Oh, look, I’m crying again.
I’ve done that quite a few times this year. Not for myself, no — for me, in my personal life, it’s been a pretty good year, all things considered. I’m happy. I have a lot of good things going for me. But it’s been a rough year in other ways. For many of us, even if we haven’t lost someone we near and dear to us, it’s been a year of loss. We lost an election. We lost some of our heroes.
It’s hard to have lost Muhammad Ali, a man both black and Muslim, outspoken and unapologetic about his politics, at a time when Islamophobia runs rampant and people of color are fighting to get our nation to acknowledge that their lives matter.
It’s disappointing to have lost Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the US, in the same year we failed to elect our first woman president.
It’s a miserable confluence to have lost David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael — all men who refused to be bound by traditional conservative ideas about masculinity — in the same year we elected a president who embodies much of the worst of toxic masculinity.
There are others, too — plenty of other entertainers and writers and public figures who were part of the landscape of our lives. People whose art comforted us, or made us feel, or taught us something about ourselves. People who inspired us to reach for the stars.
And it feels like a particularly cruel blow this year when so many of us — facing an incoming presidential administration that stands in direct opposition to our ideals — have taken up the Rebel Alliance as a symbol of solidarity and hope, to have lost Carrie Fisher.
I didn’t cry for all of those people up there, but I did cry for a couple of them. I’ve seen people sniping on social media at others for grieving publicly over celebrity deaths, but in a way, I think that kind of grief is representative of humanity at its best. How amazing our capacity for caring is, that someone we don’t actually know at all can mean so much to us.
Carrie Fisher meant a great deal to me.
I’m a Star Wars geek. My first tattoo was the symbol of the Rebel Alliance. But while Luke is the hero of the original trilogy of films, Leia was my hero.
Leia is smart. She’s tough. She’s capable. She’s handy with a blaster. And she’s a goddamn boss.
Watch her in A New Hope and notice how angry she gets to be. She’s been captured by the enemy, they’ve blown up her home planet, and then two borderline incompetent dudes she’s never seen before show up and declare that good news, they’re here to rescue her! So yeah, of course she’s angry. But her anger matters. Women are taught not to be angry. We’re supposed to be sweet and soft-spoken, and thankful to the men who arrive to help us in our difficulties. We’re not supposed to yell at them, tell them they’re doing a shitty job of helping us, and then demand that they start following our instructions. And yet Leia does all of this, and — here’s the kicker — she isn’t narratively punished for it. She doesn’t get her comeuppance and get put back in her place, meekly following the boys’ lead. She goes right on being an outspoken badass who is eminently capable of taking care of herself.
Watch her in Return of the Jedi and see what a badass she is. In an echo of the events of A New Hope, she marches straight into Jabba’s palace disguised as the bounty hunter Boushh in attempt to rescue Han. Yes, she gets captured, yes, and there’s the infamous gold bikini, subject of a great many adolescent fantasies. Carrie Fisher was openly critical of this element — she resented being reduced to the role of slave and sex object. And yet, for me, this piece of Leia’s story is one of the most powerful. I don’t see a woman who has been reduced to a sex object. I see a woman whom someone else has tried to reduce to a sex object, and — this is important — I see a woman who refuses to give in to that pressure. It’s pretty clear to me in those “slave Leia” scenes that this is not the portrait of a woman beaten. It is the portrait of a woman defiant, smart enough to play along for now, biding her time and waiting for her opportunity. And when the opportunity comes, she seizes it. She strangles her oppressor with his own fucking chains. From my perspective, that’s a pretty potent feminist metaphor.
She never quits, never so much as thinks about giving up. She doesn’t shirk responsibility, or avoid danger. She leads, and others follow. She does what is right. She refuses to be the damsel in distress. She walks calmly into danger for the people she cares about. She rescues herself.
She is the vivid beating heart of the Rebellion.
Fisher’s Princess Leia was an iconic role, and one that has always had special significance for me, and for so many other woman who grew up with Star Wars — Leia was the kind of character we were often starved for. She was a badass woman who was every bit as capable and worthy of respect as the men around her.
To see her return in The Force Awakens as General Organa was pretty damn powerful. My hero Leia, still fighting the good fight, still doing the hard work, still leading and doing what needs to be done. And finally she gets a title that honors her accomplishments, rather than her (adopted) family heritage.
Of course, there’s more to Carrie Fisher than Leia. She became an incredible woman in her own right. She was funny. She was a talented writer. She was outspokenly feminist. She was candidly imperfect. She talked about her experience of mental illness openly and honestly, without shame. She gave exactly zero fucks about what anyone else thought of her. She lived her life to please herself. She loved the hell out of her dog.
I had the pleasure of meeting her, ever so briefly, during a photo op at a comic con only a few months ago. She was gracious and friendly during our quick interaction, and just so vibrant.
I didn’t truly know her, but I’ll miss her all the same. May the Force be with you, Carrie.