Photo credit: 20th Century Fox Star Wars Publicity Shot
On Christmas Eve, my four year old daughter was opening her Star Wars Lego advent calendar. The little door swung back to reveal a miniature Chewbacca. "Oh," said Olivia sadly. "I really wanted Princess Leia."
The loss of Carrie Fisher, aged just 60, is a seminal moment in history for those of us who grew up with her Star Wars alter-ego. For me, as a little girl in the seventies, she was part of the holy trinity of badass female icons: Princess Leia, Wonder Woman and Miss Piggy.
The boys could run around the playground pretending to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, but they could not deny Leia's power. She could handle a blaster, she had serious attitude and all the best lines - "Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?" She could repair spaceships and lead rebel troops to victory. Princess Leia was not there to look beautiful: she was the boss.
Behind the scenes though, the struggle for intergalactic equality was real. When asked why Leia never had a lightsaber, Fisher quipped "Even in space, there's a double standard." Ordered by director George Lucas to go braless because "There's no underwear in space", Leia was later humiliated by Jabba the Hutt in that gold bikini. At least she had the pleasure of strangling him. "That's the best time I ever had as an actor. And the only reason to go into acting is if you can kill a giant monster." How ironic that Princess Leia was handing out medals for bravery at the end of A New Hope. She should have awarded one to herself.
As the years went by, I lost touch with Leia. Then in 2011, I happened to watch Carrie Fisher's one-woman show Wishful Drinking and was blown away by her self-deprecating humour and acerbic wit. Here was a woman who could create a flow chart about her Dad running off with Elizabeth Taylor and still make it hilarious. She acknowledged that Princess Leia would forever be a part of her life "I've sort of melded with her over time," but had made peace with that. For Carrie, being turned into a PEZ dispenser was the epitome of cool.
Most striking though was Fisher's account of her journey through addiction to being diagnosed as bipolar. It takes enormous courage for any person - let alone a world famous movie star - to confess they have been psychotic, admitted to a mental hospital or undergone ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).
Carrie's voice when she talked about her demons was searingly honest yet reassuringly light-hearted. "I'm totally sane about how crazy I am." Her popular agony aunt column for the Guardian newspaper is still receiving letters after her death. Like millions of her fans, corny as it sounds, I felt as if I knew her.
Typically, it was these fans that Fisher mercilessly ridiculed in her recent memoir The Princess Diarist, along with more gleeful anecdotes from her teenage years. Who else but a 19 year old Carrie would have the balls to take the piss out of Harrison Ford? She then dared to publish the details of their on-set affair some forty years later. His one word response? "Lawyer".
She was just as fearless when it came to defending her appearance. In an interview to promote The Force Awakens, (with her faithful sidekick Gary), Fisher famously shut down GMA presenter Amy Robach who asked about her weight loss with "That's a stupid conversation." Fisher also blasted Hollywood's ageism towards women, saying "Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they're the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don't hold your breath for either."
That Carrie Fisher is dead at 60 still feels unreal. For her mother, Debbie Reynolds, to die the next day is a cruel twist of fate that belongs in a movie, not real life. My heart aches for Billie Lourd, Carrie's only daughter, who has lost both her matriarchs in one fell blow.
Carrie Fisher's unique voice will live on in her novels, memoirs, and the forthcoming HBO movie Bright Lights, which documents her relationship with Debbie. As for General Leia, there is still her appearance in Star Wars Episode VIII to come. No doubt she will continue to feature in the franchise as some sort of CGI ghost, smiling alongside Yoda (I hope she photo-bombs Han Solo).
"Can we hear it Mummy?" asks my daughter, as she plays with our interactive R2-D2. The little light comes on and we listen to that famous message one more time. "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi - you're my only hope".
Farewell Princess Leia. May the force be with you. Always.