Carrie Fisher: A Princess of Hope

The actress, who died Tuesday at age 60, helped “Star Wars” take off with her iconic portrayal of Princess Leia.

From her first big screen scene as Princess Leia – a grainy holographic plea for help – to her presumably final bow (spoiler alert) – a stirring message of hope delivered nearly 40 years later with a CGI-aided grin – Carrie Fisher provided a vision of beauty, brains and bravery.

As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she arrived in the world as Hollywood royalty. But the “Star Wars” actress, who died Tuesday at 60, leaves us as a self-made princess from “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” who became a cinematic queen for the ages.

Just 19 when she filmed the first “Star Wars” installment, Fisher proved she could deliver withering looks and lines to match like a seasoned pro more out of a 1930s screwball comedy than the 1970s epic sci-fi series that forever changed the movies.

“I’d just as soon kiss a wookie,” Leia told swaggering “fly boy” Han Solo in the first film, released in 1977 and later rechristened “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”

She met her disguised savior – and secret brother – Luke Skywalker with a zinger in the same flick as he rescued her from imprisonment on the Death Star: “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Leia could handle a gun when real stormtroopers attacked and could keep her cool during a crisis – even when she found herself clad in a metallic bikini, the chained slave of the odious, oozing blob, Jabba the Hutt, in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”

Fisher turned rebel alliance leader Leia Organa into a movie rarity: a sex symbol and feminist icon. The actress, who spoke all but 63 seconds of the lines delivered by females in the first three “Star Wars” installments, paved the way for young women who kick butt in the movies. Leia’s spirit infuses not only Daisy Ridley’s breakout role as Rey in “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” and Felicity Jones’ performance as Jyn in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” but characters from Katniss Everdeen to Hermoine Granger.

Fisher’s pivotal part in George Lucas’ pop-cultural phenomenon, though, overshadowed the rest of her career. While she gave strong supporting performances in “When Harry Met Sally” and “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Fisher never approached her “Star Wars” success.

Still, her second calling as a writer fueled by piercing wit earned her notice – most prominently with “Postcards From the Edge.” The novel, based on her sometimes rocky relationship with her mother, got made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Fisher also used the written word to give voice to her battles with substance abuse and mental illness, challenges she confronted with unflinching honesty.

The actress, who died two days after she was stricken on a transatlantic flight, at least got to take a well-earned victory lap over the last year. Her role as the tough now-General Organa in “The Force Awakens” helped recapture the magic lost in the three “Star Wars” prequels and make the film 2015’s box office champ.

Her recently published memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” which revealed her long- ago affair with Harrison Ford, grabbed headlines. Fisher’s semi-cameo (her head, circa 1977, atop actress Ingvild Delia’s body) in “Rogue One” offered a surprise, uplifting ending to the series’ latest installment, currently the universe’s No. 1 movie.

It’s unclear how “Star Wars” will go on without Carrie Fisher. But her force lives on via celluloid, where she created an indelible vision of a princess who, in perhaps her last cinematic breath, left us the gift of hope.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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