362/366 – Lost Space Princesses And Upside Down Tropes
The unfortunate news came out today that Carrie Fisher, whose breakout role as Princess Leia (and most recently General Leia Organa) in the Star Wars movies was well-known for a variety of reasons, died today following cardiac arrest suffered on a flight to Los Angeles. She was placed in ICU and stabalized, but soon succumbed as a result of what happened. It’s a terrible loss for those of us who grew up with Star Wars and with Leia as a prominent figure next to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and all the other iconic heroes of the universe we’ve come to know and love. But it wasn’t just for her playing a role that people remember and have fondness for that contributes to this sense of loss, but for what she did and represented – things that are much bigger than the person she was or what she did on-screen.
Some of this, of course, is intertwined with the roles she played, most notably as Leia – a princess who was not like any princess about whom people spun tales or remembered stories. Here was a person who, far from being a damsel in distress, was one who handled that distress with a mixture of defiance, snark, and practicality, who knew that she had to be prepared to do as much of the saving and rescuing herself as her supposed heroes were going to accomplish. The first few minutes of Star Wars: Episode IV show flashes of this different kind of princess, but it wasn’t until Luke and Han get to her on the Death Star that you get to see her full bore as someone who not just turned the princess trope upside down but who then decided to blast it with well-practiced rifle skills.
It’s easy to stop here after four films in which Leia appears in this manner, taking charge and giving orders, exchanging barbs blow for blow with those she dislikes (and sometimes those she loves), and contributing to many of her own rescue efforts. But it wasn’t just about how Leia showed a generation of watchers that a princess didn’t have to be completely helpless and could be as independent as any hero, but about what Carrie did and went through afterwards that defied the conventional fate of sudden-Hollywood stars thrust so sharply into the spotlight before they were ready to deal with it. Where many Hollywood stories seem to crash and burn after achieving stardom much like Icarus flying too close to the fun, Carrie seemed to soldier through, even as she ran through and experienced many of its well-traveled milestones (drug use, tumultuous affairs, romances, and marriages, and mental distress among the obstacles Carrie navigated through). But even here, Carrie Fisher defied the tropes, channeling her difficulties and trials with stardom into comedy, autobiographies, shows, and a recent memoir. Much like her well-known Leia character, Carrie Fisher refused to bend to what stereotypes might define her, even as she dealt with and spoke out about mental health as someone with bipolar disorder.
Perhaps this is why a significant portion of the world misses her today and mourns her passing as a loss – not simply because she played a character people know that was memorable or because she was a persistent presence on our cinema and TV screens, but also because she was unapologetic and emotionally fearless whether she was being watched or not. That kind of fearlessness and defiance, reserved not just for terribly imposing Sith lords or for the pitfalls of mental disorder, but for life itself, is something to be admired, and perhaps something of an inspiration. It certainly has been for many people, famous or otherwise, who took strength from the fact that she was both a firebrand who took charge, while at the same time all-too-aware of (and even self-deprecating about) the flaws that can emerge or be accentuated by making oneself be put in that spotlight – simply because you bothered to stand up and do something.
That’s probably why it’s a little easier for me to deal with the fact that we lost a cherished space princess (and more) today. Whether it was Leia, or Carrie, I’d like to think given how she lived her life and how she spoke that she’d never let us sit and wallow too long in the morass of the idea that she’s not with us anymore. She’d tell us to stop focusing on the 2016 dumpster fire of bad events, and quit trying to be so dreadful and depressed about a future that hasn’t happened yet. She’d take our sadness and our despair at having no way out after seemingly feeling like we’ve lost so much, grab a blaster rifle, and create another exit for us to follow, even if it was to push us and tell us to get “into the garbage chute, flyboy”. She’d tell us to get to work putting that obituary of her death via being “drowned in moonlight, strangled with her own bra” and then she would push us forward because those of us still here have work to do if we want to fix things.
She’d give us a new hope – and cheesy reference aside, she’d do it because it wouldn’t make sense to lay down and die when rebelling and refusing to be put into a sandbox with borders is always an option. And if there are people out there who’ve drawn inspiration or influence from her and what she did, then that’s honestly the best way to honor the legacy she left. Not with depression or with sadness, but with defiance and courage. I have a feeling she’ll rest easy if people just do that for her.