Yesterday my family had the wonderful opportunity to see an exhibit of Star Wars costumes at the Denver Art Museum. I had gotten the tickets months ago so we had no way of knowing that Carrie Fisher would have passed away a few days before we saw her iconic costumes on display. We took pictures of all of them - her famous white robe from A New Hope, her helmeted and robed outfit when she rescues Han in Return of the Jedi, and of course, the infamous metal bikini that she wears two scenes later in the same movie.
That gold bikini. A fantasy come alive for every boy in the 1980s. Carrie spoke of the love/hate relationship she had with that costume in her phenomenal one-woman show "Wishful Drinking" that my husband and I saw her perform live a few years ago. (By the way, if you haven't seen the HBO recording of this show, you should really try to find it. She/the show is spectacular - funny, poignant, incredibly intelligent and insightful - and when it's over you find yourself wanting to dream bigger dreams and be kinder to the people around you.)
While the boys were thrilled to see Princess Leia dressed provocatively and in an objectified, submissive role (she was chained to the villain for crying out loud!) the rest of us were surprised to see such a strong, daring, soldier woman forced into these subservient restraints. But from her gestures and her eye-to-eye connections with her comrades, we also knew that she was just biding her time and waiting for the opportune moment to use her situation to her advantage and ultimately conquer her captors. Sure enough, she plays her part until she gets her chance, then uses the very chains she's been bound with to kill the horrible creature who has been making so many lives miserable, including her love's, for so many years. She beats the villain at his own game, as so many strong women have been doing since the beginning of time.
Although Carrie Fisher teases George Lucas about owning her likeness and putting her face on every doll, Pez dispenser, and cookie jar for the past 40 years, I have to give props to him for creating one of the first women on screen who could completely hold her own with the men in stressful situations. I didn't realize until the exhibit yesterday that Princess Leia was my first hero. In the first movie she's a soldier, a senator, and a smart, cunning leader of a huge rebellion army aimed at taking down the tyrannical and oppressive Empire. She can fire a blaster more accurately than Luke and Han, and is much more innovative when they're in trouble, proving it to them by saying, "someone has to save our skins" before leading then down the garbage chute. By the second movie she's a general in the army, and in the third we see her riding death defying speeders through a forest and once again saving the mens' hides by having a concealed pistol at the ready when all seems lost.
No one ever questioned the fact that she was fighting and plotting and participating right in there with the guys. No one was surprised at her ability to do heroic things and play an integral part in destroying Darth Vader simply because she was female. She was the only leading woman in these extraordinarily influential movies and while there was some romance in her storyline, it was a merely a side note to her character's strength, fortitude, and keen intelligence. She wasn't a caricature, she was real - a real woman, who in times of extreme stress and trouble, used her wits and her courage to make a real difference in a world besotted by evil corruption and tyranny.
On film, Carrie Fisher was a true hero. Behind the scenes, she was also the hero of her own, often weird and bizarre life. Born into Hollywood royalty, her life was affected at a very young age by her father's very public affair and her parents' subsequent very public divorce. In her books she describes her chaotic upbringing, and especially her mother, as "more designed for public than for private." Her own marriage was volatile, and her struggles with drugs and mental illness plagued her for most of her adult life. Like Princess Leia though, she was never shy or retreating about her issues - she boldly presented them honestly for all to see, and she never cared about who might be judging her for doing so. She was able to find humor and dignity and grace throughout a life that could be considered stranger than most, and she repeatedly rose from her difficulties and traumas with a smile and a wink to those who would have considered her beaten once and for all.
Sadly, so very sadly, she will not rise again this time. And her mother (whom she lived next door to and shared dinner with every night they were in town together) who died one day after her daughter, will no longer be an ever-smiling entertainer encouraging us to have a "Good mornin'!" Thankfully, at least this way they won't have to miss each other.
It is a tradition to leave a stone at a gravesite, signifying that a person was there to honor the deceased, and also as a symbol of the permanence of memory and legacy. Yesterday at the museum, I surreptitiously left a small stone at the base of the glass case that enshrined Princess Leia's iconic white robe from when we first met her in A New Hope. Both Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher, are legacies that will remain in our collective memories forever. I can only hope, as she did, that the force will be with her, always.