Carrie Fisher: a tribute to the actress who redefined gender expectations in Hollywood

Daniel Curtis and Louis McEvoy remember the actress who transformed Princess Leia into a feminist icon, and pay tribute to Fisher's work outside of the silver screen

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Force Awakens was rightly commended for its diversity and strong female protagonist, but such praise neglected to mention the feminism of the first Star Wars film. Leia’s first appearance is an exercise in deconstruction: accompanied by soft, twinkling music and in an angelic white dress, the fairy tale princess suddenly, calmly kills a fascist soldier with a blaster. Upon rescue, she quickly and capably takes charge of the situation. Although the Star Wars narrative is largely a rehash of Flash Gordon, Leia is a significant alteration: she’s a steely politician and committed rebel leader, and as hyper-talented and witty as her actress. It’s a great role, and the original Princess Leia, as well as 2015’s General Organa, is worth remembering.

By the 1980 and 1983 sequels, however, she gets short-changed, reduced to simpering girlfriend of Han Solo (who instructs Chewbacca to protect Leia, as if the woman who stared down Darth Vader and Peter Cushing would need protecting) and clad in an objectifying, humiliating metal bikini Fisher reviled. Although she didn’t receive the same quality material as the first-time round, she would go beyond the inadequate gender politics of cinema, becoming a distinct, brilliant heroine in her own right. Check out her interviews—especially her appearance on ‘Good Morning America’ last year, when a question on her weight loss was dryly shut down with: “I think that’s a stupid conversation.” A manic-depressive drug addict with a gay husband, an idiosyncratic eccentric who brought her dog alone to fly first class with her, and a brilliant heroine in her own right, her legacy of defying conventions, in character and out, offers something valuable in today’s bleak political era: hope. Louis McEvoy

 

It is true that Leia has been a staple of both my childhood and my burgeoning adult life. Yet it is the person and creative behind the role, behind the fandom, that I mourn, and that we must remember. Fisher, in her tireless advocacy of mental health and body image awareness, was an inspiration. A vocal sufferer of bipolar disorder and substance abuse, Fisher’s journey through the turbulence of Hollywood was well-documented—but where many would be victim to the tabloid press’ corrosive glare, Fisher was empowered by outlining her life in her own words. That could be through the frank interviews destigmatising her battles, as well as her personal and revealing autobiographical writing— Fisher’s final book, The Princess Diarist, was only released in November 2016.

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While her autobiographical writing was widely vaunted, her work as one of Hollywood’s most revered script doctors went deliberately uncredited: she worked on the scripts for Hook, Sister Act, Lethal Weapon 3, the Young Indiana Jones TV series and even the Star Wars prequels. In short, summarising her impact and inspiration is futile, for the late Fisher was someone who energised the lives of others by defining her own. In her play and book Wishful Drinking, she wrote, “I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” Let it be known, then, that that was how she passed—as ever, her life remains her own, even in death. Daniel Curtis