Remembering Carrie Fisher in the wake of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Commentary: In 2018, the Star Wars fandom couldn't help but tear itself apart. One fearless princess would have cut through the noise.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
4 min read

I won't miss Princess Leia, but I do miss Carrie Fisher.

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Two years ago today, we lost a princess.

Carrie Frances Fisher, actress, author and true global royalty, passed away on Dec. 27, 2016, after suffering a heart attack at age 60.

A year before her death, Fisher had reprised her role as Leia Organa in the J.J Abrams-directed The Force Awakens, evolving from the sassy, headstrong and confident princess of an obliterated planet to a hardened General of the Resistance. Though Fisher's role in The Force Awakens felt light, she lent a gravitas to Leia that conveyed the struggle of rebuilding in a post-Empire Star Wars universe with a husband gallivanting from planet to planet and a new threat looming in the outer reaches of space.

General Organa was familiar to those who had grown up watching Star Wars of course, but she was different. The tough, no-nonsense Fisher was right there on screen, just behind Leia's face. In Fisher's personal life, she'd battled her own demons -- drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, self-esteem issues -- and she'd come out the other side as resilient as the General she now played.

When credits rolled on The Last Jedi, it was Leia, the shortest of odds in the Who Will Die stakes, that remained the last standing member of the original trilogy's Big Three. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were no more. Fisher had been physically gone for a year, but there she was on-screen -- leading the Resistance, floating through space to save herself and clapping back at a fiery Poe Dameron.

We're now less than a year away from Star Wars Episode IX and as details trickle out about exactly what to expect, we know one thing. Fisher will be in Episode IX. Abrams has confirmed that she will again play General Organa, by using unseen footage previously shot while filming The Force Awakens in 2015. 

In all likelihood, Princess Leia won't see the end of Episode IX. This is it for her. But I won't miss her or mourn her. She'll always be there, frozen in time on a Blu-ray disc.

But I will miss Carrie Fisher.

As a kid I used the Star Wars movies to help me sleep. Jamming a VHS copy of Empire Strikes Back into the VCR, watching the CRT flicker to life and then having to rewind it was like a night light. More than anything else the original trilogy represented safety. 

These were characters I knew inside out, and Princess Leia of Alderaan was one of them. While I recognize she was certainly an icon for a generation of young female science-fiction fans, I had no great affection for her growing up. She merely rocked me to sleep with Luke and Han and Chewie and all the other characters from the galaxy far, far away.

But I grew up. I didn't need the VHS anymore (they went out of fashion, anyway, thank the force) and I could put myself to sleep. I filled my shelves with Star Wars Lego kits and rewatched the movies over and over again -- for the joy of it.

I got disappointed by the prequel trilogies and then excited about the murmurings of a new trilogy which began to percolate in 2013. At that time, I really dived into Star Wars headfirst and came across Fisher's memoirs, Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic. The two novels glanced back at the actress' life with a sardonic slant and desert-dry humour that somehow managed to crackle off the page at blistering pace. Always casting a line, looking for a pun, was Fisher.

Her last memoir, The Princess Diarist, shed a tragic, heart-wrenching light on her time filming the original Star Wars, detailing her affair with Harrison Ford like a straight gut-punch. It didn't feel beautiful or romantic or some fan-theory-fulfilling tattle-tale. It felt like real life -- how emotions get the better of people and insidiously weave their way inside of us and don't let go. 

In the two years since Fisher's death, the Star Wars fandom became overtly venomous. The Last Jedi, which released in December 2017, polarized audiences. Director Rian Johnson received death threats and a campaign to completely remake the entire film sprung up. Some even suggested Russian bots were to blame for some of the negativity. Star Wars had landed smack dab in the middle of the culture wars in 2018.

This year, being a Star Wars fan was demoralizing. It was tiresome. It was just hard work. It really angered people. I wanted to flee from it but it was inescapable. 

And sadly, Fisher wasn't here to see it.

Her lacerating wit and straight-down-the-barrel honesty would have burnt through arguments and counter-arguments like a forest fire, stripping away the idiocy and reminding us all that this is Star Wars, man. A weird space opera with light swords and a grown man drinking green milk from the teat of a galactic space cow on a deserted island. She'd tell us Star Wars is about a completely buff, shirtless Kylo Ren meat block. She would make peace with the aggressors and trolls, charming them as she did all of us. She would remind us that George Lucas explained there are no bras in space and even out there in that universe, there are double standards for women, too. 

Would that have changed anything? I doubt it. But in the wake of the reaction to The Last Jedi, Fisher's dyed in the wool fearlessness and larger than life charisma was certainly missed.

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