How Long Forever Was: Remembering Carrie Fisher

leia

Rest easy, General.

“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.

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Stronger Than She Knows: A Letter to Rey

TFA poster

In honor of today’s deadline for submissions for The Fan Mail Project, I wanted to share my latest letter for this project with all of you!

Dear Rey,

I’ve written a lot of letters for this project. I’ve written to characters who shaped my past and to characters who are helping me be my best self in the present. But you represent the future. So, while I have certainly discovered things about you while watching The Force Awakens that have inspired me personally, I’m not writing this letter for me.

I’m writing this letter for the little girls I saw in the movie theater around me all four times I saw The Force Awakens. I’m writing this for the girls too young to write you a letter of their own. I’m writing this for the girls too young to even write at all. And I’m writing this for the girls who aren’t even born yet but will someday be introduced to your story the way I was introduced to the original Star Wars trilogy as a child of only five or six.

When I was a little girl, I used to play Star Wars with my cousins on the playground near my grandparents’ house. While I always had fun pretending to be Princess Leia, so many of our games involved the boys “rescuing” me from the jungle gym that we imagined was the Death Star. There were times—even when pretending to be one of the strongest women in sci-fi—that I felt like I was just playing a small part in their imaginary adventures.

When I saw The Force Awakens for the first time, my initial reaction was to think of the little girl who would one day be playing this version of Star Wars on a playground with her cousins. And I was overwhelmed with gratitude on behalf of that little girl—whoever she may be. Because when that little girl pretends to be you, she’ll be the hero of her own story, and it’ll be the boys who are part of her adventures—not the other way around. That little girl will pretend she’s flying the Millennium Falcon. She’ll pretend she’s breaking out of her holding cell on her own. She’ll pretend to hold a lightsaber and use the Force. And none of those imaginary adventures will seem crazy to her, because she’ll have seen you do all those things. And when you see someone like you doing amazing things—no matter if it’s real or fictional—you begin to believe that you, too, can do amazing things.

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They Have a Choice Now: Thoughts on The Force Awakens

TFA poster

Source: starwars.com

Warning: This post contains MAJOR spoilers for The Force Awakens

I can’t write a review of The Force Awakens. To me, a review implies being able to see things at least somewhat objectively, being able to critically evaluate a piece of media. And there is no way I can be objective about this movie. Maybe after further viewings I’ll be able talk about things like cinematography and scoring and pacing and whether it borrowed too much of its structure from A New Hope or just enough to make it resonate with fans. But I’ve only seen it once so far, and after seeing it, there was only one thing I really wanted to write about—and that’s what this movie is going to mean for little girls and their playground adventures.

When I was a little girl, I used to play Star Wars on a playground near my grandparents’ house with my two older cousins, both of whom were boys, and my little sister (who—being the adorable toddler she was—always played an Ewok). My cousins had a choice: They could be Han or Luke or Darth Vader or any X-Wing pilot or any Stormtrooper. I could be Princess Leia. I’m not saying that was a bad thing or that I even wanted a choice back then. I think even now—if given a choice to pretend to be any female character ever created—I’d still choose Princess Leia. But maybe other little girls playing on playgrounds wanted a choice. And the only other choice they really had (besides being a dancer in Jabba’s palace—and no one wanted to choose that) was Luke’s Aunt Beru—who dies at the beginning of A New Hope—or Mon Mothma—who gets one exposition-heavy monologue that lasts about a minute and is never really seen again.

Even after the prequel trilogy came out, choices were limited for little girls who wanted to pretend to be Star Wars characters. Padme was a strong leader, but she wasn’t the main focal point of the story. There were some female bounty hunters and politicians, and even some female Jedi—but they never received the kind of focus that made kids really take notice of them in a way that became part of their imaginations and aspirations.

After The Force Awakens, things are different. Little girls have a choice now. They can be General Organa if they want to be a fierce leader of the Resistance, they can be Captain Phasma if they want to play the villain for a little while, they can be Maz Kanata if they want to be a wise alien creature, they can be any of the many female military leaders (on both sides of the conflict) and X-Wing pilots shown throughout the film, or they can be Rey if they want to go on their own hero’s journey.

As I watched Daisy Ridley own every bit of her screen time as Rey, I kept thinking about all the little girls who will see this movie in the coming weeks, months, and years. I thought about the little girl who one day—years after this trilogy ends—will be introduced to these movies by her older cousins and will play out Rey’s story on the playground with them by her side. And when she plays out this story, she will be the hero, and it will be the boys who are part of her story—not the other way around.

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Fangirl Thursday: You Never Forget Your First

Source: starwars.com

Source: starwars.com

When it comes to fandom, first loves often last a lifetime. The first character you ever really related to, the first “ship” that melted your heart, the first book or movie or TV show that kept you up way past your bedtime just thinking about it—they stay with you forever. And like the best first loves, they change you in ways you probably don’t even realize until years later. They become so wrapped up in the fabric of who you are that you don’t know who you’d be if you hadn’t picked up that book or changed the channel at the right time or popped in that VHS tape—and you don’t ever want to know, either.

For me, it always comes back to Star Wars. I first discovered the original trilogy as a little girl of no more than five or six, thanks to my two older cousins. I have fond memories of pretending to be Princess Leia as I ran around with them on the playground, rushing from the “Death Star” (the jungle gym area) to the “Millennium Falcon” (the swings) as we made our escape from my dad, who was always Darth Vader.

While these early years of Star Wars love gave me my first fictional role model in Princess Leia as well as a certain fondness for scoundrels before I even knew what that word meant, it took until I was 12 for me to really consider myself a Star Wars nerd, complete with the deep sense of engagement, passion, and enthusiasm I attach to the idea of being a nerd. It was the during the spring of seventh grade that I re-discovered the series that had been such a big part of my early childhood, but I now was able to throw myself into it with the single-minded devotion only a preteen girl can possess.

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Fangirl Thursday: Favorite Fan Experiences

Today at NGN, I’m kicking off what I hope will turn into a fun weekly feature: Fangirl Thursdays! This was inspired by some of my lovely commenters/Twitter followers (you know who you are), who always seem to find Thursdays a particularly good day for being enthusiastic about our fandoms (especially when Thursdays meant Once Upon a Time sneak peeks). It was also inspired by how much fun I’ve been having discussing the happiest of fandom topics over at TVexamined during Heather’s “Month of Love.”

Every Thursday, I want to celebrate the enthusiasm that comes with being a fangirl (or fanboy—don’t think you’re excluded from the fun, guys). I’ll start with a story about something that gets me excited about fandom—whether it’s about TV, movies, books, or the general experiences that come with being a passionate fan. But what I really want these posts to be is a place for you to share your stories. We have some great discussions here at NGN, so let’s carve out some time every Thursday to have even more of them!

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

Those words from F. Scott Fitzgerald speak to the essence of being a fan. Being a part of a fandom is like finding a little place in the world where you feel accepted; it’s like finding a community of people who understand you on a fundamental level because they understand what it’s like to love something that you also love. No matter the fandom—whether it’s for a book series, TV show, video game, or sports team—what makes these communities so special is the sense of belonging they instill in their members. When you’re around fellow fans, you don’t feel judged for caring the way you do about the things that you love; you feel welcomed and encouraged to be as passionate as you want to be.

When members of a fandom come together, it’s a truly special thing. There’s a sense of unity and enthusiasm that can’t be matched. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in more shared fandom experiences than I can count—from midnight releases for movies to playoff sports games—and they all share one common trait: excitement.

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The Force Was With Me

How can you make a Disney World vacation even more wonderful than usual? By adding Star Wars characters, of course!

Jango Fett did not seem impressed by my winning smile.

Jango Fett did not seem impressed by my winning smile.

If you love Star Wars, you have to get yourself to one of the Star Wars Weekends held at Hollywood Studios every May and June. It was an experience I’ll never forget and probably one of my favorite days spent in a Walt Disney World theme park (and that is high praise coming from me!).

Our Star Wars Weekends experience began before the park gates officially opened. A fantastic preshow to the day’s festivities happened along Hollywood Boulevard, with two Stormtroopers standing guard over the guests waiting to be let into the rest of the park. One of the best parts of Star Wars Weekends is the cheeky personality given to each Stormtrooper, and this preshow introduced them in a great way.

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Before entering the rest of the park, we had to pass by this guy.

At the end of Hollywood Boulevard—in front of the iconic Sorcerer Mickey Hat—there was a giant stage that was the center of the action during Star Wars Weekends. As the day began, the classic Star Wars theme music blared from the park’s speaker system and a narrator gave an overview of the day’s events—from the afternoon parade featuring beloved Star Wars characters to special interview shows with celebrities held throughout the day.

My family and I attended one of those interview shows—Stars of the Saga—which featured guest emcee James Arnold Taylor (the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Star Wars: The Clone Wars) interviewing two giants of the original trilogy: Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian). Held in a special theater near the Streets of America, this is one Star Wars Weekends event I would recommend to everyone. Even if you only have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, it’s pretty cool to tell people you were in a room with Chewbacca.

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Return of the Nerdy Girl

Did you miss me?

On Saturday night, I returned home from a blissful 10-day vacation in Disney World. I’m hoping to have all of my pictures uploaded tonight so I can write a couple of fun trip recaps for you over the next few days, including one devoted to the perfection that was my Star Wars Weekend experience (Three words: Darth Vader Cupcake). All I’ll say for now is that if you’re a Star Wars fan, you should try to get down to Disney World at least once in your lifetime for one of those weekends.

I have to say a special thanks to both Heather and Leah for keeping NGN running smoothly while I was away. And thanks to all of you who read and commented even though I was so distracted by all of the fun (and all of the food) in Disney World that I am criminally behind on replying.

Here’s a little taste of the fun I had to tide you over until I have time to write something longer. Disney + Star Wars + dancing = the best party ever. I can’t think of any better way to spend a weekend.

Let the Wookie Win: Ranking the Star Wars Films

I’m a Star Wars nerd. I’ve watched the original trilogy more times than I can count. I own an encyclopedia of characters and multiple Expanded Universe novels. I’ve idolized Princess Leia since I was a little girl. And I freaked out when I discovered my family’s trip to Disney World was going to coincide with the annual Star Wars Weekends held at Hollywood Studios.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for almost 20 years. It was my first real foray into fandom, my first real taste of the nerdy life I so proudly live today. There’s something special about your first love, and that’s what Star Wars was for me. From pretending to be Princess Leia on the playground with my cousins as a kid to writing about its mythology as a college student, Star Wars has always had a presence in my life—and I hope it always will.

To celebrate my Star Wars Weekend adventures (and because it’s never a bad time to talk about Han Solo), I thought it would be fun to rank the six Star Wars films from worst to best.

phantom menace poster

6. Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Yes, there are some really cool things about this movie. As an original trilogy fan, it was fascinating to watch Palpatine’s rise and to see a younger Yoda on the Jedi Council. Darth Maul and his double-sided lightsaber are the epitome of badass. And any movie featuring both Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, and Ewan McGregor as Jedi Knights can’t be a total loss. However, this movie takes those strong points and dilutes them with a story that’s incredibly boring. Who cares about the Trade Federation? (Answer: NO ONE) It also takes one of the great mysteries of the Star Wars universe (the Force) and turns it into something that can be analyzed in blood tests (and can apparently impregnate women—or at least Anakin’s mom—in the most ridiculous “WTF?!” moment in the whole series). Finally, no mention of The Phantom Menace is complete without a mention of its enduring legacy: Jar Jar Binks. Meesa wishing he was never created.

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A Distressing Damsel: An Open Letter to Princess Leia

“I was not a damsel in distress. I was a distressing damsel.” – Carrie Fisher, on playing Princess Leia

Dear Princess Leia,

For as long as I can remember, you’ve been a part of my life. I was introduced to you when I was around five or six years old (definitely before I was seven because I have memories of watching A New Hope in the first house I lived in), and it was love at first sight. You had brown hair like I did, you were small like I was, and—most importantly—you were a girl like me. When I played Star Wars with my cousins on the playground near our grandparents’ house, I didn’t have to just watch while they played heroes like Luke and Han. Thanks to you, I got to play a hero, too, every time I pretended to be you (which was often).

You were the first female hero I met through the media, the first in a long line that took me past Sydney Bristow and Hermione Granger on the way to Zoe Washburne, Katniss Everdeen, and Kate Beckett. I may have had many fictional role models along the way as I grew up, but you never forget your first.

I was born at a time when Disney princesses were experiencing a renaissance, when Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine started showing some smarts and spark that were missing from their earlier counterparts. I loved and still love Belle with the fervor of a three-year-old watching her sing about the “great, wide somewhere” for the first time, but pretending to be Belle was never as much fun as pretending to be you.

When I pretended to be you, I got to run and climb and boss people around. I got to play a game with higher stakes than just finding a prince; I got to fight Darth Vader for the freedom of an entire galaxy.

I learned so much from you without even realizing it until much later. I learned about passion, courage, and fighting for what you believe in. I learned that women can be political leaders and military strategists. I learned that smart women are the ones who get to do all of the cool stuff, like leading attacks on the Death Star (and capturing the heart of Han Solo). I learned that there are times when even strong women need rescuing, but then there are times when they get to do the rescuing, too.

I’ve always been a tiny girl with a big mouth, and with the memory of you etched in my brain from early childhood, I’ve always felt like those things are a pretty great combination. You spoke your mind, so I grew up believing it was okay to do the same. You never let the men around you keep you from voicing your opinions; being a woman never meant you had to be silent. You were just as good a leader and a shot as the men around you, so I grew up believing I could do anything boys could do. That’s a belief that fades for a lot of girls as they grow up, but I’m so thankful that I had a fictional role model like you (in addition to the great role models I’ve had in my everyday life) to show me that women are in no way “the weaker sex.”

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