Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
Drowned in Moonlight, Strangled by Her Own Bra (or, Farewell Carrie Fisher)

Robert B. Marks | 28 Dec 2016 18:00
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"What happens is, you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands??? But your bra doesn't - so you get strangled by your own bra. Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit, so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra."
- Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (on comments by George Lucas regarding underwear in Star Wars)

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It seems that, unwilling to just let us all wait out the last week of this terrible year in peace, 2016 had to deliver one last massive body blow - as everybody has no doubt heard, Carrie Fisher died yesterday at the age of 60.

I don't do obits very often, but for Carrie Fisher I've got to make an exception. And when it comes to Carrie Fisher, there is so much to talk about. She may be remembered most of all as the actress who played Princess Leia, but she was so much more. She was the person who, possibly more than any other, shattered the taboo of talking in public about one's own mental illness as she told the world about her struggles with bi-polar disorder, alcoholism, and drug abuse. In the 1990s she was easily the most sought-after script doctor in Hollywood - if you've seen a movie made in that decade, there are good odds that she rewrote at least some of the dialogue in it, although you will never see her name in the credits for that. Alongside all of this was a sparkling wit - her Wishful Drinking show, based on her 2008 book, is gut-bustingly funny.

(Seriously, find HBO's presentation of Wishful Drinking and watch it - you won't regret it.)

But this is a pop culture column, and now that Carrie Fisher has passed, we really need to talk about Princess Leia.

It's hard to quantify the impact of the original Star Wars trilogy - if there is any set of movies that is likely to survive and still be watched, Shakespeare-like, centuries after we are gone, it would be Star Wars. They have become part of our modern mythology, so pervasive that even if somebody has never seen a single Star Wars movie or show, they will still know what the Force is, and who Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia are. They are our modern fairy tales, and as much as most of us grew up on them, so likely will our children and grandchildren.

This is a topic much on my mind as of late. My wife and I want to have children in the near future, and I can't help thinking about what role models there will be for our daughter, should we end up having one. While there is no shortage of good female characters who stand on their own, there is also sadly not a shortage of problematic female characters - characters who exist as plot points rather than people, there to help the protagonist move through his character arc, or whose main purpose in the story is to be rescued by the hero.

If there was a "made of awesome" entry in the dictionary, it would have Princess Leia's picture beside it.

But while there were solid female characters before Princess Leia (Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek comes immediately to mind), it was Princess Leia who broke the mold and smashed it into little bits...and then stomped on the bits. Princess Leia may have started on screen by getting captured in the original Star Wars, but she promptly stood up to two of the most terrifying villains in the galaxy, and then took charge of her own rescue when she discovered that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo had shown up with more of a vague intent than an actual plan.

Princess Leia was also always the smartest person in the room, which is not easy when the room tends to be filled with smart people. She's the one who figured out that the escape from the Death Star was too easy, the one who clued into the warning signs on Cloud City, and one who successfully opened relations with the Ewoks (whereas Han and Luke nearly got turned into a tasty dinner by them). It's difficult to say if she rescued them as often or more often than they rescued her. When she was captured by Jabba the Hut - after infiltrating his palace in a ballsy gambit involving a thermal detonator - she spent a not small amount of time in the famous slave bikini strangling Jabba to death with the chain he had put on her (turning what would otherwise be a symbol of sexual objectification into a symbol of empowerment and liberation).

And that's just the highlights - if there was a "made of awesome" entry in the dictionary, it would have Princess Leia's picture beside it. "Princess" is a title - she is much more a military leader and, while there was still an Imperial Senate, a statesman. After the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, she gained the distinction of becoming the Disney princess with sniperlike aim and the highest kill count of the lot - neither of which are traditional attributes of Disney princesses. There may be no shortage of problematic female characters that I would have to "explain" to my hypothetical future daughter, but Princess Leia is not among them. She stands on her own, and I would show Star Wars - and Princess Leia - to any daughter of mine without hesitation or the need to speak another word...even the scene with the famous slave bikini.

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The thing is that while all of the above starts on the written page, it still needs to be brought to life. It needs somebody to portray the role in such a way that the character becomes a person - otherwise, it doesn't matter how well the role is written, the character won't "pop." Princess Leia is not just made of awesome because of how she is written - she's made of awesome because of how she was portrayed, and that was all Carrie Fisher (who rewrote some of her lines to make the character work). And Fisher did so good a job at it that a full 40 years after the character first appeared, Princess Leia still works.

And so, this tribute is offered, not just in sadness but in gratitude. Gratitude for all the movies Carrie Fisher made better with her editorial pen without so much as a single on-screen credit. Gratitude for making it easier for people with mental illness to face their demons. And, most of all, gratitude for bringing a character to life who stands tall in our modern mythology, and who I could show to my future daughter (or daughters) with pride.

Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday, December 27, 2016. She was drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra - and the world will be forever poorer for it.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf's Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

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