A little over a month ago, in a galaxy not very far, far away, we lost Carrie Fisher.
Please note: I said Carrie Fisher, not Princess Leia. The Alderaan royalty will live long, and though she’s in a different popular ongoing sci-fi franchise altogether, she’ll similarly prosper. Her infamous legacy, both on the screen and not, is as immortal as the celluloid she’s printed upon, and she might possibly outlive that as well. Much has been made about Princess Leia. Upon Fisher’s untimely death on December 27, 2016, multiple obituaries — as she once predicted — slapped picture upon picture of the once-19-year-old wandering the universe not our own. Sometimes in a space bikini, sometimes not. But it’s clear the world mourned Princess Leia more than Fisher that tragic day.
While Fisher’s impact as a screenwriter, playwright, novelist, script doctor, columnist, memoirist, etc. wasn’t ignored, it wasn’t as rightfully celebrated. By all accounts, 2016 was the year that took Leia from us — even though we’ll see her again when Star Wars: The Last Jedi blasts onto the big screen (and the bigger screens) in December. Carrie Fisher, however, won’t return anytime soon.
Sure, it’s understandable why Princess Leia got more notoriety than the actress behind her ever did, or ever will. Leia is a trendsetter, a motivator, a rebellion symbol, a sex icon in select prepubescent (and not-so-prepubescent) circles. Fisher, however, was often known as the one that brought Leia to life, the mother of the child that’s also herself. It’s not necessarily tragic; Fisher would be the first one to reject any sympathy on her part. But it’s nevertheless unfortunate, if in a mild way. As far as I stood, Fisher, the writer and motivational figure, was far stronger, brighter, more beautiful and more badass than anything associated by her counterpart Leia. It’s not the popular opinion, but it’s the one I’ve held for years, and the one I continue to hold today. You can keep your Princess Leia action figures, posters and various other licensed collectibles. I’ll keep Fisher’s books, thank you very much. And that includes The Princess Diarist, her latest and, sadly, last published piece of writing.
Released late November, The Princess Diarist might look, at first glance, like a firsthand look behind-the-scenes of one of the most iconic and celebrated motion pictures and soon-to-be global franchises of all time. And it is —though not in the ways as one might initially think. For Fisher is cheekily forgetful when it comes to, say, what happened during the most infamous shots, or how sequences involving Leia’s future father Darth Vadar came to be. The inception of the hairstyle is given a fair share of pages, as is the audition process with George Lucas and Brian De Palma. But the rest of the production is an afterthought. Rather, Fisher often recounts — with a fair share of oversharing embarrassment and nostalgic fondness — her secretive affair with Harrison Ford.
As dashing and feverish rogue as the outlaw character he iconized, i.e. Han Solo, Ford is painted as handsome and mysterious, guarded and broodily sensitive. There are more details regarding their knowing glances and secretive grins (at least on Fisher’s part, as Ford is not one for smiling those days, according to the late author) than there are regarding their “sleepovers” at each other’s flats that faithful 1976 summer. It was a romance not build on love, though Fisher couldn’t help but fall for the man who — as we all know — actually shot Greedo first. Sorry, George. Instead, it was an affair that would only be shared between the two unsuspecting soon-to-be megastars. It was passionate, but it was also very discreet. It was benevolent, but it was also sinful. Ford was married with kids, as Fisher notes several times. It was an unspoken affair only known by the two — until now.
These saucy details are the center of The Princess Diarist, an account as scattershot as it’s honest, but they’re noted through the titular diaries held by the actress/writer in secret during production. Recently unearthed, they’re now shined into the public spotlight thanks to this recently-published memoir. Because if there’s one person who’ll unveil the juicy details inside Carrie Fisher’s private life, it’s Carrie Fisher, dammit. As such, these flowery, searching essays and poems are filled with troubling self-doubt and nauseating self-pity in equal measures. Her writing was always impressive and expressive, even at a young age, but thankfully the 40-years-older Carrie Fisher found throughout most of the text knows just how embarrassing and navel-gazing she was at such a tender, impressionable young age. She doesn’t look back in shame. No, if there’s one thing the late Fisher sometimes lacked in her shortened life, it’s a knowing sense of chagrin. She wore that self-pride like a feathered pin of honor — like something Leia awards to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Chewy at the end of Lucas’ original Star Wars. She uses it to inspire and teach here.
As one might expect, Fisher looks at Princess Leia with both love and contempt. She held little interest towards what actually happened while filming any of these installments — unless Ford was involved, of course. For instance, Gary Fisher, her slack-jawed, long-tongued canine companion, is mentioned way more than Irvin Kershner, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. Richard Marquand, meanwhile, is ignored entirely. The Princess Diarist is, like most Fisher books, a chance for the actress to explore her departed influence — as messy, entangled and muddled as her thoughts and feelings can be on the matter. Her pain is open-hearted. Her acceptance comes bitterly earned. Her self-depreciating sense of humor shines brighter than any star ever could. That’s what makes this collection of stories and hazy written memories such a lovely, bittersweet remembrance.
It’s a testament to Fisher’s real-life character that, as much as she’s known for her fantastical space-based adventures, the strongest pop culture contributions throughout her twilight years were so very down-to-earth. Fisher’s voice was fresh, funny and fearless. It was inviting and personable where her screen presence was daunting and larger-than-life. She was a radiant, sensational, scandalous force of nature, and our world (not merely that aforementioned galaxy not-so-close to us) is better because of her limited existence. Leia was the princess, but Fisher was the queen. They’re one in the same, yet couldn’t be more different. The one helped define the other, and they are both irreplaceable and deeply, sorely missed in our troublesome lives.
Fisher and Leia were bold, courageous and undaunted, yet only Fisher stayed true to reality. There are many reasons why we mourn the loss of Fisher, the actress, but I’m more saddened by the quickly departed absence of Fisher’s pen. It will remain with us, as literature rarely dies, but it no longer travels with us — at light-speed or otherwise. It is gone now. But it is not forgotten in the process. She’s no longer with us in person, but she’ll remain in spirit for the unforeseeable future. The Force is — and always stays – strong with Fisher. That won’t soon change.
Something that makes Fisher so tragic throughout The Princess Diarist is the ongoing awareness of her futility. Fisher knows she’s not long for this world, but she doesn’t greet death in the process. Rather, she comes with a blemished grin and a bemused look of acceptance. At one point, Fisher notes the following regarding her segmented writing, “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”
Keep blushing, Ms. Fisher. You made it so beautiful.