I’d been out all day on December 27, 2016, a difficult day. I was at the Yankee Stadium stop, waiting for the subway when I began to scroll through the updates on my phone. They began with, what seemed to me, a strange headline about Carrie Fisher, the actress who played Princess Leia in “Star Wars.”
On the platform, as twilight darkened into nightfall and a chilly wind blew against my face, a whiplash of disbelief ran through me. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I felt as though I’d lost a dear member of my own family.
Princess Leia had now transformed from matter into energy and become one with the Force, “an energy field,” which, as every fan knows, “surrounds us and penetrates us and that which binds the galaxy together.” There, she’ll be … forever.
Emotions poured out of me like oil out of a well. More than 35 years have passed since I saw “A New Hope” (1977) for the very first time. But it sure doesn’t feel like it happened a long time ago.
Over the past decades, I hadn’t been as stoked as one of her younger fans, camping out outside movie theaters, waiting to catch the release of each new installment, hot off the reels, but I’d passionately watched every one of them at home, with fresh excitement every time I did.
At a teen, growing up in the decadent Eighties, I feasted on every blockbuster science-fiction that came out that decade: “E.T.” (1982), “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), “Star Trek III: “The Search for Spock” (1984), “Back to the Future” (1985), “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), “Aliens” (1986). Sure, they were all thrilling. But none were powerful enough to make a mark as indelible as “Star Wars.”
It was a science-fictional fairy tale. But Leia was the princess who didn’t require to be rescued by a prince charming. In fact, it was she who rescued Han Solo, a man who looked every bit the prince charming, but was a debonair smuggler.
Leia was the princess who became a senator; a senator who became a rebel leader; a rebel leader who became a general. And her hair? Braided into an unorthodox coiffure of two lateral buns, framing her ears. Leia was a princess who didn’t quiver to wield a blaster gun. She sat comfortably in the cockpit of a starship as it make a jump into hyperspace.
Much before Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” fame came along to liberate an oppressed nation from a cruel dictatorship, Leia was fighting to save the Old Republic from the evil clutches of the Sith lords and restore democracy in an entire galaxy, let alone a nation.
As a kid, so mesmerized was I by the “Star Wars” saga that I wanted it to pop out of the cathode ray tube. To that effect, I put up life-size posters of Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker on the walls of my room. My parents got me my very own Millennium Falcon, which I parked on top of my bookcase.
This was a tale I loved so much that I didn’t grasp that these folks that I adored were people living on Earth and not in a galaxy far, far away. Princess Leia was Princess Leia. Who else could she be?
It’s embarrassing to admit that when it came to “Star Wars,” I almost never wanted to believe that it was, after all, a movie made in Hollywood. That Princess Leia was a “role” played by an actress named Carrie Fisher dawned on me way into adulthood. In my mind, one had melded with the other. This sowed the seeds of another notion: that she could never be touched by mortality. She was supposed to transcend time, wasn’t she? That she should go so soon is what deals it all the more of a blow.
But she’d want us to smile in the knowledge that she “drowned in moonlight, strangled by [her] own bra,” as she wrote in her book, “Wishful Drinking.” But not before she strangled a slimy crime lord with her golden bikini.