Over and over, the lesson was reinforced: men were to be strong conquering heroes and women were to be beautiful but helpless on their own. These were not healthy character archetypes but it was the story told and retold from Disney cartoons to prime-time television dramas. If there was an exception to the rule that defied the trend of my childhood, that exception was in the Star Wars universe.
A New Hope opened with the biggest baddest villain in movie history capturing and imprisoning the Princess. Her secret message sent a simple farm boy along the hero's quest to discover his destiny. But Princess Leia was not the stereotypical helpless damsel. She was in distress but even while staring into the face of evil she was strong, defiant, and sassy. Her hope and faith never wavered. When Luke, Han, and Chewie showed up to help her escape she refused to let the guys do all of the work. She was an active participant in her own rescue mission.
Through the role of Leia Organa, Carrie Fisher demonstrated that women could be something more than what was normally portrayed in pop-culture. For the first time, I saw women as people who could kick ass. It was the first time I saw a woman serve as a leader worthy to be followed. She demonstrated a balance of tenderness and battle-ready passion in a way that I had never seen.
Over the course of three films, Leia led a rebellion and a revolution. She remained brave even in the wake of unfathomable grief. She used her chains to strangle the crime lord who tried to keep her in bondage. She befriended a dangerous sentient teddy bear and convinced its tribe to join her fight against the Empire. She possessed greater courage than her male counterparts. She was worked hard despite rarely receiving recognition for her efforts. As Leia, Fisher taught me one important fact: sometimes princesses were in need of rescue and sometimes they were the ones doing the rescuing.
image source: Trust me, I'm a Nerd.
Today, Leia is one with the force and Fisher has left this world. A lot has changed since the four year old version of me fell asleep in the theater while watching Return of the Jedi. I am no longer the kid that was thrilled to watch her ride a speeder bike, chasing after Stormtroopers.
As I return to the original Star Wars trilogy time and time again, I watch with new eyes. I am now the father of a daughter. I have grown from a boy who wanted to fall in love with a girl like Leia to a dad who wants his daughter to become a woman like Leia.
Someone who will always be willing to fight for what is true and good. Someone who will stand up against tyrants and bullies. Someone who will follow her convictions even when it leads her to great personal loss. Someone whose words will move the hearts and minds of everyone she meets. Someone who will be both vulnerable and tough. Someone who will befriend whiny losers, big walking carpets, and scruffy-looking nerf herders. Someone who will love the unlovable.
Off screen, Fisher battled her own demons from addiction to mental illness. Yet she did so with grace and humor. I know her career was wider and deeper than her role as Princess Leia as she contributed her acting skills to movies like When Harry Met Sally and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. She was also a talented script doctor that lent her writing talents to some of my favorite movies.
But it is her iconic role in Star Wars that made her a geek legend who was universally adored. Because of her portrayal of the Princess of Alderaan, I have discovered something much like what was delivered to her at the end of Rogue One: Hope. She gave me hope that my daughter can be both a princess and a hero, both a peacemaker and a warrior, both delicate and unbreakable, both compassionate and fierce.
Ms. Fisher, we will hate watching you leave. Rest in peace and may the force be with you.