Life is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, an operations manager or a general overthrowing an evil empire. It gets busy or boring, and so we escape. Some escape into video games, or sports or in my case stories and movies.
I think that this is why it’s taken me this long to write anything down about Carrie Fisher passing away. It’s been almost a week and I’m finally ready. I get that grieving over someone that I never knew personally may seem to some as odd. Especially if those who find it odd were never Star Wars fans or nerds. Even I was shocked as how much Carrie Fisher’s passing affected me. The last celebrity I cried over was Robin Williams, he always made me laugh when I wanted to cry and his passing was out of nowhere. Carrie’s on the other hand felt like a sucker punch.
After the news of her heart attack I had hoped that by New Year’s Day we’d have headlines and tweets that “Carrie Fisher Beats the Dark Side” or #CantStopLeia. Instead a couple days after December 25th it felt like Christmas had somehow been retroactively cancelled.
When I read a friend’s post I cried immediately. Initially I felt silly feeling so sad. I’d only ever seen Carrie Fisher once in person at San Diego Comic-Con, and compared to most individuals in my nerdy little circles I’m not the biggest fan of Star Wars (not by far).
Then I thought about all the ways, as a character on screen and as a person in real life that she’d given me hope or made me feel like I could do something.
He struggles with mental health were well documented and the subject of several interviews, in part because she cared about sharing that side of herself and diminishing the stigma for others. One of my favorite quotes of hers is as straightforward as it gets.
As a teacher of students with disabilities and as one who has to make the effort to be healthy and rein in my own anxieties I feel proud looking up to Carrie Fisher, because anyone can play a hero but statements like that, normalizing mental illness made her a real life hero to many.
And in terms of playing a hero, that’s how I always viewed Leia. Not just a princess or a rebel. A hero. And no matter what Carrie’s name was synonymous with Leia’s. And she knew it.
Why was Leia such a hero? Was it because she led a rebellion? Was it because that at her lowest moment she was able to strangle a giant slug in a bikini? Was it because she loved someone she shouldn’t (the “I Love you” “I know” exchange will ALWAYS tug at my heart)? Was it because after being a princess who rebelled and loved she kept up the good fight as a General, she kept going even when everyone else left?
It’s all those things.
Disney (the princess factory) has been shifting its formula for decades. Moving from princesses who are rescued, to princesses who take charge (with no time for love). Male heroes make time for love frequently and without issue (most fantasy and sci-fi end in the hero getting the girl).
Leia however did it ALL. She fought, she loved, she lost and she kept fighting for what was right. She didn’t have to give up either love or her priorities. All of those are what made Leia a hero for me, and somehow all of that was so able to spill over into how I saw Carrie Fisher over the years. Her open struggles with mental illness only strengthened my esteem of her.
After taking time to process everything, Like Leia in a rebellion or Carrie in life I’ll keep going. Carrie’s struggles never took away her personality or sense of humor. After all she wanted her obituary to state that she “Drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra”. So, no matter how much her death saddened me. I can always look up at the moon and hope that I turn out half as tough and full of life as Carrie Fisher, an awesome princess and hero.