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A long time ago with Carrie Fisher's 'The Princess Diarist'

MEMOIR

The Princess Diarist

By Carrie Fisher

Blue Rider Press

257 pages, $26

If you were a kid of movie-going age in 1977, you can probably recount exactly when, where and how you first witnessed the cultural supernova that was “Star Wars” (for me I was 10, it was at the Holiday Theaters on Union Road in Cheektowaga, the first week of June, with my father).

Even viewing the film now – as dated as it is – and catching the low-budget details one may have missed when bedazzled by its uniqueness all those years ago, it probably still plays a chord on your heartstrings. I saw it eleven times that summer.

In her new memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” actress Carrie Fisher, indelibly linked to the Princess Leia character she played in the 1977 original “Star Wars” (and three sequels) nails the saga’s lifelong fan worship she has been subjected to ever since.

“Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of a story … then releasing you back into your life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.”

With this book, Fisher has finally addressed the “Star Wars” thing, albeit not as thoroughly as the massive geekdom would have her do. Much of it is a confessional about the secret affair she had with co-star Harrison Ford while shooting “Star Wars” on location in London in 1976.

It’s not as salacious as one would imagine; in fact it comes off as the somewhat regretful reflection of a 60-ish woman talking to her 19-year-old self and shaking her head, with a healthy dose of starry-eyed nostalgia.

Ford, who played egotistical smuggler-pilot Han Solo in the movie and egotistical married-man lover to her in real life, spent most of their time staring off in the distance, or directly at her, but in any case not speaking. Fisher still to this day seems to have no clue what he was thinking and feeling during their tryst, which lasted for the entire three months they were shooting in London. If she has since gleaned any insight from him, she isn’t telling.

She best sums up their affair by calling it a “summer romance,” but without the “summer” or the “romance.” As with all of her books, both fiction and nonfiction, Fisher’s humor is subtle, but constant — a steady trickle of bon mots.

Even the self-indulgent overtones she occasionally bathes in are forgivable, because, just when you have almost had enough of the celebrity my-life-is-harder-then-you-think entitlements, she turns on her self-awareness and acknowledges exactly what you are thinking, and you can’t be mad at her anymore.

Fisher includes her published diaries from the “Star Wars” shoot, but they turn out be the least interesting part of the book. The hardcore fans looking for details about particular scenes, or secrets from behind the lens, or any new production information will be disappointed. The diaries are simply the vague emotional musings of a very young woman in love with an older, married man who is stoic and blank, and she is left wandering in the dark trying to figure out why she loves him so much.

After reading Fisher’s account of their affair, Ford and Han Solo sure seem a lot alike.

Where we catch what may truly be the most intimate portrait of her is when she describes her interactions with the legions of worshipful “Star Wars” fans.

She is honest, but reverent, in her accounts of what she calls the “lap dance” – signing autographs for money at conventions. Admitting that she needed the cash (“I had become a poor rich person,” she writes), Fisher expresses her initial disdain for such a practice but explains how she has come to appreciate what the films mean to so many people after hearing so many stories from them as she signs photo after photo of her young alter ego.

She recounts some of the conversations from fans with a slight snarkiness because they are, well, a little strange, but she also stresses, “I need you to know that I’m not cynical about the fans ... I’m moved by them …”

“There’s something incredibly sweet and mystifying about people waiting in lines for so long. The ‘Star Wars’ films touched them in some incredibly profound or significant way. They remember everything about the day they first saw ‘Star Wars’ one, two and three: Where they were, who they were with … So of course, when they meet me, many of the Forever Altered long to tell me all these things and more, and at length,” she writes.

Her musings on aging are both funny and wincing; as she hears children wail in disappointment when they expect the “young” Princess Leia, or as she signs photos of herself in the infamous metal bikini from “Return of the Jedi” that launched millions of teenaged male fantasies, she reflects on feeling like a failure for not preserving herself as a youthful sex symbol.

She shamefully describes her Madame Tussauds wax figure of her: “Well not me, actually. That would have been someone lying in bed watching old movies on TV, drinking a Coke with one hand while adjusting her dog Gary’s tongue with the other. The statue they made was of Princess Leia me.”

But as Fisher eloquently points out in the book, the two are linked forever and she’s made peace with that. She appreciates the place she holds in the hearts, and lives, of the superfans. She has figured out a way to make money from it, to not be so weirded out by it, and to not resent this fictional character being superimposed over her own real life identity.

She merely asks that choosing the point where one begins and the other ends, be left up to her.

Robbie-Ann McPherson is a frequent News contributing reviewer.

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