Wednesday, December 28, 2016

EDITORIAL: A Tribute to Carrie Fisher

Tragedy struck just before Christmas when we all heard news that the enigmatic Carrie Fisher had suffered a massive heart attack on a flight between London and Los Angeles. That tragedy was made all the more painful on December 27th as we learned that the brilliant actress had passed away as a result.

There is no good way to process this news. In a year that has taken so many great artists, this one may sting the most. Carrie Fisher was not only a great actress, but a great person and activist as well. She broke onto the scene with, and is still best known for, the iconic role of Princess Leia from Star Wars, but her work extended far beyond that both professionally and personally. This tribute will seek to recognize all of that and tribute a woman who is absolutely deserving of all the praise she has received over her storied life, and all of the mourning we are suffering today.

The first area to address is her work with Star Wars. Since her 1977 introduction in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Fisher has been a quintessential part of the franchise. Her character is one of the best ever brought to screen, and for good reason. This is a character that has a mental power and spunk that few heroes ever get to represent, and even fewer get to show when they are female. Princess Leia, the character, is defined by being self-sufficient and being one of the, if not the, smartest person in the room. Star Wars fans were blessed that this great role was accompanied by an actress and a performance that matched its quality in every way. Carrie Fisher is a singular figure who very much embodies everything that her character represents. Moreover, for generations of young girls she is a hero they can look up to with pride. In the days before Rey, Jyn Erso, and Padmé Amidala, Leia was, most tragically, Star Wars’ only female hero. Fisher took that responsibility seriously and gave us a character so incredible that it really changed cinema for the better and impacted the lives of so many people. Amongst those in the storied galaxy far far away, she was also one of the most giving with her time for the fans, appearing at conventions and touching so many fans on a deep personal level.

On top of Star Wars, Fisher did a lot of other impeccable work, both on screen and in print. She had several iconic roles including in The ‘Burbs and When Harry Met Sally…. The thing most overlooked about Carrie Fisher is her comedic work and talent. Comedy is one of the most difficult art forms to be successful at and Fisher was a genius. She had a quick wit and great timing throughout her entire life that never failed to put a smile on people’s faces and make them laugh. This deepened the personal connection many had with Fisher and made her all the more meaningful. Fisher had a long and storied career with 90 acting credits in all manner of roles. She gave so much, and certainly had so much left to give. She was also a great writer authoring several fascinating books that were equally influential as they addressed an array of very tough subjects in her singular way.

Arguably more important than Fisher’s art, however, was who she was as a person. Carrie Fisher was absolutely a person who wore her life on her sleeve. She very publicly struggled with mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems. Unlike many in a similar situation, Fisher turned that impossible situation into a positive for herself and for countless others. Throughout her life she was one of the most outspoken personalities about mental health issues. These issues are so often swept under the rug that the attention Fisher brought to them was extremely important and fundamentally changed people’s perceptions broadly, as well as specifically helped individuals with their own impossible obstacles. On top of that, Fisher was outspoken for female empowerment. Just as she did with her brilliant Star Wars character, she also encouraged girls and women to strive for more in real life. This changed many lives and is something that people are, and should be, very thankful to her for.

I am, myself, a huge Star Wars fan. It is that work I best know and appreciate Fisher for. Sadly, I never got to meet her and tell her how much the work she did meant to me. Though I did not look up to her specifically as a woman, Princess (now General) Leia was always a real role model for me in Star Wars because she was a great leader. She didn’t need to be a rogue-ish swindler or an action hero to capture the screen. She did it with smarts, with strategy, and with cleverness. She earned respect by taking matters into her own hands and showing that if one isn’t afraid to do what is right with the skills they have, they can make a real difference in the world (or in the galaxy in that case). That role wouldn’t have been what it was without Carrie Fisher and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that role. Moreover, the actress herself was so giving to fans in so many ways. I have watched many a panel she has done at Star Wars events around the world and I never cease to be amazed at her level of engagement. She is always interesting and always unafraid to bring in things beyond Star Wars to help people meaningfully with their real lives. I have been moved listening to her speak many times and those moments will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I still don’t know how to process her loss. She was a giant in our world who meant so much to so many. Thinking about who Carrie Fisher was, though, I don’t think she would want us sulking. I think she would want us to celebrate her life and to hopefully take something from it. The best way we can remember her, I think, would be to live our lives as she did. To not hide our problems and to face them. To be outspoken about important things. To exercise a strength of character beyond that we normally see. Her work as an artist will always remain close to my heart and her work as an activist will always remain important to communities at large. I think she would be proud of that. She was our Princess and always will be.

I would like to extend my sincere condolences to her family and friends at this incredibly difficult time. I can’t fathom their struggle and I would like to thank them for sharing her with the world. I would also like to offer thanks to Carrie Fisher for helping me and so many others become better people. You really were a force of nature that meant so much to all of us. The Force will certainly be with her, always.

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