Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Carrie Fisher Taught us To Never Apologize for Being Ourselves
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)
There is no way around it: 2016 was a kick in the gut for American pop culture.
Still, despite the passing of numerous legends of sport, film and music, none hit home harder with me than yesterday's news of Carrie Fisher's death of a heart attack at the age of 60.
Like most, I was introduced to Fisher as the iconic Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, and I don't think there's any question that Fisher's portrayal of the galaxy's most beloved princess changed American cinema and pop culture forever.
With a blaster at her side and no time to waste, Fisher turned the clichéd "damsel in distress" trope on its head, refusing to be captured without a fight, mouthing off to the most feared baddies in the galaxy, and seizing control of the situation when her would-be rescuers ran out of ideas.
Of course, Fisher was much more than just Princess Leia. She was an ally for those dealing with mental health issues, as she openly discussed her battle with bipolar disorder, and urged people dealing with mental illness to seek help, rather than live in shame and self-medicate.
She did much of the same for those dealing with addiction, as she was never one to shy away from discussing her battles with drugs and alcohol. Above all, Fisher was unapologetically herself, and encouraged us to be the same.
In an industry where women are judged almost entirely by their looks, Fisher gained weight, lost weight, changed her hair, and had the audacity to wear glasses and age. Still, using her famous wit, she turned away critics who both sought to shame her for no longer being 22, and those who looked to slut-shame her for an outfit she wore in a movie over 33 years ago.
While fighting the contradictions and double-standards all women must deal with (you need to be beautiful, but don't, like show it off or anything), Fisher remained in control of her story, her truth and her body. She didn't let a bunch of guys who jerked it to her in the 80s make her feel bad for being a human 60-year old, and she taught us to never apologize for being us.
She sure didn't.
As we look back on Fisher's life and work, her memoirs will certainly be discussed a great deal, and how could they not? In them she recalls, in great detail, many of the toughest battles of her life, her less than ideal upbringing and (spoiler alert) affair with Harrison Ford on the set of the original Star Wars.
If nothing else, you have to admire the self-control of keeping that one a secret for 40 years. If I bumped into Harrison Ford in a restaurant tomorrow and he shook my hand, I would blast that story out on at least three different forms of social media.
People will also discuss her minor roles in "Blues Brothers" and "When Harry Met Sally," and ability to poke fun at her past roles in her one-woman show, and during appearances on a plethora of outlets.
But, let's be honest: Fair or not, most of us will remember her as Princess Leia. That comes with the territory when you play an iconic character in one of the most beloved film franchises ever created, but in this case, I actually think it is fitting.
Fisher put so much of herself into the character, that it's often hard to know where she ended and Leia Organa began. And, most importantly, Leia, like Fisher herself, was a complete person, not a princess archetype.
Leia had feminine and masculine traits, was tough, smart, funny, vulnerable, bratty, inventive and relatable. She was always in control, but liked to dress pretty sometimes, and that never made the male characters think any less of her, because she was such a boss. She had a romantic interest in Han Solo, but it didn't define her. If anything, Solo's courting of her was a far bigger part of his character than it was Leia's.
When Jabba the Hut demeaned her by putting her in a gold bikini, she choked that giant slug out, and when Han Solo, the coolest guy in the galaxy, was in over his head, it was Leia who came to his rescue.
Though it ultimately undid the happy ending of the original trilogy, we also got to see the continued evolution of Leia, from Princess and diplomat, to General Organa in the latest installment of the series, "The Force Awakens." In that film, and in the yet-to-be-named Episode VIII, we see an older Leia continuing to fight, just as Fisher continues to inspire, even after her untimely death earlier this week.
It was announced yesterday that Fisher had already finished filming her scenes for Episode VIII, and that General Organa is going to play a large role in the story. While re-writes are now inevitable, the film will at least give her fans one last chance to see her work, and say a surreal goodbye to the character and person they've come to know and love over the course of 40 years.
If I have a daughter, I think Leia Organa will be one of the first fictional characters I introduce her to and, at some point, I'm sure she will learn about the amazing woman who brought Leia to life.