Last year, months before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” officially reunited the original cast and crew of the Millennium Falcon, there was a small disturbance in the Force. A disgruntled father on the East Coast, outraged over an action figure depicting Princess Leia in her infamous “slave” bikini costume, had denounced the toy as “inappropriate,” sparking a heated debate among fans and critics about the political implications of the outfit.
The woman behind the bikini, actress Carrie Fisher answered the controversy in typical frank Fisher fashion. “The character is wearing that outfit not because she’s chosen to wear it. She’s been forced to wear it. She’s a prisoner of a giant testicle who has a lot of saliva going on. She does not want to wear that thing and it’s ultimately that chain, which you’re now indicating is some sort of accessory to S&M, that is used to kill the giant saliva testicle.… That’s asinine.”
And just like that, Fisher reclaimed the “slave Leia” look for feminism.
Converting a Frank Frazetta-inspired, barely-there metal two-piece into a flag for female empowerment was just one small example of Fisher’s ability to change the narrative in Hollywood — a career-turned-calling that tragically ended with her death Tuesday.
Skewering stereotypes, inanities and lazy thinking with a lance of wit and hard-won insight was Fisher’s specialty. And for a long time, she did it all by her lonesome.
In her latest memoir, which is called “The Princess Diarist,” she wrote: “I liked being Princess Leia. Or Princess Leia’s being me. Over time I thought that we’d melded into one. I don’t think you could think of Leia without my lurking in that thought somewhere. And I’m not talking about masturbation. So Princess Leia are us.”
And what an “us” it was.
While Han Solo shirked responsibility and Luke Skywalker fumbled around, Leia got things done. To fellow round-faced girls (and boys) throughout the world, the parallel was obvious: There’s nothing wrong with calling for help, but if the doors won’t open, grab a blaster of your own and shoot a way out.
Leia proved that you don’t have to choose between being the damsel in distress and the hero; you can be both. You could be the princess and the rebel, the peacemaker and the general. Don’t let a bunch of menfolk standing around with their jaws on the floor decide your fate. Sometimes that means going through the trash chute, sure, but forge your own destiny.
And as Leia was on film, so Fisher became in life, refusing to let her self-described “buns of navarone” dictate her future.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the 1977 film “Star Wars.”(20th Century Fox)
Carrie Fisher, in 2007.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher at the Farmers Market in 1987.(Ellen Jaskol / Los Angeles Times)
Three generations: Carrie Fisher, with her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and daughter, Billie Lourd, in 1994.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher sits with her dog, Gary, at a panel at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim in 2015.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Twenty-three-month-old Carrie Fisher with her mother, Debbie Reynods, on Sept. 9, 1958.(Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher, 3, gives mother Debbie Reynolds a hug after her afternoon nap in their home in West Los Angeles, on Nov. 16, 1959.(Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher played Princess Leia to Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” films.
Carrie Fisher with Mark Hamill, left, and Harrison Ford in “Star Wars.”
(Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher with Harrison Ford, left, Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew as they relax during a break from the filming of a television special presentation in Los Angeles on Oct. 5, 1978.(Associated Press)
Carrie Fisher speaks with director Irvin Kershner during filming of “The Empire Strikes Back.”(HANDOUT / MCT)
Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), in iconic slave-girl bikini, is held captive by Jabba the Hutt in “Return of the Jedi.”(20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm Ltd)
Carrie Fisher leafs through her novel “Delusions of Grandma” before speaking at the Los Angeles Times’ annual authors luncheon in 1994.(Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times)
Debbie Reynolds, left, and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, hosted “All Star Moms."(Cliff Lipson / CBS)
Singer-composer Paul Simon and actress Carrie Fisher leave the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, after a memorial service for comedian John Belushi.(Marty Lederhandler / Associated Press)
Carrie Fisher interviews Steve Martin in 1999.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher photographed in her house in Beverly Hills in 2004.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher, in her bedroom in her Beverly Hils home.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher stars in her one-woman autobiographical show, “Wishful Drinking,” at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood on Nov. 4, 2006.(Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher, promoting her HBO special “Wishful Drinking,” in her home on Dec. 2, 2010.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher in HBO’s documentary about her one-woman stage show, “Wishful Drinking.”(Patrick Harbron / HBO)
Carrie Fisher, host of “In the Know.”(Michael Jacobs)
Carrie Fisher, right, with her mother, Debbie Reynolds, at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher autographs her book “The Best Awful” at a promotional event in London.(John D. McHugh / Associated Press)
Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford at the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel at San Diego Comic-Con on July 10, 2015.(Richard Shotwell / Associated Press)
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher attend the Midnight Mission’s Golden Heart Gala at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills.(Araya Diaz / Getty Images)
Carrie Fisher with her daughter, Billie Lourd, on the red carpet at the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Hollywood on Dec. 14, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford reprise their iconic “Star Wars” roles in “The Force Awakens.”(Disney/Lucasfilms)
Carrie Fisher in a poster for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”(Disney / Lucasfilms)
A scene from the documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.”(Festival de Cannes)
Carrie Fisher’s most recent book is “The Princess Diarist,” a memoir based on the diaries she kept during the filming of the first “Star Wars” film.(Blue Rider Press / Associated Press)
Daughter to Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie was the last of a generation of Hollywood royalty, and instead of hiding behind the veneer of societal fame, she tore it down.
Her first novel, the 1987 “Postcards From the Edge” was a fictionalized version of her own struggles with drug addiction. The film adaptation, for which she wrote the screenplay, played off her own Hollywood upbringing to an even greater extent and jump-started her role as Tinseltown truth teller.
Fisher was TMI before it was an acronym, much less a hashtag, with better stories and much wittier prose.
What other public figure would reveal the use of electro-convulsive therapy to combat crippling depression, something Fisher explored in her memoir “Shockaholic”? Long before “You’re the Worst” and Bruce Springsteen put mental illness into the public purview, Fisher was on her couch discussing her own battle with mental illness on the 2006 TV documentary, “Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive.”
And how many Hollywood celebrities publicly bemoaned their own insecurities with such striking self-deprecating imagery? In “The Princess Diarist” Fisher recalled mentally torturing herself during her first “Star Wars” audition, assuming director George Lucas thought her face looked like a “bowl of oatmeal with features.” Although sometimes painfully self-effacing, Fisher’s irreverent delivery brought the audience in on the joke: We all sometimes feel like a bowl of oatmeal, and that’s OK. We can just go sit by Fisher.
Despite years of success and a fan following that would shame even the biggest of A-listers, Fisher never lost a sense of humor about her own status. A cameo on “30 Rock” playing a washed-up feminist icon who drinks wine from a Thermos all day seemed like an interpretation of the darkest Carrie Fisher timeline, but what other celebrity would be willing to make that kind of jab at their own career, yelling to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon: “You’re my only hope!”
Fisher was always unapologetically Fisher. When more than 5,000 people showed up to the Star Wars Celebration in London to hear the actress speak, she started off the panel by handing the mic to her dog, Gary Fisher. Even her Twitter account was penned in an indecipherable Fisher code, made up of emojis and jokes about searching for her face on Google Image.
When the princess finally returned to the galaxy far, far away with “The Force Awakens” it wasn’t as an imperious queen or out-of-touch aged ambassador. Instead, she was Gen. Leia Organa, and it was so good to have her back.
Even with the passage of time and against the roar of their fans, Leia and Fisher remained their screwball tells-it-like-it-is selves. While the general issued orders, the actress fretted. Before “The Force Awakens” opened, Fisher told the Los Angeles Times she worried that she would not be as good this time, that new people were better, her hair once again looked terrible.
But then the truth teller emerged: “Everyone thinks the same way,” she said with a shrug. “Only some people pretend better.”
Carrie Fisher was never just a “her,” she was irreducibly an “us.” Her wit was empowering. Her words were strong. And she left this universe forever changed.