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I remember it so clearly – the image of Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, Leia, and Luke Skywalker in the flesh, walking out to greet fans as a surprise at the finale of Star Wars Celebration 2016 in London. There was the sudden crack of applause as all of us leapt to our feet, cheering ourselves hoarse as our heroes took to the stage.
The panel was at its end, we thought the show was over, until the duo strolled blithely out as a surprise. Many of us did not make it to the earlier panels featuring time with Mark or Carrie. This would be our first and only chance to see them interact with fans – and let’s face it, breathe their air.
Sorry for yelling guys. I lost it. THEY ARE HERE!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/0SZMpSzXZj— Wyatt Ong (@wyattcaraway) July 17, 2016
The fondness between them was absolutely palpable. “We have a shared experience, and darn it, I will defend her with my life. But she still drives me crazy!” Mark said, while Carrie cackled by his side.
It was a buoyant, joyful moment in time, and one that I’ll remember today, as fans around the world mourn Carrie’s death and remember her most celebrated role as Princess Leia, among many other achievements. (READ: ‘Star Wars’ actress Carrie Fisher dies at 60)
Watching Episodes IV, V, and VI as a young girl, I fell hard for the world of Star Wars and never really stopped, over 20 years later. Leia Organa was a huge part of that. Only years later would I really understand the deep-rooted impact of simply seeing a woman doing so many cool things on-screen, in a galaxy far, far away. My family called me “Princess Luya” (a silly parody name, “luya” is the Filipino word for ginger) around the house.
Leia herself initially seemed to be that damsel in distress that we first see only via hologram. Even then, her voice, rich and distinct, held your attention. But from the moment the doors parted to reveal a Leia at rest, dryly asking, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”, it was clear that this was no ordinary castle-residing, saving-requiring princess, and the 7-year-old me couldn’t get enough.
Leia was an accomplished diplomat and spy, and a Rebel hero – not to mention a deft hand with a blaster pistol, and a strong partner for Han Solo.
Also, let’s not forget that few have been able to top Carrie’s delivery of Leia’s barrage of insults (‘Why, you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder!’) hurled at an embattled Han.
What an indelible and instantly iconic performance from Carrie, who gave Leia a warmth and biting wit that stood out from the rest of the characters and gave young children around the world a sturdy, enduring figure to look up to for decades to come.
Audition tapes on YouTube, showing her trading lines with Harrison Ford, give us a magical glimpse of what Carrie brought to the table in the creation of Leia’s character.
She played it straight and serious – no affirming sneer like you see in Anne-Marie Martin’s audition, or clipped intensity as in Lisa Eilbacher’s (head over to io9 to see those). Her Leia seemed completely infused with equal parts competence and kindness. It’s the same Leia that makes it into the final version – the diplomat/spy who stands up to Darth Vader; the Leia who went undercover as a bounty hunter to rescue a frozen Han; and the same Rebel hero who won over a village of Ewoks by first handing Wicket Warrick a snack.
Carrie understood that in that gold bikini, “Slave Girl Leia,” she was the embodiment of a classic male movie fantasy, though of course, she often said she didn’t love the whole “sex symbol” description. But lest we forget, she also pointed out that this particular slave gets the best revenge of all: she gets to kill her captor, Jabba the Hutt.
“To the father who flipped out about it – ‘What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?’, tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off,” she said of the bikini controversy, via Cinemablend.
thx to princess leia for teaching me that even if you’re chained to a disgusting monster you can use what once held you back to escape— new year cait (@harmonicait) December 28, 2016
Talking to Daisy Ridley, the young actress who plays Rey in The Force Awakens, for Interview magazine, Carrie told her: “Well, you should fight for your outfit. Don’t be a slave like I was.”
That interview with Daisy is wonderful for so many reasons. Leia Organa, as portrayed by Carrie, was whip-smart, strong, and yes, beautiful, as Luke Skywalker himself pointed out. But more importantly, as Daisy notes in that interview, Carrie’s portrayal paved the way for a new generation of Star Wars actresses to accept the considerable challenge of saving the world on-screen, sans the gold bikini.
In today’s Star Wars movies, there are even more badass heroines like the politician Padme Amidala, self-sufficient Rey, battle-ready Ahsoka Tano, and independent Jyn Erso to idolize (plus, let’s not forget the villainous ladies of the Star Wars universe, too). But it all began with Princess Leia and her desperate message to Obi-Wan Kenobi, and her determination to lead the Rebel Alliance to destroy the Death Star. What a character!
Leia Organa, brought to life in this once-in-a-lifetime performance by Carrie, is an important key to Star Wars’ long-lasting appeal to viewers of all ages and genders. In different hands, this character could have faded into the background, shining perhaps less brightly next to swashbuckling Han Solo or Jedi-in-training Luke. But Leia is as Carrie made her to be – a character of equal stature, with her own struggles, her own pain. Star Wars isn’t the same without her. It isn’t complete without her.
Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton makes a very important point on Twitter, emphasizing Carrie’s legacy beyond her role as Leia. “If you only knew Carrie Fisher as part of Star Wars, make an effort to learn more about her. She was a remarkable woman who did so much more,” he wrote.
That’s absolutely true, and one should never fail to mention that Carrie was a staunch mental health advocate who openly shared her own struggles (including past battles with drug addiction) as a way to help banish the stigma around mental illness.
There’s also the many other ways she contributed to the entertainment industry and to pop culture, both as an actress and as an author and screenwriter. She worked on movie scripts of films like Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. She wrote Postcards from the Edge, a semi-autobiographical novel that was later adapted into a movie (she did the screenplay, of course), starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. She had just been promoting her new memoir, The Princess Diairist.
But in this moment, I’d like to remember Carrie’s work as Leia Organa, and honor the role she infused with so much life and color. She is responsible for bringing General Leia Organa to life, the strongest, bravest hero who helped save the galaxy from the Empire.
As keenly as I remember seeing Carrie and Mark with their fans at Star Wars Celebration, another image is indelible – the sight of a legion of Princess Leia cosplayers, male and female, dressed up in a variety of Leia outfits, from her Alderaan gown to her Hoth snowsuit to her General uniform, and yes, the bikini.
Just remembering a little girl dressed in the iconic Leia gown with the cinammon buns hairstyle gets the waterworks going. Princess Leia, and Carrie, were and will always be heroes to many for years and years to come.
A fond farewell to our Princess Leia, from all the Princess Luyas of the world. – Rappler.com