My father was not outwardly a “fan” of much popular culture. But my father loved Star Trek, the original series. When I was growing up in the mid-to-late 1970’s, it had already been cancelled and shuttled off to syndication, and one of the local Los Angeles television stations ran it on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and it was always on the television at those times.
I hated Star Trek. As a young girl, without any exposure to any science-fiction to speak of, I found it utterly ridiculous and devoid of anything I could relate to. It was all so cornball-and-melodrama, with an unattractive leading man who still, inconceivably, always got the girls, human and alien. Its overarching themes were too sophisticated for me to pick up, with the distractions of bad special effects, thick layers of green greasepaint, and 1960’s-era cats’ eyes makeup.
In September of 1977, just after my 13th birthday, one of my close friends decided she wanted to celebrate her birthday by going to the movies, to see a new movie that had been out for a while, that she heard was really good. This movie held no interest for me in the least, because I figured if I hated Star Trek, why would I see this movie? But it was her birthday, and she said there were some cute guys in it, and she was so excited I agreed to go with her.
The opening shot, of the tiny space cruiser being pursued by a behemoth spaceship that filled the screen and then some, blew my mind. Star Wars changed my world forever.
Not only were there a couple of pretty cute guys in it, there was also an amazing, young, smart woman in it, a woman who could lead a rebel army, argue battle tactics, and dig herself out of a pile of garbage, all while never caring that she had a smudge on the boob of her silky white gown. She wore clothes to suit her purposes (except when forced to wear a techno-bikini as a slave), and could hold a room with a glare or a smile. She wasn’t tall, thin, blonde, or helpless. She was spectacular.
According to Wikipedia, “Many young actresses in Hollywood auditioned for the role of Princess Leia, including Amy Irving, Terri Nunn (also a singer), Cindy Williams, Karen Allen, and Jodie Foster.” But I can’t even imagine anyone but Carrie Fisher in the role, because she so completely filled it with her own wit, intelligence, and fierceness. Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia commanded the screen as well as the Rebel Alliance.
Pre-Star Wars, as a teenage girl of the 1970’s obsessed with Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy, and Parker Stevenson, I spent most of my allowance on Tiger Beat magazines, chock-ful of pics and posters to cover the walls of my bedroom with my heartthrobs. Post-Star Wars, my expression of fandom changed, and I bought magazines full of pics and posters of Star Wars, bought the Star Wars double-album soundtrack at Tower Records, and haunted Spencer’s Gifts at the mall for any new Star Wars poster I could get my hands on. I saw Star Wars dozens of times, thanks to a quaint custom from back in the day, that the local movie theater didn’t clear the theater after each film, just in case you were late and missed the beginning. It’s not my fault they never kicked me out, and I never overstayed my welcome; I only stayed for two showings at a time.
I started out with crushes on Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford (although a bit old for me), but all that soon morphed into a love for the stories of all the characters, the themes, the mysticism, the hope, and the power of good over evil. Carrie Fisher was my doppleganger through it all. I lived Star Wars through Princess Leia’s experiences, and her return in The Force Awakens last year was especially poignant, with Fisher’s well-known struggles with mental health, and her frank openness about aging in Hollywood. I could still look at General Organa and see myself, a bit weary-looking around the edges, but still full of fight.
I still have some of the Star Wars items I collected as a teenager. I married a Star Wars fan, who gets the credit for converting me to a Star Trek fan. The Boy is a second generation Star Wars fan. The Star Wars fan phenomenon is credited, along with the Trekkie fandom, as the beginning of “geekdom”, those who are intensely invested in their hobbies and interests. Indeed, the three of us are Star Wars geeks, Doctor Who geeks, D&D geeks, Marvel geeks and gaming geeks. The internet has made connecting with your geeky tribe easier, and we know we are not alone in our intense universe.
These are some holiday gifts we gave each other this year. The fact that I am still celebrating, at 52, a fandom that I joined when I was 13, blows my mind. And the fact that I am mourning a woman who made me feel so alive makes me very, very, sad.
May the Force be with you, Ms. Fisher, always.