Early on Tuesday, December 27, it was reported that Carrie Fisher, 60, died as a result of a heart attack she had incurred several days prior. Reactions from Fisher’s friends, fans and co-stars have surfaced across social media, mourning one of the most well-known icons in the realm of science fiction.
Fisher was a multi-faceted talent as both an actor and writer. She was also one of the most respected script doctors in the business, working on films that included two of the “Star Wars” prequels in Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” She was also very outspoken about a variety of issues and became one of the leading figures in mental health advocacy, being very open and honest about her bipolar disorder and substance abuse issues.
Fisher’s latest book, “The Princess Diarist,” detailed her time filming Star Wars as Princess Leia and her time spent on and off the set. In perhaps one of her most powerful works to date, “Wishful Drinking,” Fisher provides an insight into her crazy life from growing up in Hollywood to her legacy with the iconic franchise.
But beyond all of her work and accolades, she was, and is, forever attached to her role as Princess (later General) Leia Organa. It is also this particular role that forever defined and shaped Fisher’s legacy.
When “A New Hope” debuted in 1977, it arrived during a time where strong lead female roles were few and in-between; even in a galaxy far, far away, there wasn’t much in the way of gender diversity. Despite that roadblock, Princess Leia changed the mold for the type of roles female characters could fulfill beyond their typically stereotyped portrayals.
As Leia, Fisher stood out as a role model that went beyond the dependent, naive and lovestruck tropes that have long plagued female roles in television, film and animation. Throughout the original trilogy, Leia defied all of those stereotypes. She was strong, independent, witty, confident, and played the role with resolve that cleared the way for future pop culture heroines like Hermoine Granger and Korra to further empower females in lead roles.
Fisher’s role as Leia not only blazed a trail for future portrayals of feminine heroes in pop culture. Her double bun twists and strong leadership as the face of the Rebellion stand as an important symbol that inspired a host of loyal female Star Wars fans, who see her as the hope of what strong female leads can accomplish in what appeared to be a male-dominated galaxy.
Fisher’s Leia spoke to more than the need for strong female roles; she also spoke to a world of gender repression, a realm which, while less pervasive than in the ’70s, still exists to this day. Whenever discussing her time in the role, Fisher never cut corners talking about life in Hollywood as a female actor and what she experienced over the course of her career. Her memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” details her experience within the role of Leia specifically, and she is on record with calling out the impossible ideals and double standards placed on women within her line of work.
None of this kept Fisher from claiming Leia as her own for all these years, wearing the character’s identity with an undeniable sense of pride. Across the original three films, she took the role and made it her own, becoming a figure of inspiration for arguably the most popular science fiction franchise in the world. That sense of style steeped into other projects that she would undertake during her career, resulting in her creating a platform just as large and important, if not more so, than her fellow “Star Wars” colleagues. Fisher’s ability to accept the role of Leia as her own despite the critiques she has made about her treatment during her career and time with the franchise (i.e., golden bikini, weight loss) only made her and the character resonated more strongly among the millions of fans everywhere. In many ways, Fisher revolutionized female roles within the realm of heroic fiction.
Through Leia, Fisher proved that men aren’t the only ones with the power to save the world. From the outset of her debut in “A New Hope,” it was pretty clear that this was a princess who was never one to sit back and let people do the hard work for her. The moment in “Return of the Jedi’s” iconic golden bikini scene where Leia strangles her captor, Jabba the Hut, with her own chains is a scene that will forever be remembered as the point where Fisher/Leia seized the power most often reserved for a male savior. If there was one thing she was never going to become, it was a damsel in distress.
In many ways, Leia could be viewed as a reflection of Fisher’s world, stuck in a galaxy and time with males at the forefront of power while women remained largely unseen and pushed to the side. But through their strength, willpower and determination, both Leia and Fisher made the most of their opportunities. There is no denying Leia’s impact on the “Star Wars” franchise, and the need for more strong women in lead roles.
In light of her sudden passing, fans are witnessing the beginnings of something special within the franchise, which is seeing more figures akin to Leia’s making their mark in a galaxy far, far away. Through “Rogue One’s”Jyn Erso, and Daisy Ridley as the new film trilogy’s Rey, Fisher’s legacy has provided numerous fans and actors around the world with a renewed hope for diversity, and invaluable encouragement for young women everywhere. No, Carrie Fisher never quite fit into the Hollywood stereotypes that were often placed on women, and it was because of this that she became the global phenomenon that will stand as a beacon for fans and future generations to follow.
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