Film and TV

Why Carrie Fisher Was So Much More Than My Generation's First Crush

Carrie Fisher died. It's no longer news, really, but part of something larger. She was (and will continue to be) an icon, and 2016 has not been kind to icons.

When the news hit a few days ago about her having a massive heart attack on a flight to Los Angeles, the first feelings of dread began to really sink in. Fisher was our Princess Leia. For a generation or two of human beings, she was our first princess, and to many, she was the princess.

Fisher, who was just 60 years old when she died, was our first real crush. Sure, we had Farrah Fawcett, too, but that was all physical. With Fisher, and her Leia Organa character from the Star Wars films, it went beyond that. She could banter with anyone — human, droid, cyborg, or “giant slug,” as she liked to refer to her captor from Return of the Jedi (1983), Jabba the Hut. She was as tough as she was beautiful, and she never shied away from the fight.

Like the character that made her instantly recognizable to literally billions of people, Fisher let her humanity speak for itself as she shared both her struggles and successes with equal zeal. As a person living with bipolar disorder and a history of substance abuse, she became a strong advocate for mental health and recovery, working diligently through her writing and one-woman performances to de-stigmatize mental illness and substance abuse whenever possible. Several of her written works, including Postcards From The Edge (which was later made into a film whose screenplay she wrote) dealt head-on with her experience in coping with both substance abuse and bipolar disorder.

She was our first real crush because of her humanity.

Beyond the five Star Wars films she appeared in (and yes, apparently she completed work on Episode VIII), Fisher had several additional roles that will remain memorable to film and television fans for years to come. As “Mystery Woman” in Blues Brothers (1980), Fisher attempts to kill Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Akroyd) Blues numerous times throughout the film, and as "April" in Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters (1986), Fisher shined as the Dianne Wiest’s cock-blocking friend and catering partner. More recently, Fisher had appeared on several TV shows including appearances on The Big Bang Theory, Entourage, 30 Rock, and voice-over work on Family Guy.

Fisher’s wit and sense of humor were top-notch. Many of us, as we pined away for Leia after Star Wars came out in 1977, didn’t realize how truly gifted a comedic actress she was until we saw her begin to pop up in the occasional comedy or do a guest stint on Saturday Night Live. Fisher possessed comic timing, even if it was veiled significantly in her most famous role. Watching Fisher and Chevy Chase find love in the slightly forgettable, but ultimately charming 1981 comedy, Under the Rainbow, was both delightful and maddening, because again, she was ours. How could she fall for a guy like Chevy Chase when she had Han Solo?

As we consider her place in history now, even as we mourn her death, we have to look closely at her powerful portrayal of George Lucas’ Western-in-the-stars leading lady and the legacy she created. While there have always been a small handful of outspoken feminist movie stars, Fisher made a point of firmly standing her ground and consistently pointing out that Leia was a strong person, not just a strong woman. A child of Hollywood, she was an outspoken critic of the sexism that is still pervasive in the town where she was well respected, even if her views on gender equality were not embraced by everyone.

Fisher could have easily mailed in her performance in Star Wars and been the quintessential “damsel in distress” allowing Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo to rescue her and save the day, but instead, she was right there, shoulder to shoulder with the boys giving the Empire everything it could handle. It has been said that Fisher’s Leia should have been given a light saber, but her power in the force was possibly the strongest of them all. She didn’t need a sleek and dangerous weapon to show how powerful she was.

Carrie Fisher was cool. May the Force continue to be with her.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon