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Keeping Leia — and Carrie Fisher — alive
As of today, Carrie Fisher has been gone three years. Her passing ultimately shaped the final film in the Skywalker saga — a film which, for all its flaws, was a fitting and powerful end for our Princess Leia, our General Organa, our Carrie.
As the tagline for The Rise of Skywalker said, "The saga will end. The story lives forever." So will Carrie and Leia.
Spoilers for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.
In an essay for Time, Billie Lourd wrote about her mother and understanding Leia's role in their own lives and in all of ours.
"I realized then that Leia is more than just a character. She’s a feeling. She is strength. She is grace. She is wit. She is femininity at its finest. She knows what she wants, and she gets it. She doesn’t need anyone to defend her, because she defends herself. And no one could have played her like my mother. Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. The two go hand in hand."
For many of us, Princess Leia Organa was our first action or sci-fi heroine, the first "girl" we got to watch hold her own against the boys, kick ass, slay a Hutt, and snark for days at these large male toddlers she's acquired. Where Luke was frightened and unsure, where Han was an awkward disaster disguised as a swaggering hero, Leia was strong, resolved, ready, a perfect mix of over it and hopeful that resonates with us all so much in this, the year of our lord 2019. And when she returned as General Organa, that wit and resolve were still there, but in a layered, tired way. She'd seen so much, fought so hard, lost nearly everything.
And she kept going.
Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. The two go hand in hand.
Carrie Fisher had bipolar disorder and co-morbid addiction. She never shied away from her story, even its ugliest bits. Sobriety came and went, and she told us about it. She wrote Postcards From the Edge about her accidental overdose in 1985. She talked openly about being bipolar in frank and funny ways. She told us about her ECT treatments. She let us in. She saw so much, she fought so hard, and in the end, we lost her.
When your brain is attacking you constantly, when the hormones and neurons and every chemical inside you are screaming, you want it to stop, to be quiet. "Drugs made me feel more normal," she once told Psychology Today. "They contained me." But drugs and mental illness are frenemies. They party so well together, then turn on each other, and the body they cohabitate. Fisher died on December 27, 2016. And when the toxicology report was released the following June, Lourd, like her mother, spoke the truth. Even, as ever, the ugly bits.
“My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases. She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom, she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress to solutions and ultimately a cure. Love you Momby.”
The thing about death is, it's not just an ending. It's not a lost game, a fight you simply endure and tap out. Fisher may have died from her addiction, but her fight never ended. It never will.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Fisher once said, “I outlasted my problems. I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”
She's gone, but her story lives on. Leia is gone, but her story lives on. Carrie and Leia live on in us. Their fight is ours now.
In her Time essay, Lourd said she is now the keeper of Leia. If the weight ever slips, we're all holding Leia and Carrie with her. She's not alone.
Be like Leia — stand up, do what's right, and fight for what matters. Be like Carrie — be honest, speak your truth, and know that the ugly bits are just part of the story, part of you.
They'll go on, and we will, too.