Millions of "Star Wars" fans now know what a great disturbance in the Force feels like: Carrie Fisher, the actress behind the iconic Princess Leia role, died Tuesday at the age of 60.
While the idea of a “strong female character” is a necessity in any big blockbuster film these days, Fisher’s Leia was a unique hero when the original “Star Wars” space adventure film debuted in 1977. Clad in a white robe and memorable duo bun hairstyle, Princess Leia didn’t suffer fools gladly in “A New Hope.”
She defiantly stood her ground against villains Imperial Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader. She barely tolerated the group of nitwits who rescued her but didn’t think of an escape plan. She knew how to fire a blaster. She was tortured and watched her home planet explode, and barely flinched.
Princess Leia was fierce.
While Leia had her moments in subsequent "Star Wars" films, her story fell to the side as the focus shifted to Luke Skywalker’s hero journey. But the die had been cast: Both boys and girls could look up to the big screen to see a hero that can inspire them.
Leia had as many action figures as Luke and Han Solo. I owned just about all of them when I was a kid. Why wouldn’t I? Because of Leia, "Star Wars" and those action figures, it never occurred to me women couldn’t be part of an adventure, too.
While her most famous acting role was one of space royalty, the real-life Fisher occupied a similar position in Hollywood. The daughter of entertainers Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, she has first-hand experience in not only all of the pleasures of Tinsletown, but also its drawbacks. Her parents became embroiled in the gossip pages as Eddie Fisher left Reynolds after an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he later married.
As an adult, Carrie Fisher became tabloid fodder with her drug issues as her post-"Star Wars" fame diminished. She reinvented herself as a writer, penning “Postcards From the Edge,” “Wishful Drinking” and this year’s “The Princess Diarist.” She owned her struggles with bipolar disorder and female celebrity, bringing to light the stigmas of mental health, addiction, and how Hollywood really treats its women stars. But Fisher never scolded. Instead, she infused her commentary with wit and sass that earned her a whole new generation of fans.
Now as we say goodbye to Fisher, I think how grateful I am to see a hero like Leia when I was barely out of diapers. Now I have two daughters about the same age as I was when I was a "Star Wars" nut. While my girls like their princesses, they also love seeing and playing with adventure heroes like them.
Being a princess and being a hero used to be two different things. Thanks to the role Carrie Fisher embodied, on screen and in life, they know they don't have to be.