I can remember the first time viewing Star Wars as a child. I was probably around five or six, and my mom had borrowed the original VHS tapes from a family friend. She was grinning, "Oh Jordan, you've got to see Star Wars! It's something everyone has to watch." My mom has never particularly been a Sci-Fi fan, but loves good movies and anything relevant in popular culture. I guess she figured it was her duty to educate me in the ways of the force.
I sat on my couch, gasping when Darth Vader revealed to Luke that he was his father (for a child, that part is totally unpredictable), and crying when beloved characters died but later showed up happily in glowing light. But what I remember most, was the first time I saw Princess Leia. I noticed that her hair was the most amazing and beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and was soon thrilled when she wasn't like the typical Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. She shot a gun, was athletic, smart, and had great banter and one-liners. Yeah, she had a love-interest, but have you seen Han Solo? I don't completely blame her.
Star Wars was my first introduction to Sci-Fi (and Space Westerns), and I fell hard for the genre. The prequels came out, and I eagerly went to the theaters, although I was too young to fully understand what a prequel was. I remember being disappointed that there wasn't a Princess Leia, but instead Amidala (who I still really like despite the quality of the prequels in general).
Going forward, I continued to think of Princess Leia as a hero. In high school, I would dress up as Star Wars characters with my best friend Melissa while marathoning the original trilogy and acting out the fight scenes. When I turned 18, my friend group even surprised me with a Star Wars themed birthday party. I squealed in delight and instantly ran to throw on a makeshift Leia costume for the night. Leia was grouped together with the greats, and was a total bad-ass. I truly believe she paved the way for the Scullys and the Buffys. And it didn't stop there.
Fast forward to 2015, when I sat crying, yet again, at the newest Star Wars film (honestly, I was toast once the opening credits started). When Leia walked on screen, you could feel excitement move throughout the audience. But this Leia was different -- she was a General. A Leia who had lost not only her parents, but her significant other, her son to the dark side, and had been abandoned by her brother. She was stronger, harder, and more commanding. She lead with understanding and love, truly evolving from a Princess to a Warrior. She was the Leia we will all remember, still breaking down barriers for women in film, close to thirty years later. God, Carrie Fisher was it. She will always be it.
Outside of the Star Wars franchise, Carrie was a talented writer. She wrote several books, screenplays, and plays as a humorist and honest storyteller who endured the sexualization and objectification of the media and society for decades. Carrie acted in films, television, and even voiced video-games. But perhaps one of her most impactful legacies was being a mental health advocate. Carrie openly talked about her mental illness, including bipolar disorder and drug addiction. She let the world know that she dealt with mental illness, but was not afraid. It was a part of her.
Besides her mental health, Carrie spoke against ageism. She knew that she had physically changed since Princess Leia, and was open and unapologetic. She talked back to Star Wars fans and the media, letting them know that everyone ages. She wasn't ashamed of how she looked, and neither were we. Carrie tweeted out sassy quips and adorable pictures of Gary, her french bulldog. She made us laugh, think, and feel excitement for a beloved franchise that has been given new life. She was truly our General, helping us stand strong and know that we will always be enough. As a woman (and a writer) who struggles with mental health myself, Carrie imprinted feelings of strength and hope. I am nothing but thankful for her.
Whenever little girls dress up as Leia, Rey, or Jyn, when strong women characters appear on screen, or each time I will (still) struggle to style my hair in Leia buns, I'll know she isn't gone. The Princess didn't become the General for us to stop fighting.
Following Carrie's untimely death, we are also faced with the passing of her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Debbie Reynolds, although first made popular by Singing in the Rain, was a Broadway and on-screen performer, but also an activist. She performed at AIDs benefits, and publicly spoke about supporting Carrie through her bipolar disorder and addiction. Debbie Reynolds was kind, funny, and loved her daughter so much.
Debbie was truly a star, but her most important role to me (unsurprisingly) was Agatha Cromwell, the quirky grandmother and witch in Disney's Halloweentown. It saddens me to remember that I just recently wrote about her character back in October, in another post.
Halloweentown was a magical movie to me as a child, and still one that I watch religiously every fall (while not-so-secretly hoping that a Halloweentown actually exists). As an adult, the movie still provides valuable lessons.
Agatha encourages us to embrace our inner weirdness, and be fulfilled with whatever truly makes us happy. She preached that we shouldn't deny ourselves of bliss or completion. She was proud of being a witch. Instead, she pitied those who tried painfully hard to fit in.
"Being normal is vastly overrated."
"Magic is really very simple, all you've got to do is want something and then let yourself have it."
Both Debbie and Carrie were never afraid of who they really were. Instead, they celebrated it, encouraging us to embrace ourselves and not care what anyone else thinks. They taught us that advocating and loving one another is the best way to get through this world, and in return, inspires others to do the same.
Ultimately, Princess Leia showed us that stereotypes can be broken. The General was an example of how you can pull strength from yourself and the cause you support, regardless of outside factors. And Agatha Cromwell, the witch, gave us the message that you should be who you want to be, because you deserve it.
In the past couple of days, I've inevitably gotten some strange comments from those who don't understand mourning celebrity deaths. It's true, I've never met these women, but they have impacted me more than some people that I actually know. Their significance and strength are shining stars that will be missed, but will never burn out. I've cried, I've sat in silence, I've felt ill, and at other times numb. But as I mentioned previously, Carrie and Debbie are not actually gone. I feel nothing but thanks and appreciation that such powerful women walked among us, and have left a trail of inspiration behind.
After all, a Princess, a General, and a Witch are not easily forgotten.