“It was raining in L.A. and I was Princess Leia. I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.” — The Princess Diarist
What is a legacy? Hamilton taught me “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” But I believe some people—if they leave the right kind of mark—live to see at least a small portion of that garden. And I think Carrie Fisher was one of those people.
She got to see the little girls dressed up as Princess Leia. She got to hear stories of women who were inspired by the character she brought to life. And she’d be the first one to tell you that she also got to hear stories of men who were inspired in their own way by the character, too.
Princess Leia is a huge part of Fisher’s legacy. She will live on forever in that character—forever our Princess, our General, our trailblazing badass.
I’ve written so much already about what Princess Leia has meant to me (and I’m planning to write much more in the future), so I’ll just say this about Fisher’s most famous role: I have no idea who I would have become if I never saw Leia shooting her blaster, kissing her pirate, and commanding her troops as a kid, but I do know that woman would have been a lot less confident, independent, outspoken, and happy.
I was introduced to Princess Leia at the ripe old age of five, so it took a while before I understood that she wasn’t real and that a woman named Carrie Fisher played her in the movies. But once I could grasp that concept and I learned about Fisher’s life, I became incredibly intrigued by her writing career. Even as a kid, I knew I loved to write, and upon learning that Fisher became a writer after her time in that galaxy far, far away, it occurred to me that maybe if I couldn’t really be a Princess/Rebel, being a writer might be the next best career path.
Princess Leia is my hero, but so is the woman who played her. And as I’ve gotten older, my admiration for Carrie Fisher beyond her job of bringing Leia to life has only grown. Her ability to be unapologetically, unashamedly, unrelentingly herself in a world that constantly tried to make her feel bad about that is something we all should strive to channel in our own lives. And her emotional honesty and openness—especially in her writing—represents the kind of bravery I can only hope to achieve.
I try to be like Princess Leia every day; I have since I was in kindergarten. I do that by standing taller than a 5-foot-nothing girl has any right to stand, walking with purpose, speaking with conviction, and fighting for what I believe in. But now, I am going to try to be like Carrie Fisher every day, too.
How am I going to do that? I’m going to work on embracing my imperfections and accepting myself for the eternal work-in-progress I will always be. I’m going to write with honesty and openness—even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard). I’m going to speak my truth more and beat myself up less. And I’m going to remind myself and everyone else who needs it that sometimes just getting out of bed, standing on your own two feet, and fighting back against your own Dark Side is a victory on par with destroying a Death Star.
Carrie Fisher was as much of a fighter as the princess she played on the big screen. She fought back against mental illness, addiction, body shaming, ageism, sexism, and a celebrity culture that wants women like her to just shut up and look nice when they’re young and fade into the background as they age. And she fought back with humor, fierce intelligence, and the kind of openness only the bravest possess.
I’ve spent so much time hoping I was living a life Princess Leia would be proud of. Now, I also want to live a life Carrie Fisher would be proud of. I want to stand in my truth (my loud, messy, sometimes uncomfortable truth), own my shit (because if she taught us anything, it’s that we all have our shit to own), and write my own story without fear (or with a lot of fear—but still doing it anyway).
Carrie Fisher once said that she wasn’t a damsel in distress, she was a distressing damsel. I think I speak for all the distressing damsels out there when I say thank you, Carrie, not just for being Leia, but for being you. Whether it was seeing you onscreen as small, smart-mouthed girls or reading your brilliant words as complex, complicated women, you taught us to love ourselves for exactly who we are.
That’s Carrie Fisher’s legacy—and what a beautiful garden it has made.
Edited to add:
As I was writing this post, I learned of Debbie Reynolds’s passing. Her performance in Singin’ in the Rain taught me that girls could tap dance just as well as boys could, and that lesson has stayed with me for my entire life. It seems fitting that mother and daughter both left such an indelible mark on my life as a girl for roles in which they held their own alongside two men when they were just teenagers. It also seems fitting that this mother/daughter pair is reunited once again, never apart for long. Rest in peace, ladies, and thanks for bringing joy, inspiration, and fun into my life since I was a little girl.