Generationally, my appreciation for Carrie Fisher is supposed to begin with Star Wars. Only her second feature film appearance, following a sharp debut in Hal Ashby’s Shampoo, her turn as Princess Leia Organa in George Lucas’s space saga earned her a permanent place in pop culture history. To the degree that I even thought about such things at the time, Fisher’s performance seemed a little perfunctory in Star Wars, filling out the damsel in distress role that Lucas simplistically typed out. Looking back now, with the helpful illumination of another few decades of Fisher’s spectacularly unguarded public persona, her performance now looks a little flintier to me, as if she were slyly signaling her dissatisfaction with the material, the flowing space toga costume, the pastry-shaped buns her hair was clumped into. Before the original trilogy was over, almost of the principal actors had an air of bedraggled dismay about them, a slump-shouldered look of those who are decidedly over it. Fisher discerned the limitations of this galaxy far, far away from the jump.
In actuality, I grew to appreciate Fisher many years after she’d fired her last blaster under the watchful eye of Lucas. Freed from her royal duties in the Star Wars universe, Fisher developed a pointed, uncompromising voice. She still had her skills as an actor (her cunning supporting performance in When Harry Met Sally… hints at the career she could have had, especially appreciation for funny, jagged dames that existed during the screwball comedy era had still been in place in the closing years of the twentieth century), but Fisher made her truest self known as a writer. Beginning with the autobiographical 1987 novel Postcards from the Edge, Fisher established herself as completely unafraid to open herself up to the world, doing so with a sense of humor than cut like a razor. She wrote more books, served as a script doctor, and slipped onto the writing staff of notably stronger years of the Academy Awards ceremony. Every time she assembled words, she delivered a bracing honesty, whether about her own addictions, her brutal struggles with mental health across the years, or the sordid hollowness of the entertainment business.
Fisher increasingly brought that same fearlessness to every public forum that would have her, taking advantage of her obligations to the promotional circuit when she returned to her most famous role for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to run roughshod over interviewers and the facile questions. If anything, she become ever more unapologetic as she aged, bringing her famous dog, Gary, absolutely everywhere and generally challenging any and all notions of what the proper way to move through the society of contrivances in which she resided. As if making up for the time in her life when reality was a little shaky, Fisher was deeply, resounding present in an inspiring way.
To borrow some lines from a Paul Simon song about Fisher (some of Simon’s very best songs were about Fisher), I think perhaps we all spent too much time underestimating her power. But like the song says, discovering that power was all but inevitable.