2016 is the year that keeps on giving, isn’t it? And when I say giving, I mean taking repeated dumps on our collective faces.
On Tuesday morning, Carrie Fisher, best known for her iconic role as Princess and General Leia Organa in four Star Wars movies, died following a heart attack. She was 60.
Today, we mourn the loss of a woman many of us came to know through her iconic work, and honour all the ways her actions helped to make the world a little bit better.
Princess, General, All-Round Badass
When honouring the legacy of Carrie Fisher, is there any other way to begin than with Star Wars? It is the reason we know of her, after all. First released in 1977, Star Wars wowed moviegoers everywhere and forever changed the landscape of the film industry.
Who can forget Fisher’s first appearance in that movie, as a hologram message to Obi-Wan, and Luke’s fitting response?
“Who is she? She’s beautiful!”
She is indeed.
In a time when actresses were usually relegated to roles as damsels and love interests, Carrie Fisher’s Leia provided audiences with a refreshingly out-of-the-box take on the female protagonist. A capable leader and fighter for the Rebellion, Leia gave us a compelling female character in a film trilogy that was essentially a big-budget teenage boy’s fantasy.
By portraying a strong woman in power, Fisher added positively to the growing feminist movement, and shone as an inspiration to girls everywhere. Leia may have been a fictional character, but her impact on the landscape of film and gender issues was very real.
And don’t lie, you squealed at least a little bit when you saw Carrie Fisher in 2015’s The Force Awakens. To know that we will never again see General Leia Organa portrayed by Carrie Fisher is a depressing thought for every Star Wars fan.
Following the onscreen death of her husband Han Solo, the inevitable departure of our favourite general-princess in the ongoing saga will undoubtedly be an emotional moment for many in the theatre, especially with the added weight of the actress’s real-world passing.
Fighting Mental Illness and substance abuse
A side of Carrie Fisher many of us didn’t know about was her struggle with bipolar disorder and drug use. While those struggles themselves don’t in themselves make her special or worthy of notice, what does is the way she chose to approach them.
Throughout her career and life as a public figure, Fisher had been completely open about her issues. She admitted openly to abusing cocaine and prescription drugs during the filming of Empire Strikes Back, saying in 2001, “Drugs made me feel normal.” She even starred in a solo play Wishful Drinking, chronicling her battle with addiction.
Writing for The Guardian in a column titled advice from the dark side, Fisher provided candid and honest advice to readers suffering from mental illness, writing in a compassionate and self-deprecating fashion that alluded to her literary skill as an author of multiple novels.
In a society where many suffer in silence from mental illness due to the stigma attached to it, the positive impact of a public figure like Fisher coming out as bipolar without shame cannot be overstated. Mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and that’s it. These people aren’t broken or weak. Their disorders don’t indicate problems with their character, but with their health. As with any sickness, sufferers of bipolar disorder, depression, or any other psychological disorder need to realize that it’s okay to seek help and treatment.
With her actions, Fisher embodies the courage and determination it takes to accept and tackle mental illness in a culture determined to discriminate.
With her unabashed attitude towards mental illness, Fisher championed acceptance and brought us a little closer to a world where victims of mental health issues can seek help without fear of judgment or persecution. For that, she deserves our respect.
Like Leia, Carrie Fisher was strong, bold, and unapologetic. She will be missed.