I discovered Star Wars around the age of 10, when I noticed a significant difference between myself and other girls my age. While they wanted to play house and had binders covered with flowers, I was quite literally the only girl who not only studied ballet on weekends but carried a superhero pencil case. I spent much of my time trying to fit in until I saw Princess Leia played by Carrie Fisher; beautiful, tough, and handy with a blaster, she instantly became my new role model.
As a nerdy kid, I was teased and bullied, but Leia was a bright light who reminded me that it was okay to be feminine and strong at the same time—she reminded me that it was all right to be one of the boys. Fisher was many things; best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, she was so much more than the fiery love interest in one of the best-loved science-fiction franchises of all time. Fisher was a writer, performer, and advocate. Most importantly, she took her status as an icon and became a role model. When Fisher passed away on Dec 27, 2016, the Internet mourned—posting tributes to her in a wave of lightsabers and sketches showcasing the iconic hairstyle. For me, she will always be so much more than a princess. In my eyes, Fisher represents the woman I always wanted to be, the woman I strive to be. She was a woman who was unapologetically herself despite the consequences.
Fisher knew the meaning of celebrity at a young age, born in 1956 to the incomparable Debbie Reynolds (who sadly passed away the day after her daughter at the age of 84) and singer Eddie Fisher. After her stage debut alongside her mother in the Broadway revival of Irene at age 15, Carrie Fisher began to focus on performing. In 1977, she made her mark by playing Leia and helping to put Star Wars on the map. This performance made Fisher a household name at the young age of 19, and while she is fondly remembered for her breakout role, she also made so many other contributions that are far too often overlooked. Fisher had an acerbic wit and was not shy about sharing it. Amongst her other performances, she also worked as a script doctor and a writer. She made alterations to a number of well-known movies, like Hook and Sister Act as well as Star Wars. In fact, she was largely instrumental in creating Leia’s quippy and no-nonsense voice, but these contributions went unmentioned. She also wrote five novels, three memoirs, and a handful of stage and screenplays. Beyond her professional accomplishments, Fisher’s life was a struggle. She was very vocal about her bouts of addiction as well as her struggle with her mental health. When she publicly declared that she was battling bipolar disorder, she instantly became an advocate for anyone who had ever faced a mental health concern. Fisher was a renaissance woman.
As I got older, Fisher took a different role in my life. She spoke openly of her struggles with bipolar disorder and her drug addiction, and her advocacy for mental health and her refusal conform to the expected standards was my battle cry. She appeared on television and in films just as she was—entirely unapologetic and courageous. She mesmerized me. She was the picture of strength and bravery that I so desperately wanted to be. She allowed me to embrace myself and walk into the world with all my quirks and foibles and never be ashamed.
I, like so many others, will never have the opportunity to thank her for the ways in which she has contributed to our lives. In her performances, in her writing, and in how she conducted herself, she was a constant source of inspiration. As I sat down to reflect on the impact that Carrie Fisher had on me, I found it strange to be eulogizing someone I had never met. I was also deeply saddened by my inability to ever give Fisher anything in return for all she has done for me.
Carrie Fisher blazed the way—relentlessly defying convention—and made room for those following her example. She wanted us to be real. She wanted us to be unapologetic. She wanted us to embrace be courageous, even when we were terrified. So let’s do that. I am putting out a call to anyone who has ever found inspiration in something Carrie Fisher has done, let’s be courageous and unapologetic together. I know that she would be proud.