On Carrie Fisher 1956 - 2016
When I was a kid, I copied out the entirety of Marvel Comics’ Star Wars comics adaptation. I did it because I wanted to draw spaceships attacking the Death Star and Darth Vader, but more than anything else, it taught me how much I loved drawing people. Artoo, Threepio, and Vader were easy, in that their expressions never changed. Chewie and the human characters were much harder, but I persisted. I copied Han, Luke, Obi-Wan’s beard and Tarkin’s cheekbones and I copied Princess Leia’s boobs (oboy) and her hairbuns. I liked how she mocked Han’s cynicism and resisted Vader’s torture droid with sheer resolve. Han was funny and Luke was heroically earnest. He may have been strong with the Force but Leia had sheer force of will. For me, she was the new hope. Carrie Fisher was so cool.
Leia was about being fair and having empathy for your fellow beings. She was about conscience, equality, and revolution. She was about doing the right thing, about integrity, and, hey, she was mass-produced as an action figure. In 1978, I saved up and bought one with my own pocket money. She lived on a shelf with my other Star Wars action figures.
I remember this too: years later, in the mid-to-late eighties, in British gutter tabloids, Carrie Fisher was characterised as a drug addict, a coke freak, a mess. She also happened to be a brilliant diarist and recorded it all, how that situation (and the misinterpretations thereof) came about.
Around the same time, my Leia action figure was pilfered from my studio where I now displayed her next to my Vaders and Artoos with detached postmodern ironic cool. The theft was committed by a girlfriend (soon-to-be ex), who’d always coveted her, despite the little plastic cloak being a bit scuffed and ripped. This girl knew I knew her pretensions of “borrowing” Leia were bullshit, but I was really into her and she could wrap me around her little finger.
I still think about that stolen miniature Leia (the ex, not so much) and I forever regret letting her out of my sight. But, there you have it – I learned then that Leia is an idea, a symbol, and you can’t lose an idea. That little toy possessed a fragment of the cool of her real-life counterpart, who, by this stage, was writing books that were full of ideas, both tragic and comic, blurring the line between Princess and Actress, reclaiming her image and sculpting it into something all her own. Those books were a revelation.
Carrie Fisher was about being herself, blindingly, brilliantly herself, above all else, suffering no fool or circumstance to counter her individuality. She was a pop icon, and she also totally subverted that, stood that status and recognition on its head. She was born of Hollywood but Tinseltown’s corporate apparatus never owned her. She cared not a jot for the publicity machine, for the way the game was supposed to be played. She spoke up for and about women in pop culture, about being at the centre of the media and male gaze, about working in that spotlight, about how it felt to be her. She was unfailingly honest, happy to send herself up, and yet she was also an activist – she destigmatised mental illness and drug addiction and did it fearlessly and somehow with both real dignity and surgical self-deprecation. Her disclosures seemed not ego-driven but self-aware and connected to ordinary demons many people have to face. Not usually moved by celeb confessions of life problems, then or now, something about Carrie Fisher’s candour kicked my own slow awakening in facing clinical depression into a higher gear.
She was a brilliant storyteller and raconteur, every line delivered with glitteringly dry, dark wit. She was bananas, and incisively funny with it. Her dog is called Gary Fisher. Carrie and Gary. When I first found out about Gary, I hoped they’d get him into Star Wars in a cameo somehow.
I loved her for a lot of reasons, first for being a princess, yes, for being the brave resistance, for defying fascists, bores, creeps, the armies of the dreary and those-who-would-control-you, but mostly, over the years, for ignoring every attempt to pin her down. Carrie Fisher, both real and imagined, was true royalty, in that she was priceless, fabulous, proudly wearing her contradictions for all to see and being inspirational with it.