Carrie Fisher died on my birthday.
From now on, I will always be celebrating my life while remembering hers. Such is the bittersweet cycle of life, and how different lives connect with each other in different ways. Like many in the Star Wars community, I will miss her dearly.
I first saw 19-year-old Carrie Fisher on screen at the old Odeon movie theatre when I was 10 years old. My grandmother, mother and aunty were movie fans, but for them, they relished in the sad weepy Chinese black and whites, where almost every woman character in those 1.5 hours were put through all sorts of tragedies in life. I sat through many of such movies. While my mom or grandma would whip out tissue after tissue to wipe their overflowing tears, I sat there perched in between them feeling utterly bored, and absolutely bewildered on how helpless or hopeless these women characters were.
Why can't they take charge and do something? Does only crying, looking limpid and being tragic help live life in any way? Yes, my head ruled my heart even at that young age. That Chinese notion of "Fate" was also what I often fought against. In some ways, I felt that you could at least attempt to challenge Fate right in her face.
Then 1977 and Star Wars came about, and when Princess Leia was captured by Darth Vader, I was expecting her to fall into a quivering mass of blubbery tears like in almost all the Chinese movies I've been forced to watch. But no, she gave him sass. She was the only lead female character and she gave all the guys in the movie sass! And even when her home planet was destroyed, and she was tortured, she stood her ground. Princess Leia saw the bigger picture and she knew what she had to do.
Years later in "Return of the Jedi", I was pretty sure that Chewie and the others were at a loss of what to do when Jabba captured Han Solo, and that Leia must have gone rogue (see what I did there?) and decided to rescue him herself. She was a good strategist and very astute, and when Leia saw the one chance to kill Jabba, she gave it all that she had. Golden bikini and all.
Carrie Fisher's portrayal of Princess Leia opened Younger Me's eyes on how a woman can break out of stereotyped roles in society and Be Her Own Person. Having been inured with retro Disney's damsels in distress type princesses, Carrie Fisher showed me and many other girls out there, that it was OK for a princess to be funny and kickass. It was OK for a Princess to question and take charge. I was encouraged by that. My brain was now lit up with the possibilities of what I can do and be as a girl growing up in the 1970-1980's. I do believe that my current personality and fearlessness, were in many ways, influenced by her iconic role in Star Wars.
Carrie Fisher continued with "The Force Awakens". An older, more mature Carrie Fisher has grown into the role of the battle-experienced General Leia Organa. Nearly four decades have gone by, and I too, have also grown older. Yet, I try adopting Leia's attitude, especially in the workplace.
General Leia was the heart of the Star Wars universe. She wasn't a Jedi but her practical wisdom, tactical and emotional intelligence was what I really admire. She was a leader I want to sacrifice for; a compatriot I want to fight with. Despite facing so much personal loss, General Leia Organa is still resolute in what she believes in, and she does it with style and smarts.
That takes a huge amount of self-awareness and courage, and in no small way, these characteristics of Leia was due to how Carrie Fisher was like in real life too.
I do not have a mental illness (not that I know of anyway), nor have I faced a drug addiction (unless you include caffeine), and so, I cannot fully identify with Carrie Fisher's personal struggles in these areas. However, I am aware that many people with similar issues appreciate her candor as she revealed about her own fight against bi-polar disorder and addictions. Carrie Fisher made it less of a taboo for people to talk about these openly. With her strength, she gave us hope that we can be all right, regardless of our afflictions and weaknesses.
And boy was Carrie Fisher also weird! Her twitter feed, filled with emoticons and upper/lower cases of text, was a mess to read. I will miss her humourous, eccentric, off the cuff postings. As someone who lived in the Hollywood world of pseudo-reality, she told it straight. She was not afraid to reveal what she was not happy about when negotiating through the movie-making minefield, whether it be about ageism or how society still shackles women on what is considered to the culturally acceptable. She was brave that way.
I have always wanted to meet Carrie Fisher in person, but did not have the opportunity till July this year at Star Wars Celebration Europe. Her photo and autograph tickets were one of the first couple of things I purchased when the list of celebrities attending the event was announced.
When the day arrived, my photo session with Carrie Fisher was scheduled for an early morning time slot. As expected, the line was already long, and while waiting, I felt a little on edge. I couldn't wait to meet her, to see her how she was like in person and whether that would match the many stories I've read or heard about her.
As the line drew closer, I was able to observe how she interacted with the fans in front of me. (I was hoping to see Gary the Dog too, but he wasn't there.) She was casually seated on a stool in a floral blouse and trademark sunglasses. There was a young man, who was dressed as Han Solo, and before taking the photo, asked if he could kiss her on the lips, and she said YES. I let out a laugh and cheer. She also willingly gave hugs and when one of the fans nervously and hurriedly walked away without one, she stopped him and asked him to give her one big one.
These were quick pose and go photo sessions, so when it was finally my turn, I introduced myself to her. and then requested for a flexed biceps pose from her, which she did! I then gave her big warm hug and told her, "Thank you!" She did not flinch but accepted and returned it in full.
The next time I saw her again was the autograph session in the afternoon. Despite having long queues in each of her sessions, Carrie Fisher was a do-er. I've heard the event helpers mention that she gets through 800 fans a day, easily. The fact that she does it so efficiently did not in any way detract from how the experience was like inside the booth.
Her table was a glorious whirlwind of spilled glitter and metallic ink. Her own hair was full of shiny glitter as she signed each item with an air of unabashed glee. There was a tall imposing looking black bodyguard in a suit standing within her autograph booth, and even his dreadlocks had been glitterized! I asked him about it, and he said she put it in there. "She did it on everybody," he said. The poor dude tried very hard to look protective and menacing but I could see that his eyes couldn't help but twinkle when he watched Carrie Fisher interact with her fans as if they were little children coming to collect free candy at a county fair. She was pouring and rubbing glitter onto the fans' wrists and hands after she signed each photo.
By the time it was my turn, she marked my hand with a "X" with her golden pen. I asked if I could have some glitter too, but she said apologetically, "It's all out. All gone. But feel free to wipe your hand against the glitter on the table. If you want!" So I did that. It was the most offbeat celebrity autograph session I've ever had. Carrie Fisher knew she had a long queue of fans but she didn't rush us to get through, and yet, she Got The Bloody Job Done.
I walked away from the crowded booth and found a quiet corner of the exhibition hall to take stock of what I had just experienced. I sat down on the carpet. I glanced at my marked left hand still lightly spotted with some glitter, and I took a few more minutes to admire the photo that Carrie Fisher had colourfully autographed with a flourish. That photo is right in front of me now as I type this article, and I am so glad to have had this few memorable minutes when our lives crossed paths.
|Art by Mark Torres|
She was a rebel, our Princess and our General. She has touched the lives of so many.
Carrie Fisher died on my birthday.
And to me, in a way, this makes it a little more special.
May The Force Be With You, Carrie Fisher and your family.
Red Dot Diva has asked her friends and many of those in the Star War community what Carrie Fisher meant to them personally, and these are what some of them said:
In her role as Leia, she taught me that a woman can be strong and still be loved. As herself, she taught me that no pain or illness is insurmountable. My first role model, and even after 38 years, still my favorite. - Becky Barrett
Carrie showed me that a Princess can be a warrior, that a girl can be a badass that a woman can be strong and brave but still vulnerable and that its ok to not be ok as long you keep striving. - Harlee Keinzley
Carrie Fisher made some of the best movies of my childhood; I was only 6 when she wowed me by making the most epic kill in Return of the Jedi but as a script doctor, she had a hand in gems like Hook, Sister Act, Young Indiana Jones. - Vernon Chan
I always supported her as Princess Leia because she was the only one who had to get things done and then when I grew up wanting to make my own stories, I learned she was a script doctor. And wow, I wanted to be like that, to rip apart and fix stories because that's another battle. And she did it all even acting as General Leia, like heck it, do it her way and she did her with her dog Gary by her side. - Sarah Coldheart
She taught me to confront mental health issues. I learned that it's okay not to be okay. I will miss her spirit, her joy, her truth, and her smile. - Scott Parker
When I was a kid we didn't have cable- we had star wars on VHS that we watched everyday. I remember thinking how beautiful and smart and brave she was- and how I wanted to be gutsy and not wait for boys to give me permission to kick ass or strangle a hutt. As a woman, I was touched by how emotionally honest Carrie could be, and it made me want to be more audacious like her. She is my princess, then, now, and forever. - Kit McIlvaine
In a time when the archetypal princess waited to be rescued by a prince, she was the one who had the blaster in hand, taking down stormtroopers. The one strangling Jabba the Hutt. She was the original warrior princess, the epitome of Girl Power. - Adam Koh
As I was a little boy, watching "A new Hope" (it was just named "Star Wars" then...), Carrie Fisher embodied the ideal princess for me : beautiful, feisty, strong, feminine, a sense of humor, and the general image that "girls can play with the boys"... this has guided me through my whole life, and I have been shocked to discover that some "princesses" are a mere token in movies, that some men want to relegate them to a second-role in real life too... I'm so happy to have this point of view, in big part thanks to Carrie Fisher. - Herve Cotton
I was never really into Star Wars, but Leia was iconic. And Carrie Fisher was one hell of a woman, more so as she got older. I never knew her, but losing her feels like losing a grandmother. She is one with the Force now and the Force is with her. - hellobhav
Carrie showed me how to deal with mental health and still go on with life. She's a wonderful person and her emoji tweets are the best. As Leia, she showed me even as a princess, you can kick ass in everything you do. As the general, Carrie really gave us the true nature of Hollywood. Old women have to still be sexy but Carrie slammed that down and made General Organa her own thing. I'll always admire her for that. - Janice
To see a figure, no, more importantly a woman, who wasn't afraid to be open and honest about her difficulties, addiction, mental health difficulties. She was also proud of the love and following she had from all of us. We'll miss her. - Ruth Sullivan
|Art by Zeng Lin|
Thanks to Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Torres, Kelvin Chan, Gene Whitlock and Zeng Lin for allowing me to use their tribute artwork for this blog article.