I didn’t necessarily feel like dying – but I’d been feeling a lot like not being alive.Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking
I am one of those women who, if you ask me who my biggest role model was while growing up, will answer Carrie Fisher. I was six years old when the first Star Wars came out, and even though I wasn’t allowed to see it, as little kids do, I developed a hyper-focused obsession with the movie.
That’s when Carrie Fisher’s influence began. Princess Leia was my favourite character. (I did briefly want to marry Chewbacca, but as he’s more of a visual character who doesn’t translate so well to print, it wasn’t long before I decided it was better if we just remained friends.) My interest in her began simply because she was a girl, and so am I. It’s well documented that people like to see themselves in their entertainment, and I’m no exception.
But Leia spoke to me in a more complex way than by just sharing the same biology. I’m the only daughter in a family with four kids, and the youngest to boot. When I was born, my mother was thrilled to finally have a girl, so I was dressed in frilly clothes and had a pink themed bedroom and got a Barbie every Christmas. But even at the tender age of six, I wasn’t very girly, and I hated all these things.
Then along came Leia. She was a Princess. What’s more girly than that? But she was also, (although it would be a long time before I would learn this word), a badass. She was a leader, she could strategize, she could shoot, she went toe-to-toe with the galaxy’s biggest bad guys without giving an inch, and when the heroes came to rescue her and botched the job, she pulled their asses out of the fire – all while wearing a dress. She taught me that it was okay that I wasn’t a girly-girl.
As the films continued, and I was finally allowed to see them, Leia’s influence only grew. In The Empire Strikes Back, she’s shown balancing everything, from a military command to a tumultuous relationship. And in Return of the Jedi, which I personally consider to be Leia’s movie, besides cementing her place as a feminist icon, she taught me something fundamental about myself.
No discussion about Jedi can ignore the infamous gold bikini. So here’s my take. When I watched that movie for the first time, what I saw was a woman calculatingly biding her time, and then strangling her oppressor with her own slave chain. Okay, maybe not in those exact words, because I was 12 when Jedi came out. I was, however, already well versed in society’s “But you’re a girl!” mentality, and here was my hero kicking that notion to the curb.
The other thing about the gold bikini, though? Like I said, I was 12. I was looking at things in a slightly more … adult way than I had before. And I discovered that I found Princess Leia equally as attractive as I did Han Solo. Again, it would be a long time before I learned the word, but it was the first inkling I had that I’m bisexual. (As an aside, in my opinion, the bikini’s got nothing on the white snowsuit she wore in Empire.)
So far, I’ve been talking about Princess Leia, the character, whom I am well aware is not Carrie Fisher, the person. Fisher’s spirit imbues Leia, but she isn’t Leia. When I was a kid, it was Leia who spoke to me. As an adult, I’m in a very different place in my life, and it’s Fisher herself who resonates.
When Disney announced they’d be making the final three Star Wars films to complete George Lucas’ original plan of nine movies, I was excited. When I heard Carrie Fisher would be returning as Leia, I was ecstatic. Watching her handle critics who body-shamed her, I was awed. And learning that she obliquely threatened to cut off the penis of someone who’d sexually assaulted her friend? That gave me a new standard to aspire to.
Which brings us to the quote at the start of the article. I have lived that feeling for a long time. A little over 10 years ago, I began to experience periodic stress-related suicidal thoughts. They were passive – not so much “I wish I was dead,” as “If I was dead, I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit.” I developed coping strategies and lived with it. I never told anyone, because that sort of thing just wasn’t talked about.
But Carrie Fisher talked about it. She was open about her bipolar disorder and addictions, and she was unapologetic about it all. It was because of her that a couple of years ago, when my periodic, passive suicidal thoughts graduated to regular, active suicidal thoughts, I started to talk about it, too. I got the help I needed, and I’m in a much better place. Now when my brain starts to go off the rails, I see it coming from much farther away, and can take the steps I need with the support system I have to make weathering the storm not necessarily easier, but certainly more bearable.
I mourned Carrie Fisher’s death. I’d grown used to watching her navigate each stage of life a decade or so before I did and getting an idea of what was in store. I’d thought that was over, until a couple of days ago, when I re-read Wishful Drinking for the first time since its original release. I don’t remember the quote at the beginning of this article from my first reading, likely because the book first came out around the same time I was starting to experience a similar feeling. But this time around, it hit me hard, indeed. Even from beyond the grave, she’s still leading the way.
Princess Leia showed me that being a woman didn’t preclude me from being myself. Carrie Fisher showed me being myself meant I could be everything at once – strong and fierce and damaged and faltering and striving and caring and a million other things at the same time. And if that isn’t a role model, I don’t know what is.