When Carrie Fisher passed away, I lost my childhood hero. This death marked the passing of a woman that had a profound effect on my life and the lives of countless women.
My parents took me to the theater to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when it first opened. I was four. All I remember was watching Darth Vader Force-choking Captain Needa to death and the other characters dragging his body offstage. By the time I was six, however, I was begging my babysitter to let me watch Star Wars (my generation’s official name for A New Hope) on our new, high-tech VCR. I grew up watching and rewatching Han, Luke, and Leia save the galaxy, and Star Wars became my favorite movie series.
I never truly realized how Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Princess Leia shaped my generation’s view of women. I grew up thinking it was normal to watch a woman not only fighting in a rebellion but actually leading it. I watched Princess Leia wield both a blaster and authority. For me, this was how the world worked. I never thought twice about how my gender might affect my career. I was going to go to college and become a lawyer and then maybe even the Attorney General. It never occurred to me that my gender would get in my way, and Princess Leia’s character developed part of that belief. (I ended up choosing writing as a career instead of law and politics. I got to keep my soul, and that worked out well.)
The Force was strong in Luke and strong in Leia, and I never thought that odd. I wonder how many young girls of my generation grew up, as I did, believing in themselves without worrying about their gender because of the way Carrie Fisher played her role. I’m sure many boys my age grew up watching Star Wars and figured a woman in leadership was normal as well.
While I give most of the credit to George Lucas for creating the character and the storyline, I must also give Carrie Fisher credit for her portrayal of Leia. She made Leia feel real. She made Leia’s accomplishments seem normal. She yelled things like “Into the garbage chute, flyboy!” and “Will someone get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” and made us all think she was awesome. Very few actresses could have pulled that off, yet she did it with grace, dignity, and a blaster that fired red killer lasers.
I honestly believe none of my writing, especially my character Gabriella, would be anything like it is now without Star Wars or Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. I also believe that the way she gave Leia’s character legitimacy helped pave the way for my generation of women.
We are indebted to Carrie. The best way to repay that debt is for each of us to finish Leia’s work and become whatever we want to be without a thought of our gender. May the Force be with you, your highness.