Rest In Peace, Carrie Fisher

carrie-fisher-1Carrie Fisher passed away on Tuesday at the age of 60 following a heart attack last week, and the outpouring of grief and mourning I saw online was one of the more universal and all-encompassing I’ve seen over the past year. Not that I was particularly surprised by that, of course. Because beyond her ever-present and perpetually-celebrated role as Leia Organa, Fisher had contributed tremendous comedic performances in numerous films and TV shows and been a much beloved writer and mental health advocate, and taken as a whole there was a facet to her for everyone. And while I’m not nearly familiar enough with Fisher’s other work (to my chagrin), how could I not eulogize my first favorite heroine?

In my youth, my exposure to female characters came from three places: Disney movies, Bond movies, and Star Wars. Obviously most Bond girls didn’t offer any sort of positive depictions of women, and Disney movies were a crapshoot; half of those Princesses were inactive plot devices for other characters to fight over (and I would go through long bouts of rejecting Disney cartoons for one reason or another anyway).

But Star Wars was different, because Leia was different. She was a damsel in distress who took over her own rescue and wound up saving the boys trying to save her. She was the steely military leader who was also vulnerable enough to fall in love. She was the teenager who knowingly carried the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders while her brother moped about his personal crap. And being exposed to this kind of woman, on a regular basis throughout my childhood and beyond, provided a major piece of the foundation that motivates me to see women as equals and treat them with respect, and to tell stories where the female characters are just as active and worthwhile as their male counterparts. If nothing else, I owe Carrie Fisher a huge debt for that, for so perfectly capturing that character and driving home that lesson for me.

Of course, that doesn’t even get into her hilariously self-referential guest spot on 30 Rock or her flawed/compelling supporting role in When Harry Met Sally, both of which I revisited recently and both of which serve as a reminder of Fisher’s talent beyond the iconic role that immortalized her in action figure form. And then there’s all the ways I don’t know Carrie Fisher that I hope to seek out in the future, like her roles in The Blues Brothers and The ‘Burbs and her extensive (and uncredited) work as a script doctor. Not to mention the half-dozen books she wrote, glimpses into Fisher’s true, non-Leia self that are there for future generations to discover and connect with for years to come.

Ultimately, what’s been clear for a long time now is that not only did Carrie Fisher help create a one-of-a-kind hero in Princess (now General) Leia, but she was a one-of-a-kind hero herself. And however we knew her and however we connected with her, we were lucky to have done so.

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