I suppose every writer has taken the time to document their personal relationship to at least one of the dozens of deaths that hit us particularly hard in 2016. It has felt like a lot, even though logically we all know it’s not out of the ordinary that our heroes are getting older and succumbing to the ultimate reality of human existence. This year we’ve lost musical giants, fashion icons, shapers of culture and counter-culture, people who reminded us what the point of being remembered is. They made us feel something important and impactful at crucial moments in our lives, and for that we are forever grateful.
Though the passing of many cultural figures have left their mark on me, it was the loss of Carrie Fisher that immediately tugged at me to write something. After spending most of my life inspired by her, it seemed necessary to write out all the reasons why she mattered, and why her absence will be felt so strongly. It still doesn’t feel quite real, more like a cruel joke at the end of a particularly taxing year. The enormity of what Carrie meant to so many is to me encapsulated in the nickname she earned among a legion of nerds: Space Mom.
Like most of us, I first knew Fisher as Princess Leia Organa. Raised on Disney movies, she was unlike anything I had ever seen and I immediately fell in love with her. Beautiful and diplomatic, but with a sharp tongue and a fearless attitude, Leia’s first lines are bold, direct challenges to a frightening foe, delivered with a steely resolve. She dives straight into the action instead of waiting for the men around her to come up with a plan. She always speaks her mind and never hesitates to do what needs to be done for the cause. At a time when I was desperate for heroes in my media and relatable representations of women were still very limited, Carrie Fisher’s Leia was a godsend. She was a major part of why Star Wars became so important to me, but unlike a lot of other celebrities, her appeal did not diminish when I realized she was a different person than the character she played on screen.
Fisher was never shy about discussing her struggles with the pressures of Hollywood, addiction, and mental illness. She used her own experiences to write several novels, including Postcards from the Edge, the story of a star coping with life after an overdose, and memoirs like Wishful Drinking and most recently The Princess Diarist, about her relationship with Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford. Her frank honesty about her bipolar disorder, coping with drugs, and feeling trapped by her objectified image in that infamous gold bikini was refreshing and necessary. Fisher’s complexity and commitment to her own truth as she got older only made her more compelling and inspirational, and I was grateful for her words, her advocacy, and her unapologetic existence. She reminded women everywhere that they are the stars of their own narratives, and even though it feels good to be liked and wanted, the only approval and validation that truly matters is that which you give yourself. Carrie Fisher was one of the few to openly discuss the personal toll that stardom took on her, in all its ugly, gritty detail, and she did it for the sake of owning her story and telling struggling young people that they are not alone.
When I first heard the news that Carrie had died, I was heartbroken at the thought of all the young women who, like me, had found in her a hero and advocate. Where would they find another voice that affirms them so fiercely, tells them they’re going to be okay, that their differences make them precious and unique? What would we all do without General Organa to lead the Resistance, make the tough calls, and remind us what we’re fighting for? But then I remembered that Carrie Fisher’s greatest gift to all of us was her declaration that we all have that voice, if we choose. We all have the freedom to live honestly and openly, to spread kindness and understanding and dedicate our lives to being the best they can be, regardless of our perceived weaknesses and imperfections. If she could make peace with herself, forgive her own shortcomings, and live life to the fullest, so can we.
As far as legacies go, that’s a pretty incredible one. But in true Carrie form, she preferred to be remembered for one great line, inspired by a silly conversation with George Lucas on the original Star Wars set:
Carrie Fisher drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.
Thanks for everything, Space Mom. Take your rightful place among the stars, and may the Force be with you, always.
Originally posted on Medium.