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Lightsabers and Prozac: A Fangirl’s Ode to Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, an Mark Hamill on the set of Hoth.

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Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, an Mark Hamill on the set of Hoth.

Kiera Geraghty, Editor in Chief

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Currently laying on my bed right now is a multi-colored pillow with an adorable image of a French bulldog sewn into the fabric. While the pillow, for the moment, bears no additional decorations, in the near future the image of a tongue permanently hanging out of the side of the dog’s mouth will be painted on it.

My mom got me this pillow. Carrie Fisher had a dog appropriately named Gary Fisher that she insisted on having always by her side during the press tour for The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen him, look for the only dog sitting in a canvas directing chair on Good Morning America. He is a black French bulldog with a tongue one and a half times too big according to his owner, “he does have a very long tongue. It’s not his fault.”

After my idol Carrie Fisher passed away over winter break on the 27th of December of 2016 from a massive heart attack, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt lost. She had survived alcoholism, a drug addiction, and her Bipolar Disorder leaving all shocked when she didn’t pull through just one more time. I felt like I’d just discovered my adopted Hollywood mother, and all of sudden she’d been taken away from me just when the world started to appreciate her again.

Just a month later on January 25th, I lost Mary Tyler Moore. Having become obsessed with The Mary Tyler Moore Show after moving to Minneapolis six years ago, she was like my Carrie Fisher before I discovered Carrie Fisher.

Both times, friends and family flooded my inbox with texts of condolences knowing that the news would hit me hard. I remember texting my mother that losing Fisher and Moore made me want to find all my idols and hug them tight so they wouldn’t leave too.

Just days later, I came home to a present of a multi-colored pillow with the image of a French bulldog sewn into the fabric that she’d found in a store window. My mother presented it to me saying that even though it wasn’t the same, when I miss Carrie I could use the pillow to feel close to her.

Despite the fact that the original Star Wars trilogy first released in 1977, Carrie Fisher stood as a symbol for girls for generations following whether she intended to or not. When an actor portrays a character as iconic as Fisher did, the line between the character and the person often becomes blurred.

While Carrie Fisher didn’t lead intergalactic revolutions in her real life, she was as close to a real life Leia as the world could ask for, if not better. Princess Leia wouldn’t have been Princess Leia without the personality of Carrie Fisher. In reference to her patterns as an actor, Fisher stated “I’m more of an archaeologist. I play what I am. I dig what I can. It’s a character that’s not too far from myself, except I don’t have any laser guns.”

Having been nominated but never the winner of an award for acting or writing until late in life, maybe Fisher felt almost as if she could never be good enough. With the shadow of her starlet mother Debbie Reynolds (in Fisher’s words, think Angelina Jolie level fame of her time) sometimes overbearing on Fisher, maybe she never quite appreciated that she made herself just as big of an icon if not bigger for the generations following like her mother did before her. Susan St. Denis (‘16) considers Carrie Fisher to be her model for how to live life. “I wanted to be a princess, but I also wanted to be powerful and intelligent. And what was awesome about Carrie Fisher is that she was a powerful queen outside of her character. She showed me how to be a lady and how to properly flick off a scumbag with perfectly manicured nails.”

Even after her death, Fisher’s legacy acts as a driving force for young women in the fight against what some see as a real life Empire. At women’s marches spanning the globe in the weekend following the inauguration, protesters carried signs bearing Princess Leia’s trademark buns from A New Hope or images of Fisher holding her blasters like a sci-fi Rosie the Riveter with the word “RESIST” emboldened on the poster.

Those trademark buns themselves held a legacy before Fisher. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, chose that hairstyle inspired by the ‘soldaderas’ who were the female revolutionaries of 20th century Mexico. By wearing them in A New Hope, Fisher defined exactly what kind of princess Leia was going to be.

Even though she held the title of princess, Carrie Fisher did not represent a damsel in distress while portraying Princess Leia. Leia is “a fighter… someone who was independent” said Fisher. In a deleted scene from Empire Strikes Back, Leia makes the point “I was getting along just fine until I met you two moon jockeys.”

The world’s introduction to Princess Leia shows her enacting rebel plans to hide the blueprints to the death star inside R2-D2 without which the Rebel Alliance would have fallen to the power of the Empire. Knowing that she just undermined the Empire, she still faces Darth Vader with confidence and sass. Luke Skywalker doesn’t even show up until 17 minutes into the movie.

The next time we see Leia, she’s resisting torture rather than reveal the secrets of the Alliance to the Empire’s General Tarkin. She faces the destruction of her home planet as a result with pain but strength.

Leia wasn’t just important because she was royalty; she cemented herself as a leader of the rebellion. In Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo has to drag her away from the command center because she wants to finish supervising the evacuation to the last man. She could wear a dress and shoot a blaster and get the job done better than the boys. She was strong and she was feminine. Oh, and she never apologized for it.

One of the most enduring images of Princess Leia, many worry is a sexist one. In Return of the Jedi after saving Han Solo from carbonite, Jabba the Hut, a hulking, heavily breathing slug with phlegm hanging out of its mouth while lying Roman emperor style on a pedestal, puts Leia in gold metal bikini slave outfit and chains her to his side.

When confronted by parents who didn’t know how to explain the outfit recreated in merchandise to their children, Fisher responded “Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.” Not only did she save Han Solo, but she also killed an infamous mobster.

To emphasize the point, Princess Leia jumped behind Jabba the Hut and strangled him with her own chain. If that isn’t enough of a feminist symbol for you, then I don’t know what to tell you. St. Denis remembers how the scene impacted her growing up, “I wanted to have amazing hair and on point outfits, but I also wanted to be able to strangle Jabba the Hut while doing it.”

While Carrie Fisher inspired many with her portrayal as Princess Leia, her legacy extends from her personal self as well. After her passing, Steven Spielberg stated “She didn’t need The Force. She was a force of nature, of loyalty, and of friendship.”

Carrie Fisher suffered from Bipolar Disorder from all the way back when they still called it Manic Depression. To deal with the pain she turned to drugs and alcohol. “You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously.”

Her addictions slowly eked into every part of her life. After a brief marriage to Paul Simon of about a year she liked to mention one of his final lyrics to her ‘I’m afraid that I’ll be taken/Abandoned, forsaken/In her cold coffee eyes.’ Carrie Fisher liked to say “Everyone drives somebody crazy. I just have a bigger car.”

Despite all the pain she went through in her personal life, whether being vilified by old flames, treated like a crazy person, never being able to escape Star Wars, or her crazy Hollywood family (her dad left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor, her mother’s best friend) she always went through life with humor. “I feel I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”

She became an advocate for mental health awareness and channeled her struggles creatively. Meryl Streep shared some of Fisher’s guiding words with the world at the Golden Globes, “take your broken heart, and make it into art.” As a writer, Fisher was nominated for her adaption of her book for the screen Postcards from the Edge about an actress recovering from addiction by living with her fellow alcoholic mother. Remember, she’s an archaeologist.

Later, she wrote and performed her award-winning one woman show called Wishful Drinking which goes through her entire life from magazine cover stories about her birth to the death of her friend who passed away while sleeping in Carrie’s bed. One thing she always did was talk. And that mattered more than anything. “Because I grew up in a public family, I never really had a private life. And so if those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I’ve experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. Shame is not something I aspire to.”

By opening up to the world about her struggles with mental health, she blasted through the stigma surrounding her diagnosis. If someone as famous as her struggled through these issues, then everyday people could find solace in her humorous and stabilizing take on living with mental illness. She taught the world that it was just that, an illness- a chemical imbalance in the brain, not a defect of the person’s character.

Not only did she address the stigma of Bipolar Disorder, but also the stigma of taking medication. By openingly advocating how taking medication allows her to live a productive life (just like someone taking Aleve for chronic back pain), people had the confidence to seek help too. Even in her death, Fisher found a punchline. In accordance to her final wishes, Fisher’s urn is a giant ceramic Prozac pill.

Dr. Terence Ketter, a professor of psychology and chief of the Bipolar Disorder Clinic at Stanford, noted for People that not only did she reduce the stigma of bipolar disorder, but also that by “linking it to creativity, but not romanticizing it, helps show that there might be some kind of a silver lining.”

From the moment that she revealed the extent of her mental illness on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer in 2000, “losing your mind, which is what happened, is a terrible thing. But once it’s gone, it’s fine. It’s completely fine because there’s no part of you left that knows the rest of it is missing,” she redefined her reach as icon.

Through soothing wit and unapologetic directness, she illuminated a path to the light side. “I outlasted my problems. I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

Whether using The Force or just surviving, Peter Mayhew, the man inside that Chewbacca costume, remembered her as “the brightest light in every room she entered.”

While for now I hug my pillow, Carrie Fisher taught me how to be vulnerable and lead a rebellion. When I enter into the grand odyssey of adulthood, that pillow will become a blaster. Even though life will never be without a few bumps, I’ll always remember “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

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Lightsabers and Prozac: A Fangirl’s Ode to Carrie Fisher