Like so many other people, I don't remember the first time I saw Star Wars. Some of my earliest memories, though, are of light sabers, Ewoks, and Princess Leia. I used to run around on the playground during recess with my hair in lopsided buns pretending to be the bad ass, blaster wielding leader of the rebel alliance. Carrie Fisher was the first feminist role model I, and so many other little girls, looked up to...without even realizing it.
Imagine knowing you want to be in charge, but constantly getting called bossy. Imagine being outspoken and confident, but are told it's more lady like to be soft spoken. Imagine watching movie after movie that shows a helpless princess being saved by a dashing prince. This is the reality that many little girls face, and one that the character of Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, stood in direct contrast to. Sure, Star Wars: A New Hope starts off with her kidnapping and the rest of the movie is about her rescue from the clutches of Darth Vader, but Leia was never, not once, even for a moment a helpless damsel.
From the first glimpse of Princess Leia in A New Hope, we're shown a calm and capable woman competently dealing with a crisis. Her ship is under attack by Vader and the Galactic Empire and her men are being picked off pretty handily by her enemies. Leia is able to fend for herself, while simultaneously ensuring that the Death Star plans are removed from the ship. And that's just in the first five minutes of the movie! As the film progresses, Leia continues to be a strong, independent woman who doesn't need literally anybody.
Leia continuously shows her so-called rescuers Luke Skywalker and Han Solo that she's a complete boss who can deal with any storm trooper she encounters. As soon as they open her jail cell door, Leia takes charge. She lets Han and Luke know that there's only one Princess around this death star and she doesn't have time to deal with their amateur hero status. The best part? She's never apologetic about it. She's loud, confident, sarcastic, smart, and plays a pretty major role in her own rescue. Princess Leia showed little girls who loved Star Wars that it was okay to be the smart girl. Princesses didn't just have to be pretty little things. They could be brave, strong, witty, and tough. She showed girls that it was okay to take charge when you know you're the most qualified one in the room and not to be sorry for it. Carrie Fisher's legacy will be much the same as the empowering character she brought to life.
Rolling Stone called Princess Leia "the feminist from the fourth dimension" back in July of 1983. Carrie Fisher, though, was a real life feminist that helped inspire women to embrace their femininity and strength, reassuring girls and women everywhere that those two things were not mutually exclusive. In that same interview with Rolling Stone, Fisher said "once it was proposed to me that it was all right to be like I am, I finally quit apologizing for it." She took this sentiment and carried it with her throughout her career, transcending the legend of Princess Leia and becoming one of the most prolific writers of our time.
Throughout her published works, as well as her many public appearances on talk shows, she touched on sensitive subjects with her signature honest wit. She spoke openly about her own struggles with drug addiction, as well as her mental health. In her book Wishful Drinking, Fisher wrote that "living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls" and that being a person with a mental illness is "something to be proud of, not ashamed of." In a world where girls are constantly told they pretty much need to perfect, Carrie Fisher was always there to remind us that our flaws were just as important as our strengths.
Fisher was also constant reminder, especially after her return to the Star Wars franchise in 2015, that women and girls were much more than the sum of their physical parts. The actress was plagued with cruel comments concerning her appearance when the eye of main stream media was turned on her once again during the media blitz for The Force Awakens. While her long time co stars Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford also happened to age in the thirty plus years since the original trilogy wrapped up, Fisher was the only returning cast member held accountable for being human. Fans of the franchise criticized her by constantly saying that she had not aged well. Fisher responded to these comments in typical, bad ass, unapologetic Carrie Fisher fashion, tweeting "please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately, it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My body hasn't aged as well as I have. Blow us."
Fisher's 23-year-old daughter Billie Lourd spoke with Teen Vogue about how her mother raised her to "be true, and kind, and confident in yourself.' These are the lessons so many girls have taken away from simply being lucky enough to exist in the same galaxy and time as the outspoken actress and writer. Fisher fully embodied these ideals, making herself a shining beacon of female empowerment for decades...whether she realized she was or not.
During the press tour for The Force Awakens last year, Fisher was asked how she felt about being idolized for portraying one of the first true female action heroes in film. Her response summed up all the things Fisher inspired women to be - confident, smart, funny, strong, vulnerable, capable - in one hilarious quip: "I am the beginning of girl power - deal with it!"
Rest in peace, Carrie...