left a lasting impact on generations. Her role as Princess Leia inspired and serves as a leading figure in feminist popular culture, while Fisher’s way of dealing with her own rather unusual life serves as an example for many facing struggles in their own lives. Fisher and Leia were passionate advocates for their causes, inseparable from each other, they demanded recognition and respect in their own opinionated, and often unconventional way. Both provided inspiration – A New Hope – for an exceptional fight under remarkable circumstances. Resistance and an unforgettable sense of humor might be the strongest assets in both Leia and Carrie, in space and in real life. While it was announced by Lucasfilm that she will not be digitally recreated for the last movie, Episode IX, she will appear in the upcoming Episode VIII, which already finished the filming process. Paying tribute to and respectfully continuing the legacy will be the most difficult task for the Star Wars universe. May the force be with her.

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016)

“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

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  1. Fantastic article! Disney could learn a lot about princesses from Leia.

  2. Han Duolo

    I always liked in EMPIRE how Chewie will not listen to anyone’s advice but his own, but when Leia says we’ve got to turn back to save Luke, without hesitation, he has her back. A ChewBacker! And there are numerous times when Leia leans into him for comfort. What’s that about?

  3. I’ve always loved Leia inside and out (my wife is so like her but blonde…)

  4. Sean Gadus

    Awesome article! It was only about two or three years ago that I learned more about Carrie Fisher and her career and impact. For a long time when was I was younger I just knew that she was princess Leia but there is so much to her as an actress and person!

    Great article! I loved learning more about Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia’s legacy! Hope her performance in Episode is amazing. I hope it will be a fitting tribute to her life and legacy.

  5. Princess Leia rocks. I don’t feel that women need to abandon ‘traditional’ roles to be seen as strong, whether in fiction or in life. But part of strength is doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

  6. I always liked Leia, from the time the original came out. She was one of my friend’s favourites as she was the only woman for most of the trilogy – my friend being a girl & all.

    I simply liked her as she was the same level of competent & fallible as Luke & Han. She is definitely as integral to the whole story as the two male leads are.

  7. What made her unbelievable was that she was relatively unknown.

  8. I’m always amused by observations of Leia’s shifting accent as if it’s a mistake, but it always seemed to me to be part of the performance.

    She only uses the accent around Imperials when trying to put on the airs of a senator. She’s mimicking them in an attempt to blend in. Around other Rebels, and when recording the Hope message, she drops the accent and speaks with what is presumably her regular voice

    Note the subtlety of this in the scene when Alderaan is destroyed. In her emotional reaction, she can no longer maintain the accent as she pleads for mercy. She finally drops her cover and the accent is gone the rest of the franchise

    • Huh. I never thought about it. It never really bothered me. I suppose on some level, I just accepted that she sounds all posh when she’s being “the princess” and sounds down to earth when she’s in the trenches. It never really occurred to me that this was an intentional choice on her part. How lovely if that’s true. I just remember that she was a tough chick in a movie with basically no other women, and at a time when young girls didn’t have many strong female role models.

    • Brad Tanner

      Holy wow! That’s an incredible observation! Your No-Prize is in the mail.

    • I always figured it was Lucas who was like “maybe an accent!” before they just dropped it altogether because Carrie’s voice had a BAMF cadence to it that worked better for Leia.

  9. A very sweet write-up, thank you. May the force be with her.

  10. Always be Princess Leia to me!

  11. Leia has weaknesses and flaws. But hardly anyone is willing to admit this. Why does a woman character have to behave like an action man in order to be considered “strong”?

  12. I have always loved Leia and Carrie.

  13. Munjeera

    A very nice way to remember a heroine who had one of the first strong leading roles for women in sci-fi.

  14. Carrie’s family recently said that Disney/Lucasfilm was going to use unused footage from Episode 7 & 8 for Episode 9, so we can expect to see General Organa one last time in the finale for this new trilogy.

    • I stand corrected. Kathleen Kennedy just stated at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando that The Last Jedi will be her last film. It will be interesting seeing how they close out General Organa’s story.

  15. I love this gal! As a little girl, my idea of a princess was someone like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. Leia broke the mold for me. You can be a princess and still be an independent and smart woman.

  16. I honestly thought Leia came off better in the radio series than in the movies or novelizations.

  17. Leia’s strength as a character is why I don’t have a problem with fandom’s fondness for the “Slave Leia” metal-bikini look. It once came up in a discussion whether that was objectifying women or glorifying sex slavery, but I realized it did just the opposite. Jabba tried to reduce Leia to a sex object, but she remained unbroken and defiant and single-handedly defeated her enslaver. Even while wearing an outfit designed to objectify and diminish, she remained undiminished. And I think that’s why the metal bikini look is so iconic. It’s not just because it’s beautiful and sexy (and it is — I was nearly 15 when RotJ came out and Fisher in that outfit had a powerful impact on me), but because it shows that a woman can remain just as strong, smart, and capable no matter what she wears (or doesn’t wear), and that’s the sexiest thing of all.

  18. Anthony

    I never truly realized how much of critical impact Carrie Fisher was able to leave on women in our media culture. It seems to me that anyone who has watched these iconic films grows to love Princess Leia and respects her for the tough decisions she has to face. This respect for a female hero helped to break down the stigma around women not being capable of hero’s. Thanks to fisher their is a growing trend in female hero’s that has allowed for the creation of a greater variety of films within the media today.

  19. homeage

    I adored Leia from the first time I saw her. She made a big impression on little 4 year old me, when I saw her kicking stormtrooper butt on my TV screen. She was the first sci-fi heroine that my mud slinging, dirt digging, preferred-her-tonka-trucks-to-any-kind-of-doll, tomboy, self could identify with.

    She was the first woman I’d seen in a Sci-fi show or movie that wasn’t some useless, screaming frill, or just another bedwarmer to be seduced by the “hero”. She was smart, sarcastic, and kicked butt instead of leaning on someone else. She showed that you could be and act feminine, and still be strong and self-reliant. I think this is still an important lesson for girls to learn today.

  20. Chana Pemberton

    Has anyone written a book about Leia’s formative years? Who would have trained her to withstand mind-probes, inspire courage in the face of overwwhelming odds, and how to encode and hide messages? What would her martial training have been like, and with? That’s a book I’d buy for my daughters.

  21. Princess Leia was one of my first major role models. I was obsessed with her, with her wit, intelligence, leadership, and quick thinking. The Expanded Universe cemented that fact.

  22. This makes me want to do an “I love Princess Leia” happy dance. Because, really, the lady rocks. You’ve got this tiny little woman who looks like, yes, a princess–but she can kick your butt at just about any game you’re playing. Politics? Yep. Gunfight? Sure. Stealth, disguise, survival in captivity, field combat, intelligence smuggling? Yeah, any of those. She can even out-snark Han Solo!

  23. The first moment Han and Luke interact with Leia she’s brash, insulting, contemptuous, and far more competent and creative than either her besotted rescuer-farmboy or the galaxy-trotting smuggler unwillingly along for the ride.

    • Leia is a bad ass. In the first film, she might have been the prize or the thing that needed saving, but as a kid I liked that ultimately, she saved the boys. She’s the one running the rescue from the moment Luke walks into that cell. He was just a key.

  24. Every time I learn more about Carrie Fisher I love her even more.

  25. sergiocurry740

    Learning about Carrie Fisher make me love her. She was an awesome lady.

  26. A beautiful eulogy. One of the rare celebrities whose life off-screen only adds to the beauty of their life on screen instead of taking away from it.

  27. BreannaWaldrop

    A wonderful role model for young girls and women everywhere. Learning more about her, I appreciate her character as Leia even more.

  28. ashleyb

    good images

  29. A thoughtful and insightful reflection on the life of Carrie Fisher and how art and life influence each other. That is, how Carrie drew inspiration from the character of Princess Leia. What a great encouragement to many that she dealt with her bipolar with humour and turned what many would see a weakness into a strength – fuel for her writing. I think Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy is starting to emerge as a strong, thoughtful female character too.

  30. I’ve always loved Madame Carrie Fisher as the one and only Princess Leia. It broke my heart when I found out about her passing. She was truly a class act, a legendary icon. Madame Carrie Fisher inspired me in so many ways. She may be gone but her legacy will surely live forever. The Force will always be with her.

  31. Really great article!

  32. very well written 🙂

  33. She was a badass, simple as that.

  34. The conflation of Fisher and Leia into a singular person is such an interesting/unique idea, but it’s one that immediately rings true! I think to some extent this happens to a small degree with any fictional character, but this one in particular is striking. It seems to develop especially in cases where a series continues to produce new films over several years/decades – e.g. the Harry Potter series, or Hara Setsuko who dominated Japanese cinema for quite sometime. However from the point of view of the actor this often presents a problem in the form of type-casting, so it’s nice to see that Carrie owned her role until the very end and enjoyed doing so!

  35. The reason that I will always love Leia is that she just seemed human to me, while still being a complete badass. Carrie didn’t portray her as this perfect person and for that I will always love her. The fact that I can relate to one of the most powerful characters in Sci-Fi says a lot.

  36. Never heard of her and not really a fan of Star Wars but she seem to have been a great actress.

  37. A G Macdonald

    Thanks for an amazing article! It’s still hard to believe she is gone.

  38. stephameye

    “She was sassy but clever, strong and independent, and she showed compassion without being a mother-figure to the other characters.” THIS! Women are mostly portrayed as mothers, or with motherly qualities … so it was refreshing to see such a kickass female leading role be otherwise. Star Wars was so ahead of its time, but I’m so grateful it was made when it was.

    Princess Leia was the mother of all badass female film characters. May the force be with her always.

  39. Carrie Fisher was possibly the only actress who could make Princess Leia seem unimpressive in comparison to the actress who played her

  40. She will be sorely missed!!!

  41. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    I remember the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher marriage and everything associated with it when it was the news-of-the-day. Carrie Fisher’s death considering she was younger than me, made me feel vulnerable.

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