[originally posted December 27, 2016]
Carrie Fisher probably knew I was gay before I did.
For the record I never met the woman. The closest I would come would be sitting in a room with a couple of hundred other hyped up geeks in a convention centre in east London during the summer of 2016.
Fisher was giving a talk at the “Star Wars Celebration” where she and her probably-as-famous-by-now pooch, Gary, were interviewed by former co-star and Ewok, Warwick Davis.
The energy, and barely contained lunacy was apparent. Here you had a woman who was less concerned with pandering to anyone’s opinions of her, or indeed in allowing herself (or Gary) to be interviewed by Davis, but rather making sure she and everyone in the room had a good time.
Fisher recounted mocking but loving stories about co-stars, including much speculated time spent with Harrison Ford on set, and more recent accounts of failed days out with Mark Hamill who was also attending the convention. (If you’re curious just search @hamillhimself’s twitter feed from that summer for #GOWITHHER)
The kind of person who could rally a group of several hundred nerds behind a nonsense cause in the name of enjoyment, as successfully as she could portray a space-princess rallying to save her home planet.
Sparing no thought for false flattery of her co-stars, or indeed of herself. As Fisher told them, rather than tabloid worthy tidbits, the insights were stories about friendship and companionship, displaying a great depth of authenticity and humility for the lunacy she well knew to be celebrity life.
Reflecting on her experience of being part of Star Wars she was quoted elsewhere stating:
“It exploded across the firmament of pop culture, taking all of us along with it. It tricked me into becoming a star all on my own.”
She did not fain to dispense commentary, judgment or advice beside that which she felt she knew from experience.
When asked by an audience member on stage in London, if she had given any advice to the cast of the latest movies, laughing, she replied the only advice she had for Daisy Ridley (Rey) was to try and avoid going through the crew “like wild fire” as she had done.
What I saw on stage then, seemed to me as much an address to a group of friends in her living room as it did any form of interview.
Amongst the sword and blaster brandishing bravado of the space cowboys, the image of a princess holding her own — something other than the typical action hero archetype that we are so often drawn to as kids — was something that, whether I knew it or not, seemed to bury itself deep in my memory systems.
Years earlier as I had watched that far, far away galaxy on near-infinite VHS repeat, I had no idea about terms like “queer icons”. I knew about Alderaan and the fact that in certain galaxies a princess could swing a blaster just as well as a smuggler or a would-be Jedi — in fact often they were better at it.
For the first time it occurred to me that heroes are not always the bravest or the most loudly spoken. Villains are not always what their mask makes them appear to be, and that a princess is not easily defined by a cinnamon-bun hair cut.
As years passed by, it was always reassuring to learn that the woman who had so iconically embodied many of those notions of a gender equal universe, happened to embody much of the ethic and individuality in her own life.
Years later I was struck to discover, while watching a Stephen Fry documentary, that Fisher also suffered painfully from manic depressive disorders. Again it seemed to hit home, that this iconic figure from my childhood could be at, once the source of such unapologetic joy, sass and strength while also suffering from debilitating personal issues.
Reading later, I came across a version of this interview Fisher gave with ABC, speaking about many of the personal issues that surrounded her and her family, while talking about the publication of her book “Wishful Drinking”. In it interviewer Kerry O’Brien asked Fisher:
“How does your daughter Billie deal with all this? Because at one point in the book when she tells you she no longer wants to be a neurologist with a specialty in schizophrenia, but a comic and you say, “Well, baby, if you wanna be a comic, you have to be a writer, but don’t worry, you have tonnes of material. Your mother is a manic depressive drug addict, your father is gay, your grandmother tap dances and your grandfather shot speed.”
CARRIE FISHER: And my daughter laughed. And that’s all you can ask for: that she knows that stuff that isn’t funny, just, it better be funny.
KERRY O’BRIEN: In fact you said, “Baby, the fact that you know that’s funny is gonna save your whole life.” Is that what saved yours?
CARRIE FISHER: And it has.”
It seemed to me that much like the characters she portrayed on screen, the real strength in Fisher’s own character stemmed from her laser sharp sense of wit.
As powerful as any death star or lightsaber, Fisher was able to look the often cruel twists of life in the eye, just the same as malevolent leaders of evil empires, and tell them with a smirk “only you could be so bold”.
There is undoubtedly for me, something of a life lesson to be taken from that. An honest self aware attitude, unafraid to laugh at the whims of the fates, or indeed at yourself.
Amongst a certain set of people, there is a well known printed poster that has been replicated countless times since some point in the late seventies or early eighties. A version of which used to adorn several of my school books over the years.
It features a selection of quotes from the various Star Wars movies, the space-fonted title at the top typically reads; “Everything I Know about Life, I Learned from Star Wars”
Thinking about it I gleam an odd pride from the undeniable rumble of truth about it.
Amongst the lessons I’d like to think I, and a generation like me, might take away from the mythos of a galaxy far far away are the lessons of a life well lived such as by Fisher.
They may not be lessons that will provide you an easy ride, but they will at least mean that should you find yourself playing the damsel in distress, you’ll be more than capable of coming up with your own rescue plan when you need to.