A little less than a month ago, on December 27, 2016, actress Carrie Fisher died after suffering a heart attack on a plane. Her death was followed the next day by that of her mother, Debbie Reynolds. The world, especially that part of it which (like me) was brought up on Star Wars as a staple of our pop culture, deeply mourned the loss of the classy lady who not only played Princess Leia in the movies but epitomized her. This article is not an obituary for Carrie Fisher. If you want one of those, I highly recommend the touching piece by the Burning Blogger of Bedlam giving tribute to “the people’s princess.” I loved Princess Leia. You loved Princess Leia. We all admired her courage, determination and grit. Carrie Fisher, who went through a lot of hard knocks in her life, will be greatly missed.
Yesterday (January 21, 2017), the day after the inauguration as President of the United States of a fascistic know-nothing who detests women and just about everybody else, millions of people in the United States and around the world–including even Antarctica!–took to the streets to support women’s rights, feminism, empowerment, diversity and to express in no uncertain terms their opposition to the viewpoints of President Trump. I took part in one of these marches, in Eugene, Oregon. Like everywhere else, the crowds that turned out vastly exceeded what authorities expected. There were (reportedly) 750,000 in Los Angeles and over 1 million in Washington, D.C., dwarfing the tepid and pathetic “crowd” that turned out for Trump’s lackluster inauguration. In Eugene I’m told police expected 1,000 marchers. The number who showed up? Over 10,000.
I was struck, during yesterday’s march, by one recurrent image: the face of Princess Leia as an icon of resistance.
Carrie Fisher, as she appeared in 2015. Her outspoken views are part of the reason why Princess Leia resonates as a symbol.
I saw Carrie Fisher’s face in a lot of places. Many people, men as well as women, were carrying signs with her picture (one of them is shown at the top of this article). I saw a woman with the symbol of the Rebellion from Star Wars tattooed on her arm, and I saw a man with a patch of the same symbol on the back of his denim jacket. In one of the most touching tweets I saw about the march, Fisher’s Star Wars co-star and friend Mark Hamill referenced Leia as a symbol of women’s empowerment, linking it to Fisher’s own strongly-professed beliefs during her lifetime. His tweet included an image of a woman, evidently from the Los Angeles march, dressed as Princess Leia.
In a way this may result from a “perfect storm” that’s converged at just this time: Fisher’s recent death, the release and huge success of the new Star Wars film Rogue One (which includes a digitally-created “cameo” of Fisher, as she appeared in 1977, at the film’s end), the inauguration of Trump and the cultural backlash to it, which has stressed many of the values–such as freedom, human dignity and equality–that Trump clearly does not believe in and will not defend. But I also think it has something to do with Carrie Fisher herself, and how Carrie Fisher, the real woman, was intertwined with Leia Organa, the fictional space princess. Fisher was greatly outspoken in favor of feminist issues, and she was caustically derisive of Trump. The challenges of her life, not merely against addiction, but also to find a meaningful career in male-dominated Hollywood and to escape the sometimes toxic shadow of her celebrity mother–which she wrote about so beautifully in her 1989 novel Postcards From the Edge–reflect a lifelong struggle to achieve many of the rights and aspirations that both women and men turned out in their millions to support yesterday.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) January 21, 2017
In the end, though, you can’t separate Princess Leia from Carrie Fisher, just as you couldn’t separate the late Leonard Nimoy from his iconic Star Trek character Mr. Spock. Princess Leia is ripe for enshrinement as a symbol of resistance because that’s who she is. Throughout three Star Wars films–five if you count The Force Awakens and Rogue One–Leia had her father killed, her planet blown up, her boyfriend frozen, and her brother’s hand chopped off. She was imprisoned on the Death Star, tortured by Darth Vader’s bleeping drug robot, and most egregiously forced to lounge around Jabba the Hutt’s palace in a cast-iron bikini, an act of misogynistic debasement so low that it reaches Trumpian (“grab ’em by the p*ssy”) proportions.
Yet how did Leia react to these constant assaults? She fought back. She was out there with her laser blaster picking off stormtroopers, zooming around in the Millennium Falcon to rescue Luke, leading an attack team on the forest moon of Endor, and, in The Force Awakens, she emerges as a wise senior commander with the responsibility for planning galaxy-shaking military campaigns. If you cross the Princess, you’re likely to come to a bad end. Remember, she strangled Jabba the Hutt with her own chain. That’s resistance! Yet she’s also clearly a sensitive woman. She cares about her family. She has class, dignity and an indomitable spirit. No wonder millions of little boys–myself included–fell in love with her.
This compilation of Fisher’s best scenes in the Star Wars franchise includes her grisly revenge against Jabba the Hutt–which is what happens when you cross Princess Leia!
Princess Leia, though, could not be an icon of cultural resistance in real-world 2017 America without the spirit of Carrie Fisher, the woman, behind her. If Carrie Fisher hadn’t had a heart attack on that plane last month, do you think she would’ve been out there on the streets in the Women’s March yesterday? You bet. Other celebrity women who played science fiction icons, like Gates McFadden from Star Trek and Thandie Newton from Westworld, were. I don’t know if Carrie would have worn her signature ear-buns and white dress, but if she did, you can bet the reaction of the crowd would have been like the Romans of the Colosseum cheering Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Princess Leia, the hero we’ve always loved, coming to lead the resistance in the real world, at precisely the moment she’s most needed? Hell yeah!
I was proud to join the Women’s March yesterday, and I was proud to see the face of Princess Leia up there with her laser blaster, standing with us like the total badass she always was. Princess Leia is a fictional character and Carrie Fisher, the real woman, is dead. But in a strange way, just after her death, her time has finally arrived. We, those who believe in feminism and diversity and equality, are the Force. May the Force be with you, with all women, and with all of us.