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Carrie Fisher Gave ‘Star Wars’ its Rebel Attitude

In a week that should have seen Carrie Fisher turn 65, we celebrate the mighty venom the actor brought to George Lucas’ franchise.
Carrie Fisher Star Wars
By  · Published on October 21st, 2021

Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry reflects on Carrie Fisher and celebrates her Star Wars contribution as the baddest master of the blaster.

October 21st would have marked Carrie Fisher‘s 65th birthday. It’s an opportunity to consider the venom and the vitriol she granted the Star Wars franchise. Her Princess Leia could have easily been a damsel in distress or an object for the plot to pursue, but the actor never allowed her hero to fall into two-dimensional stasis. Fisher created a titan with teeth, a hero who gave as good as she got, and who upstaged the boys whenever they thought they were hot.

In A New Hope, we meet Leia in flight. She’s got those Death Star plans, and Darth Vader is nipping at her heels. Defeat an inevitabity, she gets those schematics to a couple of bumbling droids, and she finds comfort in knowing they’ll arrive on Ben Kenobi’s doorstep. He’s a big shot; maybe he can do something of use with them.

Still looking for her voice on the set, Fisher adopted a funky, come-and-go British accent. Fans have theorized that Leia takes on the tone to mock Peter Cushing’s posh Imperial attitude. Hey, whatever gets you to sleep at night. It’s as good a reasoning as any other. She’s communicating that she is equal to whatever old fool that stands before her.

What’s obvious in her first confrontation with David Prowse’s enormous Sith Lord is that Fisher is building a wall of confidence beneath her tiny stature. Her performance is fueled with fire; she’s projecting rage and contempt from every pore, superiority punctuating every syllable. Fisher knows that when facing a loss, you must look your best. Bow to no one.

Carrie Fisher Suffered No Fools

Anyone who has watched the documentary Bright Lights knows that Carrie Fisher had a lot to prove when stepping into Star Wars. As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she was born under a spotlight. And its rays burned like hell.

She bashed against depression, fell into drugs and drinking. Her war with substances became her story, and she splayed that life on the page and the screen. If we were going to consume her celebrity, she would give us a damn big meal. We’d eat until we’d burst.

Carrie Fisher presented a person of total defiance, afraid of nothing, including her faults. In fact, her faults were her best feature. They made her more human than human. Hopefully, in putting them all out there for us, we could recognize some of our own and do something about them.

Fisher discovered that the best defense was a grand offense, and with that decision made, she attacked everything. Interviews became combat zones, questions an opportunity to load bullets into her gun barrel. If you were block-headed enough to ask her about weight loss or alcohol abuse, you better be prepared for an onslaught.

No bullshit. And that demand — that mantra — is in Princess Leia from frame one.

Princess Leia, a Badass with a Blaster

Luke Skywalker and Han Solo think they’re pretty cool. They storm the Death Star, knock a couple of goons on their noggins, and steal their clothes. They’ve come to rescue a princess, and when they bust into her cell, they’re rewarded for their bravery with some slicing Carrie Fisher sarcasm: “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?”

The line knocks Luke back. “Huh?” Who he is matters little to Leia. It’s more about what he is. He’s an open door, and she pushes past him quickly and without thought. The boys are playing soldier, struggling to find a heroic position against a faceless army. While they worry and whine, Leia snatches Luke’s blaster, makes her own escape through a garbage shoot, and her rescuers follow down under.

Luke and Han may have started the day playing the champion, but in that instant, the only warrior present wears buns in her hair. If you freeze frame the scene, as Leia fires Luke’s blaster, you can catch squinting fear with every trigger-pull. But the second those flinches expire, she’s jabbing daggers with those eyes. The disappointment in her heroes is immense, and in that recognition, we witness her might. We’re Team Leia.

Carrie Fisher doesn’t receive the big hero sequences in A New Hope. She doesn’t pilot an X-wing. She swings no lightsabers. Her time on screen is limited, but she makes her words and glares her weapons. She offers Princess Leia everything she has, feeding the Rebel all her anger, all her tenacity. She transforms Leia into a character we want more from, and if George Lucas would never grant her knighthood, we would.

Carrie Fisher, Jedi Knight

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Ben Kenobi that there is another besides Luke Skywalker. And by the time we get back to Return of the Jedi, we learn that the other potential Force-wielder is Princess Leia. She’s Luke’s sister (ew, gross, a little bit), Darth Vader’s daughter. George Lucas never found the space to make this happen in the films, but the expanded universe found ways to make her Jedi supremacy a reality.

Leia started slinging lightsabers in the New Jedi Order books and the Dark Empire comics. She finally graduated to Luke Skywalker’s better, saving his bacon on more than one occasion. While Disney eventually erased these side-stories from their canon, in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, this inevitable course was plotted, although, again, mostly offscreen.

Our need to see Leia as a Jedi Knight is a direct result of Carrie Fisher’s contribution to Star Wars. She took mere minutes of screentime and concocted an action hero even when no action was available in her scenes. Her violence was in her bite, in the way she spat lines like hot lead. Through performance, we saw possibility.

Carrie Fisher passed away five years ago. What we remember is her defiance. The middle finger she’d direct toward paparazzi. The “fuck you” not so hidden within every red carpet eye roll. She met life as Leia met Grand Moff Tarken. It tried to tell her to behave, and she said no. Resistance was in her blood, and she pumped it through Princess Leia, and it spread throughout the franchise.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)