By Kelsey Duchesne
One of my earliest memories is the age of four, running into my house, tears streaming down my face, and confronting my confused mother. As she assessed my knees and elbows in search of scratches, I explained to her that Dad had upset me because he said I looked like Princess Leia, a mysterious figure who had never graced my regular scheduled programming. My mom laughed, reviewing the two cinnamon bun-style braids she had put in my hair earlier that morning-- her latest experiment with my long locks. She explained that being called Princess Leia was, in fact, a compliment, because she was fearless and spoke her mind. I sat down with my parents that day and watched Star Wars for the first time, and when I wasn’t helplessly falling in love with Han Solo (some v. confusing feelings for a 4 year old, I’ll admit), I was in complete awe of Leia. I asked my mom to keep braiding my hair cinnamon-bun style-- only bigger.
My affection only grew for Carrie Fisher as I got older. A woman who always seemed to have a total sense of self, I’d read interviews where she would slip in jokes blanketed with darkness and sarcasm. Refusing to be typecast in a world where she will always be Leia, Carrie decided to be in on the joke and play alternate versions of herself. From an aging actress dealing with impossible Hollywood standards in Scream 3 to finding Carrie Bradshaw in her bed while her agent (played by Vince Vaughn) watched her fictional mansion while she was out of town, Fisher always seemed to have the last laugh, or at least received them warmly. She appeared as Rosemary, a veteran comedy writer on a Season 2 episode of 30 Rock, jobless and pushed into obscurity when she enters her 50’s. “Help me Liz Lemon, you’re my only hope!” she wailed as Liz scrambles to leave her shabby apartment. She symbolically winks at the camera, while also saying “this is real, folks. Welcome to the life of an aging woman in show business.”
Carrie has been open about the things celebrities often shy away from speaking about, including her drug and alcohol abuse and her battle with bipolar disorder. “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of,” she wrote in her 2008 autobiography, Wishful Drinking.
She was an icon to many, for her talent, transparency, wit, and even her dog, Gary, who has a following of his own. When I went to see The Force Awakens, 20 years after my first Star Wars screening, nothing thrilled me more than seeing her as not just Princess Leia, but General of the Resistance, leading a revolution. Given the recent political climate, Carrie and Leia’s natural sense of leadership still stirs something in me, almost enough to revert back to my vintage hairstyle. As I part with my first hero, I’m reminded that we all need to speak a little louder, a bit more clearer, without hesitancy. Carrie ignited change on and off the screen-- it’s up to us to follow suit and do the same. Cinnamon bun hair optional.