Where were you the morning of December 27, 2016 when you heard that our – yes, I’m using the possessive – very own princess had passed from this terrestrial sphere? It was two days after Christmas, and I was riding pretty high. I already had seen Rogue One a couple of times. Both my girls were home from their far-flung homes [Erin in California; Caitlin in Japan]. I had a few errands to run that wintery morning, and with the girls sleeping soundly in their beds – perhaps with sugar-plums dancing in their heads? – I decided to take off early on my appointed rounds so that, when I returned home, I could spend as much of the day with them as possible. The next day, we were slated to go see Rogue One as a family. It would be the first time both the girls saw the newest installment in the Star Wars Saga.
I got home, was delighted to find both the girls up and about, and as I unpacked my goodies, I asked them both if they would like me to fix them some breakfast [brunch would be more like it lol]. I raised my head to see Erin and Caitlin looking at me with rather somber gazes on their faces. Too somber with the thought of food in the air. 😉 “Momma, we have some bad news to tell you,” Erin began, her sweet voice so sad. Caitlin continued: “Carrie Fisher passed away this morning.” My youngest’s voice held just as much sorrow as her older sister’s.
I think I paused for a moment or two. I am not really sure what my own face looked like. I remember that the first thought that popped into my head was that I had misheard the girls’ message. I finally found my voice. “What did you say?” I asked, sure I hadn’t heard right. “What?” I shook the cobwebs out of my head – for surely there were some residing there. I could not have heard what I just heard. This couldn’t be true! Last we heard was that the indomitable Carrie Fisher was getting better! She still was in intensive care, but the prognosis was positive.
“I’m so sorry, Momma,” Erin answered, doleful. “Carrie Fisher passed away. We heard about it just a little while ago.” So, I hadn’t misheard after all. At this particular moment, all I could think of was that there is something to be said for a news blackout. Ignorance is bliss. I walked around in a fog for the remainder of the day, sensing my eyes tearing up every once in a while [as they are as I write this]. It may sound odd that I have reacted like this, off and on, for the past few months … whenever I think about Carrie Fisher, whenever I watch one of the touching videos of those who knew her talk about her, what she was like – considering I never had the pleasure of meeting her, not even at a Celebration. Some of my Star Wars friends have, and they have extolled how gracious she always was … even after hours of sitting at a table, and penning her flamboyant signature time after time after time. Caitlin and I joined the audience at Celebration IV in Los Angeles – Star Wars’ 30th Birthday Celebration – for Ms. Fisher’s one-woman show, and I can tell you what a delight that was! I wish she would have found a way to bottle her energy! 🙂 Besides that incredible show at CIV, I’ve caught her “Wishful Drinking” show on HBO, watched films [other than Star Wars; yes, they do exist lol] in which she has appeared, and read most of the books she has written [as well as viewing the film adaptation of her novel, Postcards from the Edge – a wonderful pic if you haven’t seen it!]. She truly was quite versatile. Because I happened to pick up The Princess Diarist right before that sharp-tongued Princess Leia suffered her heart attack, it took me a while to dive into it. The tell-all read sat on my “to-be-read” pile for a few weeks before I could bring myself to break the spine, but once I did, I could not put it down. I felt like I was having a personal chat with Ms. Fisher. No matter what she was doing – writing, appearing in a film [surprisingly, at least to me, she really didn’t have many in which she played the key role], or baring her soul in one of her one-woman productions – her wit, honesty, charm, and indomitable spirit always came through.
It was hard going to see Rogue One with my girls Christmas week. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how I would react when I saw that pivotal, hopeful last scene of the movie. It was painful witnessing the white-clad figure turn, to see Carrie Fisher’s younger visage, and hear her voice that one, simple, powerful word – “Hope.” But how would my girls react? Ms. Fisher’s passing was so recent, emotions still raw. I could steel myself as best I could – because I knew what was coming. Neither Erin nor Caitlin did. They most definitely would not want an inkling of what to expect. Much as I like to try to surreptitiously watch their reactions when we go to see a Star Wars movie – I know that bothers them a lot – I try to keep that to a minimum. Still, knowing they both are fans of Princess Leia [she is one of Erin’s favorite characters], I was unsure how deeply they might be bothered by seeing the princess up on the screen so soon after her passing. My girls grew up on Princess Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie. They may be fictional characters, but those fictional characters have been brought to life by some very talented actors. They are, to a certain extent, part of our lives.
Luckily, we all made it through the film just fine. A few tears at the end, but overall, we weathered that last scene of Rogue One better than expected. As the days slipped by, I wondered how I could come to grips with losing someone who had been such an important part of my life [without her ever being the wiser, of course]. Carrie Fisher touched more lives than she possibly ever could have known. I couldn’t talk about it – for months, as it turned out. About the most I would say to anyone who brought it up in my presence was, “I can’t believe she’s gone. I heard she was getting better, and before anyone knew, she had passed away.” [Everyone who knows me – even those who do not consider themselves Star Wars fans – knows of my affinity for the space opera, and many called to offer their condolences. A sweet gesture, to be sure, but in lieu of being able to offer such to Ms. Fisher’s daughter, brother and many close friends, I suppose I was the next best thing.] I honestly don’t mean to drag all this out … but this is the most prolific I have been able to be on this topic since getting the news from Erin and Caitlin back in December. Mark Hamill put it so well in his “Tribute to Carrie Fisher” at Celebration Orlando this past April. I wasn’t in the audience, but I have watched the video. In it, he explains how he was asked to make a statement within the first week of Ms. Fisher’s death, and how difficult that was because he was trying to wrap his head around the fact that she had passed away, that he was trying to come to grips with losing someone (a) so unexpectedly, and (b) who was such a vital part of his life. They had just started to reconnect [what with the reunion The Force Awakens brought about]. Then, his dear friend was ripped from his [and everyone else’s] life without any word of warning. [That is a reminder to us all how precious life is.]
Then came the June issue of “Vanity Fair”, and staring back at you from one of the four cover choices is Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa Solo. You can see her strong sense of who she is in the way she holds herself, in the look on her face. Her bearing exudes strength and power. She is so real. Then, you open to the beautiful photo spread by Annie Leibovitz, and among the array are two photographs that show the tender side of Leia [and Carrie], one with her daughter, Billie [Lieutenant Connix], and one with Mark Hamill. My eyes, which had finally begun to dry, moistened once again.
As far as I was concerned, Carrie Fisher was not just ‘some actress’ who passed away. Carrie Fisher was different. She brought a feisty princess to life at a time when I – and many who were living through the 1970s and early 1980s – needed someone like her. She was only two years older than me, and when she burst on the screen in Star Wars in 1977, I thought to myself: “Now here’s a role model for young women everywhere, including me!” She was feisty … and had a heart. She was a leader … and knew the value of working as a team. She was smart … and made no excuses for it. No femme fatale was Princess/Senator/General Organa-Solo. She didn’t need rescuing. In fact, more often than not, it was she who did the rescuing [finding a way out of the detention block, setting Han free from carbonite, firing the decisive shot from the corner of the bunker on Endor … need I go on?]. The reason I bring all this up, if you will allow me, is because it was an interesting era in which to be a young woman in the United States. The “Women’s Lib” Movement began in this country in the 1960s, but I was too young during that decade to … well, to care about it. Then, as I entered high school in the early years of the ‘70s, and went off to college, I was striving to be independent, set my own course, pursue an untraditional career for a young woman [I wanted to be a journalist] – while my parents tried [in vain] to head me down a path “more suited for a young woman.” Oh, the heated discussions we had sitting around our kitchen table my senior year of high school. Sometimes I felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall.
Then came the summer of 1977. I returned home from my freshman year in college. One evening, a friend asked me if I wanted to go see “some spacey movie.” About two hours later, I knew my life had changed. Forever. Luke Skywalker quickly became – and remains – my favorite Star Wars character. But that doesn’t mean the role Leia played was lost on me. Here was one strong female character! She wasn’t found cowering in a corner. No! What does she do but grabs Han’s blaster, fires a couple of shots into the nearby wall, and answers Han’s barb with “Somebody has to save our skins! Into the garbage chute, wise guy!” She gives as good as – no better than – she gets. She stands up to the sarcastic Han Solo, wavering Luke Skywalker, and even the seven-foot walking carpet [sorry, Chewbacca]. Luke may have cemented himself as my favorite character, yet Leia exemplified exactly what a young woman could be – strong, caring, tenacious, tender, intelligent, take-action all rolled up into one tiny yet powerful package! This was pretty big stuff back in 1977. You must remember that there were no Wonder Woman, no Xena Warrior Princess, no Katniss, no Ellen Ripley, no Buffy Summers, no Lara Croft. Princess Leia led the way to help make all these characters – and more – possible. She became a beacon for what every female could be!
Near the end of Mark Hamill’s tribute, he remarked how therapeutic it was to spend that [almost] hour chatting about Carrie Fisher with the audience. “It’s impossible to think of her in the past tense,” he noted. “…This is part of the process I need to move on.” He continued: “I need your support, and we all need each other’s support.” I agree with him – totally. I can’t help but think about what it will be like to walk into the theater in December to see The Last Jedi, take my seat, and wait for the words “A long time ago…” to appear onscreen – knowing I will see an iconic actress appear on that same screen at some point during the film. What will I feel? What will I experience? Will the tears flow? I expect it to be rather surreal – not in the bizarre sense of surrealism, but rather along the lines of unreal, unearthly, even dreamlike. One thing I know for certain – Carrie Fisher always will be a princess to me, in every sense of the word.
Thank you so much for sticking with me all this while, and for allowing me to put my feelings into words. I really needed to share this. It has been therapeutic. Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of an iconic character helped fuel me to become the person I am today, and for that, I always will be thankful.
Until next time,
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