Y’know, it doesn’t matter which birthday it is. Carrie Fisher is a national treasure and I think we Geeks sometimes forget how much we owe to the self-aware, trailblazing, and utterly iconic work that she did as Princess Leia…and I’m not talking about the metal bikini.
In Jedi, Leia shows us a capable leader and figher as well as a vulnerable side. The bikini bit is what many remember but when we meet her, she’s in disguise and performing a dangerous rescue. Afterwards, she leads the rebel attack on Endor (although Han steals most of the screen time in that sequence). In Empire, her emotional firefight through Bespin is one of my favourite character moments in any film. All that fine work notwithstanding, my favourite Leia moment is in Star Wars.
We are introduced to Leia as an eye-rollingly stereotypical damsel-in-distress. Her message to Obi-Wan borders on parody. There are a few moments where she pushes against type: talking back to Vader and Tarkin, the ruse about the Rebel fortress’s location; however, when she is ‘rescued’ by Luke and Han (she dashes out of her cell into a firefight), she immediately takes charge and goes from hostage to heroine, blasting away more effectively and decisively than the boys.
Yeah, it’s not exactly a perfect gender-equity piece, but for 1977, it’s not bad. So what’s it doing in an otherwise by-the-numbers heroic journey? Carrie Fisher, that’s what. Carrie’s personality is in Leia’s eye-roll at Tarkin, the shoulder into Han when he tries to help her fix the Falcon, and that “I love you” “I know” reversal in Jedi.
In interviews and in her books and plays (Wishful Drinking is a favourite of mine), Carrie reveals a strength of will that overcame addiction, a resilience that helped her to survive an era of Hollywood that treated women as disposable, and a wry wit that cares nothing for politics, playing nice, or saving face. These qualities shone through Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars films and sent a message to little Geeks everywhere that women are not to be trifled with – a thesis that moves more into the forefront of modern Star Wars movies. Rey from The Force Awakens and Rogue One‘s Jyn may not be related to Leia…but they sure wouldn’t be here without her.
Happy birthday, Carrie. Thanks for saving all us scruffy-looking nerf herders.