The death this week of writer, actor, and advocate Carrie Fisher has come as a devastating blow to her fans at the end of a difficult year. Best known for her performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, Fisher was a pop culture icon, and one of the most inspiring figures in the sci-fi canon. But beyond her most famous role, she was also a brilliant writer, a scathing wit, and a powerful voice for people struggling with mental illness.
I always knew Princess Leia was special, but it was only years later that I understood why. I was born between the original releases of Star Warsand The Empire Strikes Back, so Star Wars was always there for me — it was part of the fabric of my childhood.
There was no shortage of children’s stories that involved the rescue of a princess, but Star Wars was the only one — or at least the first one — where the princess is sarcastic and funny and doesn’t take any crap from her captors or her rescuers. Even when her planet is threatened with destruction, Princess Leia lies about the location of the Rebel base. Even in the face of apocalypse, she doesn’t break — she buys time.
No disrespect to George Lucas, creative juggernaut that he is, but female characters were never his strong suit. For that matter, characters in general never were. I came to realize as I got older that there was one reason Princess Leia was so awesome, and that reason was Carrie Fisher.
By rewriting her own dialogue, by improvising, and just by the nuances of her performance, Fisher made Leia into the character that I loved so much. Carrie Fisher, of course, was so much more than Princess Leia, but for me and so many other kids, she was Princess Leia first, and Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without her. [Elle Collins]
If you grow up in the Chicagoland suburbs, you're expected to see The Blues Brothers as early as possible, because it's a "pure Chicago" movie. Carrie Fisher runs through the picture for less than 10 minutes but steals each scene she's in.
Billed only as "Mystery Woman," Fisher stalks the main characters, brothers Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Akroyd), in bizarre ways, from firing a bazooka at Elwood's apartment building to cornering them with an M16 in the sewers. It's a brief part, but it's hysterical no matter how many times you watch it, because Fisher plays the absolute absurdity of the part perfectly straight.
To me, that encapsulates Fisher's best work, from her acting to her writing and activism. Despite all of her struggles, she was able to present herself with an effortless and inspiring confidence.
Maybe that's why no Star Wars comic or novel out therehas ever fully captured Leia for me. Because it was never about what the princess or general said, but who said it. [Tom Speelman]
It took a copy of Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking to help me realize that I needed help managing my increasingly debilitating depression.
I'd bought Wishful Drinking a year or two ago, but didn't actually sit down to read it until halfway through my first semester of grad school this year. Despite the fact that I had papers to write and assigned reading to skim through, something drove me to pick up my Kindle and start reading.
Carrie Fisher was so open about her struggles with both alcoholism and mental illness in her writing that something just clicked in my head while I was reading it. Something that stuck with me to the point where I finally made an appointment with my school's mental health center a few days later.
I mean, the panic attack I'd had in the library didn't help, but the only reason that I didn't bottle everything up or tweet about it later like I usually did was because her words in Wishful Thinking were still fresh in my head, especially her author's note at the end where she talks about how living with borderline personality disorder and functioning are things to be proud of. [Zina H.]
The Script Doctor
One of the coolest things about Carrie Fisher for me has always been how amazing she was as a script doctor. It’s what I want to do. It’s maybe the best and most unknown job in Hollywood.
A script doc takes a finished script and punches it up, making it scarier or faster; better. Carrie Fisher was among the best, working on many beloved movies of the '80s and '90s, including Sister Act, Hook, The Blues Brothers, Last Action Hero, Coyote Ugly, and The Wedding Singer, Oh, and Star Wars. She contributed to the scripts for all the original trilogy, and even the prequels.
That means Princess Leia, one of the coolest characters to ever exist, was not just portrayed by Carrie Fisher, but written by her too! She started punching up Leia's lines in A New Hope, giving the character her words and her attitude.
The next time you watch Princess Leia be one of the brightest, smartest, most sardonic characters to ever grace the screen, know that she belongs entirely to Carrie Fisher. [Tara Marie]
Carrie Fisher was crazy, and entirely unapologetic about it. As a young woman who spent years struggling with depression and wanting to die, it was phenomenal for me to see someone be so open and honest about her own mental illness. And not just honest, but funny! Seeing her being able to joke about her craziness gave me some tiny amount of hope that I could get there too.
Carrie Fisher talked about the benefits of mental health medication, with the acknowledgement that it doesn't work for everyone, or even for the same person over time. In a world that shames overprescription and over-medication, it was so helpful to hear someone stand up and say that drugs helped them, and they may help you too. You can deal with mental illness, and you can have a fantastic life.
She reminded us all that life is about more than just surviving; it's about art, it's about humor, it’s about relationships. Life is hard, but it’s beautiful and so worth striving for. [Emma Lawson]
As much as I loved Princess Leia growing up (and I really did), I'm so grateful for The Force Awakens giving us General Leia Organa, because I felt like it did justice to how amazing Carrie was in her later years. Because like General Leia herself, Carrie Fisher aged and struggled and kept surviving, even if the struggle never really stopped.
As an older woman, Fisher was adamant about not hiding who she really was — mental illness and all, addiction and all, stubbornness and all, dirty mind and all — from a public that would rather remember her as a sweet, pretty girl in her 20s.
Her books, interviews, and emoji-filled Twitter account are full of Carrie Fisher being brazenly, happily herself — a radical act in a world that doesn’t like weird old women making them uncomfortable. That means a lot to me.
In this moment, all I want to do going forward into next year and the next 50 years is to be as brash, as smart, as uncompromising as Carrie Fisher was. [Katie Schenkel]