Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, a few days after she suffered a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight, came as a terrible shock.  Fisher was only 60, and she had so much to offer to the world as a writer, actor, and advocate on mental health issues.

Fisher was great in The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, and she wrote a number of funny best-selling books, but of course she will always be remembered by many — including me — as Princess Leia of the original Star Wars films.  I’m sure that Fisher often bridled at her association with that gun-toting resistance leader with the fantastic and iconic hairstyle, but I’ll always believe that her depiction of Leia Organa was one of the things that fundamentally and forever shifted the kinds of roles that women played in Hollywood films.

Of course, women had always had some meaty roles, but in action films or sci-fi films women typically were the objects around which the action revolved, rather than the proponents of the action.  Not so with Leia Organa!  From the first moments of Star Wars she was the key driver of the plot, setting R2D2 off with the plans for the Death Star, standing toe to toe with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, recruiting Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to the cause of the resistance, getting tortured and firing blasters and trading insults with the best of them.  (“Could somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?”)  Princess Leia was as far from the damsel in distress as you could get.  Sure, she ultimately fell for Han Solo — who wouldn’t? — but she was always ready to strangle Jabba the Hut or blast a squadron of imperial storm troopers on a moment’s notice.  Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Carrie Fisher did it flawlessly and convincingly.

Lots of people make movies that achieve enormous popularity, but then fade over time to the point where their roles are only dimly recalled and people wonder what all the fuss was about.  Not so with Carrie Fisher.  She was a true trailblazer, in her acting, in her writing, and in her frank and always humorous discussions about her struggles with her condition, her addictions, and her weight.  She touched more people than she perhaps ever realized.

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Reimagining Star Wars

When we last saw Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, they were on a forest moon, celebrating the death of the Emperor and the downfall of the Empire, surrounded by happy Ewoks and the ghosts of Yoda, Darth Vader, and Obi Wan Kenobi.

Next year, they’ll be back.  The new installment of Star Wars begins filming in a few weeks, and all of the original cast members, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, as well as the actors who played Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3PO, will be back.  They’ll be joined by some new folks as well as the actor who plays the distasteful boyfriend character on Girls, who apparently will be a villain.  Obviously, the story will take place years after the end of Return of the Jedi.

When George Lucas decided to make The Phantom Menace, he was taking a risk in reinvigorating a beloved and colossally popular movie franchise — but the risk involved in reintroducing the familiar characters from the original Star Wars movies in this latest feature is even greater.  What has happened to Han and Leia?  Did they get married and have kids, or did something happen to keep them apart?  Do any of the characters die?  Whatever happens, people will be second-guessing the story, and the fact that this new film won’t be directed by George Lucas is just going to increase the scrutiny.

I loved the original Star Wars films and fondly remember watching the first movie at the old University Flick theatre next to the Ohio State campus and then going back to see it again and again.  I’m looking forward to being reintroduced to some of the most iconic movie characters of all time, but I’m warning new director J.J. Abrams — handle with care.