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To Me, She's Royalty

27 Dec, 2016 By: John Latchem


Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in 'Star Wars'

(Minor spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ahead)

After seeing Rogue One Dec. 15, I began ruminating about the nature of the digital re-creation of a couple of classic “Star Wars” characters for the film. One of course was Grand Moff Tarkin, presenting a new performance from actor Peter Cushing, who died in 1994.

The other was the brief cameo by the 1977 likeness of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

What struck me about the still-evolving visual effects technology at work was how it linked appearances from someone long-since dead to someone still living, but obviously too old to perform the specific version of the role. Some social media trends focused on the morbid ethics of resurrecting the dead, seemingly accepting of the idea of doing the same thing to someone alive if only to make them younger.

That got me to thinking, though, of some future date when we’d look back at the original Star Wars after all its cast had left us. Someday, I thought, even the youngest of them, Carrie Fisher, would pass on, and we as a fandom would have to deal with it.

I never expected it to happen this soon.

The news of Fisher’s death on Dec. 27 at age 60 certainly filled me with the profound sadness that any “Star Wars” fan would feel, despite being given the chance to brace for this possibility following her heart attack four days earlier.

As it seemingly has for celebrities in general, 2016 has been rough on the “Star Wars” family. Before Fisher, Kenny Baker, the man inside the R2-D2 costume, died in August, and Drewe Henley, who played Red Leader in the original Star Wars and Rogue One, died in February. These tragic losses have turned the current celebration of the rebirth of the franchise into a period of mourning as well. But at least we have Fisher’s final performance as Leia in next year’s Episode VIII to look forward to and cherish.

It’s not my intention here to harp on about the significance of her career or its personal impacts on me, as, truth be told, there really aren’t any, other than in a general way through my interest in film and television, and “Star Wars” in particular. There will be no shortage of blogs and articles about Fisher’s career, and Leia’s prominence as a strong female character in male-dominated Hollywood, and science-fiction in particular.

Leia was, of course, one of the iconic characters of film history, with two different outfits likely to go down in the cosplay hall of fame — her signature bun hairdo with white gown from the original film, and the gold slave bikini from Return of the Jedi, both of which have become comic-con staples (the gold bikini even has its own Wikipedia page).

And, she's one of the lucky few who can claim to have their own John Williams theme (one I was lucky enough to see the Maestro perform in person earlier this year at the Hollywood Bowl).

I especially enjoyed the way she shifted her accent in the original Star Wars, something many detractors have mocked but something which I think is a subtle character trait. From what I can tell, she only uses the British accent around the Imperial officers, which indicates an attempt to fit in with them on their level. As a senator and diplomat, she has to convince them that she’s one of them, and is putting on a show for their benefit. Among her allies in the Rebellion, she uses her regular voice. A key transition occurs during her emotional duress at the destruction of Alderaan, when she drops her accent to plead for mercy for her homeworld — fully dropping her cover as it is clear Leia’s pretensions no longer serve any purpose in her fight against evil.

(A bit of trivia: While Fisher's most-famous line of dialogue is likely "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope," the only scene in any of the films in which Leia and Obi-Wan appear together is at the end of Episode III, when Kenobi is present at her birth.)

Fisher’s association with “Star Wars” made me perk up a bit whenever she turned up in another movie, from her cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back to more prominent roles in films such as Under the Rainbow, a largely forgettable 1981 Chevy Chase comedy I once saw as a 6 year old in a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back.

I should also admit that Fisher was probably the main selling point that got me into a theater in 1989 to see The ’Burbs, in which she played Tom Hanks’ wife. The ’Burbs became more notable to me as the first movie my inner critic noted as being pretty terrible as I was watching it.

It was endearing to see the outpouring of well-wishes Fisher inspired after her heart attack, blossoming into full tributes upon her death, which really hammered home to me just how much the public loves “Star Wars,” and in particular her importance in elevating its role not only in pop culture history, but also its effect on our national identity.

As the daughter of Hollywood legends Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and through a long and varied career as an actress, author and screenwriter, Carrie Fisher’s life will invariably mean different things to different people.

But she’ll always be Princess Leia to me.
 



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