How Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia set the tone for future 'Star Wars' heroines
The Frame talks about Carrie Fisher's recent book "The Princess Diarist" and the iconic actress and memoirists' influence on the role of women in the Star Wars franchise.
The actress, screenwriter and memoirist Carrie Fisher died this morning at the age of 60.
Of all the roles she’s played, it’s undeniable that she was best known as the Star Wars heroine, Princess Leia. Fisher was just 19 years old when she stepped into the life-changing role of Princess Leia. At the time, it was a lonely place for women in the Star Wars universe.
But she helped change that and paved the way for heroines like Rey, played by Daisy Ridley in "The Force Awakens" and Jyn Erso played by Felicity Jones in "Rogue One."
In a piece for The Ringer, Alison Herman writes about Carrie Fisher’s impassioned role in the franchise. She talked to The Frame about Fisher's role in shaping Princess Leia, and her powerful influence on the franchise's relationship to female characters.
ON PREPARING FOR THE ROLE THEN AND NOW
Fisher is also known as a memoirist–her most recent book, The Princess Diarist, was published just a few months ago to coincide with the release of Rogue 1, the newest Star Wars epoch. The book details her experiences on set, as well as what she did to prepare for her break-out part as the film's heroine.
When George Lucas offered her the role, it was on the condition that she should lose 10 pounds before she showed up on set in London, which is fairly routine, but she was already 110 pounds. And I don’t think anyone would describe a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher as overweight. And so to prepare for the role, she went to what she called a “fat farm” in Texas. Lady Bird Johnson was also a patient there, and she tried and ultimately didn’t lose the 10 pounds, but that’s what she was asked to do before stepping in front of the camera.
The contrast between that and the many videos you see of Daisy Ridley lifting weights and generally working herself out and building herself up definitely occurred to me. I don’t think weight-centrism has gone away in Hollywood at all–but I definitely think there is a kind of telling gap in that sort of space.
ON SLAVE BIKINIS
Carrie Fisher spoke a lot about wearing the iconic metal bikini in the scene when Jabba the Hut makes her his slave in "Return of the Jedi." It was both a sign of her role as a sex symbol in the Star Wars universe, and an outfit she mocked repeatedly in later years. But in the newer Star Wars films, there's not a slave bikini in sight.
That’s one of the things that really stands out about the new generation of heroines in the Star Wars franchise–they’re not sexualized in the same way that Leia was. And there’s obviously a lot more to Leia than her sexuality, but that is one of the dominant images of her that’s kind of lasted over the years.
PRINCESS LEIA AS CARRIE FISHER
One thing became clear as Carrie Fisher evolved into a public figure: she was unabashedly funny, clever, fierce–and always assertive.
One of the things that I also found very interesting about The Princess Diarist is that she talks about how during the line readings, the actual dialogue of Star Wars is a little clunky and a little baroque, like a lot of fantasy dialogue. And I think it was Harrison Ford who said something like, "George, you can write this but you can’t say it."
And what she adds to the role is this incredible vivaciousness and personality and a little bit of sarcasm, a little bit of assertiveness. And so much of what we come to understand about Princess Leia as a character isn’t necessarily what’s written… it’s what Carrie Fisher brought to it.
ON FISHER'S RELATIONSHIP TO THE FRANCHISE
Carrie Fisher never actually retained the rights to her image, which made millions as part of the franchise. When she presented the AFI Life Achievement Award to George Lucas, she wasn't afraid to bring it up in the form of a very telling joke.
She was a 19-year-old when she got the part, so it wasn’t really something she thought about. But also there wasn’t really a precedent for something as big and as profitable as Star Wars, so there wasn’t really a road map for including the rights to something outside of the movies. And so of all those things – the Pez dispensers and the shampoo bottles– she didn’t really get to make any money off of that, which she was vocal about.
FISHER AS A CRITIC OF HER INDUSTRY
One of the incredible things about Carrie Fisher is that she was actually born in the spotlight. She has two famous parents. When she was two months old, her father left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor, who was the biggest movie star in the world. So she basically grew up in the public eye and I think she grew to be able to respond to that in a way that I think a lot of celebrity kids and child stars aren’t really able to.
So I don’t know if there’s any accounting of where it came from, because she’s such a singular person. But I think it really helped her in taking ownership of her image. Being able to not just be Princess Leila–she was someone who wrote novels and had one-woman shows and was obviously a huge force when she did the press tour for “The Force Awakens.”
ON BECOMING HER OWN PERSON
I think one thing Carrie Fisher did perfectly is take things that might otherwise be used against her...and really fold them into her own narrative. For example, she suffered a drug overdose in the mid-80’s and did a stint in rehab and then she wrote a novel about that called Postcards from the Edge and she wrote the screenplay that was directed by Mike Nichols. And she used that as kind of an entree into a second career as sort of a Hollywood script doctor.
And another thing that she was very vocal about was her mental illness–– and her use of electroshock therapy and her manic depression. And I think one of the things that people kind of forget about is, because he’s so adorable, is that he was actually her therapy dog. She wasn’t just taking him along because she thought it was funny, although it obviously was in certain interviews.
Interviews like this one: