Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher.
It’s hard to talk about Carrie Fisher without first remembering her most iconic role: Star Wars’s Princess Leia. But the actress, who passed away today (at the time of original publication) in California, was more than any one part. An enduring presence in Hollywood since childhood as the offspring of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Fisher stuck with the glitz and the glamour, surviving scandals, career setbacks, and addictions, eventually emerging as a performer who was both utterly unafraid of the opinions of others and seemingly immune to the film industry’s phoniness. Recent years had found her truly in her element. Quick-witted, self-effacing, and often in the company of her beloved French bulldog, Gary, Fisher was candid about the ups and downs in her work and public life, raising awareness about bipolar disorder (with which she was afflicted), and lending her unique humor to a number of different creative projects, several of which would go on to become successes.
The child of two superstars of their era, Fisher was born into the spotlight and scrutiny that comes with fame. (Her father’s decision to leave his family to marry Elizabeth Taylor was one of the great scandals of Hollywood’s golden age.) As a student at Beverly Hills High School, she threw herself into reading, and writing poetry, some of which she would unveil in her 2016 memoir, The Princess Diarist. Acting, of course, proved impossible to resist: Occasionally, Fisher appeared onstage with her mother; later, she made her film debut with a scene in the Warren Beatty comedy, Shampoo.
Princess Leia may now stand as one of film’s seminal heroines, but Fisher didn’t expect to land the part—nor was it easy. Beating out the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Jodie Foster for the part, the big break came with the stipulation that she lose 10 pounds before filming began, she has said. Though she occasionally clashed with director George Lucas, Fisher still managed to put her stamp on the role; by embracing the princess’s strong-willed personality and refusing to be just another damsel in distress, Fisher helped to create a lasting role model for little girls out of a part that could have been pure fluff. The role grew with Fisher, and she always had an opinion when it came to Leia’s development, whether that meant decrying the Return of the Jedi metal bikini—much to the chagrin of fanboys—offering words of wisdom to The Force Awakens female lead, Daisy Ridley, or serving as the caretaker of one sci-fi’s most beloved characters.
Fisher’s contributions to pop culture extend far beyond one franchise. As a script doctor, she added wit to films like Sister Act, Hook, The Wedding Singer, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in addition to polishing the final drafts for the three Star Wars prequels. Documenting her career ups and downs in bestselling memoirs, Fisher provided an insider’s view that pulled no punches, skewering Hollywood’s status quo, and eventually providing some of her peers with memorable roles. Mike Nichols’s adaptation of her novel Postcards from the Edge garnered Meryl Streep her ninth Academy Award nomination for her performance as a Fisher-esque actress dealing with a substance-abuse problem and a demanding movie-star mother.
As an actress and writer, Fisher experienced great triumphs, but to get a feel for what Carrie Fisher meant, you need only look at the outpouring of love and support from friends and fans upon hearing the news of her medical troubles. Often, the Internet’s first reactions skew towards snark, but the thousands of messages of support speak to her impact. In 2015, Fisher reprised her role as the princess in the new Star Wars installment, The Force Awakens, but for many she had never left the throne. From her costars to the kids who dressed up as Princess Leia for Halloween, everyone sent positive vibes, shared cherished memories, and hoped against hope that Fisher, that rare creature, a true Hollywood original, would pull through. In other words, the force was truly with her.