Why The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher's bravest work

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Feb 2, 2017, 10:30 PM EST

It's been a little over a month since the passing of Carrie Fisher, but for those of us who are Star Wars fans, or mental health advocates, or loud-and-proud feminists, the loss of Fisher is almost palpably felt on a regular basis. You don't have to look very far to find near-daily reminders of Fisher if you're a science fiction fan, but if there's one thing that helps to remind us all of her lasting memory, it's her words.

Fisher was a prolific writer over the course of her 60 years, leaving her touch on everything from autobiograpical works (Wishful Drinking) to semi-autobiographical fiction (Postcards From the Edge) and screenplays, doctoring scripts from other screenwriters -- and often without credit. In most cases, her goal in healing the scripts that needed it boiled down to a simple recipe: "Make the women smarter and the love scenes better." Scripts for films like Hook and The Wedding Singer undoubtedly benefited from her influence, but it was her personal writing where Fisher's brilliance really shone.

Memoirs such as Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic offered a deeper and more intimate look into Fisher's lifelong (and oft-publicized) experience with bipolar disorder and drug addiction, but this was Fisher telling her story in her own way -- pairing devastating truths with her trademark self-deprecating humor and clever wit rather than sitting back and allowing tabloid sensationalism to write her life's narrative. 

At the time of Fisher's death her newest autobiography, The Princess Diarist, had only been out for five weeks; Fisher was in the midst of the book's promotional tour when news of her unexpected passing was announced to fans. Reviews of The Princess Diarist were mixed, with some critics referring to it as "cringe-worthy" and "tragic" given the buzz surrounding the book's reveal of Fisher's affair with actor Harrison Ford during the filming of the first Star Wars movie back in 1976. Most televised interviews with Fisher seemed to revolve around pressing her for more information as on-air anchors attempted to mine the field for an exclusive on an old Hollywood "scandal." However, in watching these interviews, Fisher isn't eager to volunteer juicy details or talk gossip about a former lover. She's almost embarrassed that the topic is being brought up in the first place.

It's why calling The Princess Diarist sad or pathetic doesn't add up. Fisher herself had nothing personal to gain by making mention of her affair with Ford in what would turn out to be her final memoir. (According to Fisher, she sent a copy of her manuscript to Ford so he could nix anything he chose; Ford, in perhaps expected fashion, has remained mum on the subject.) Fisher merely unearthed a set of journals from around the time she was filming Star Wars and decided to publish them, ultimately leaving it up to her audience to pick and choose which details to dissect and amplify -- and while reading The Princess Diarist, there's a sense that Fisher knows all about what happens when you offer your life up for public consumption.

In fact, one of the most frequent insinuations The Princess Diarist makes is that Fisher's unconventional upbringing -- as the child of Hollywood royalty -- meant her life would never resemble normal. Fisher documents many strange anecdotes from her childhood and adolescence, pairing them with her famously dry humor as if to say, "I know. Weird, right?"

And yet there's also an enduring undercurrent within the book of Fisher's many attempts to move through life unnoticed, under the radar. She frequently writes about trying to do her job on Star Wars while attracting as little attention as she could; a near-impossibility, given that she was one of few women among a male-dominated film set. But she was also only 19 years old, an age that for many young women is rife with self-consciousness and feigned confidence. At one point in the book, an older Fisher wistfully expresses that her life would have been different if she had never been Princess Leia, but her gratitude for decades of passionate fans and her respect for the character is never in question.

The Princess Diarist gives us both the experienced Carrie and the insecure Carrie, pairing the woman with decades of life lessons under her belt with the one who finds herself involved with a married man 14 years her senior. Through old journal entries and freeform poetry, Fisher works through her feelings, trying to come to grips with her involvement in an affair she can already see the end of. Yet for all its supposedly scandalous revelations, Fisher is quiet on certain specifics, and in her present-tense writings on the affair, one gets the impression she's speaking with lasting affection for Ford rather than pining away for a love lost. Not pathetic, then, but brave.

What makes The Princess Diarist Fisher's most courageous work is what it represents: her willingness to bare all sides of herself to us -- not just the older, clever, well-lived side but the messy, imperfect, youthful side that made genuinely human mistakes and emerged on the other side stronger than before. Those who criticized the book for its supposedly embarrassing anecdotes are overlooking an important truth: there are many of us who would gladly forget the worst parts of our young adult lives, or all-too-readily omit the missteps of our past from public scrutiny. Fisher's final book should resonate that much more with readers because it serves as a testament to the strength that's derived from embracing everything that makes us who we are -- the good and the bad.

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