I don’t even know where to start. Grief is like that. Encapsulating the true worth and scope of a legend is like that. As a professional writer I feel I should know better, but being overwhelmed by the enormity of influence of a person who is now gone cuts all skills to the quick, and all of us fumble from square one.
For anyone who has followed my professional writing career, they’ve seen me mostly focus on the Victorian inspirations that set me to writing in that time period; Poe, Mary Shelley, the Bronte Sisters. All a long ago, far away galaxy from Star Wars.
I was born the year Empire Strikes Back came out. I grew up with the franchise. It was an obsession alongside with the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who my local PBS station aired at night (back in the days long before it was cool). I grew up writing and performing with Star Wars was a part of my world-view, but I wasn’t public about how or why it was as important as it was. That was entirely due to depression, something I’ve struggled with since I was very little and didn’t understand a single thing about that very particular monster I was fighting internally since I had an awareness of self.
When I first loved Star Wars it was because I wanted the Millenium Falcon to land in my backyard and pick me up for adventures and help in fighting the Good Fight. There I would join my dear friends Luke, Han and Leia, who I loved like a sister and gravitated towards with awestruck amazement. There I would be spared from bullying at school because I liked nerdy things, (I was shoved to the ground once for explaining what T.A.R.D.I.S stood for) and there in that ship I would be spared from my own inner darknesses.
There in that ship, the force of strength and kindness that was so strong in Leia, in Luke, would help me, as the Force was wont to do. Leia who, despite everything that befell her, was never tempted by the dark side. She proved one of the strongest young women ever seen on screen at a time when strong women in a genre films were rare, a role model to be sure. Sensitive, yet brave and unwaveringly strong. Allowing a woman to be far more than the two dimensions we’re often relegated to.
I didn’t dare be public about how much I wanted to go into that beloved ship as I didn’t want my wonderful, loving family to worry about me for wanting to leave this world for the stars.
I began writing fantastical stories as a way to address my need for escapism and I never stopped. Lala Ward’s Romana, a fellow Time Lord and intelligent peer to the Doctor- and a blonde no less- was the bookend of my early childhood heroes. As a kid I went by “Lea” and anyone not of my family assumed “Leia” and I never once corrected them, I’d just smile proudly, happy to be associated with someone so precious and vital.
I went to school for theatre, focused on writing on the side, and began learning about Carrie Fisher’s ongoing advocacy and unapologetic openness concerning mental health. While depression is on a spectrum, and mine has been on the gentler side of bipolar, it is there nonetheless. It was incredible to me the amount of stigmas she helped dispel and help me realize how much of my own I was still fighting in the world around me and most of all within myself. The princess I’d so admired and secretly considered my dear friend was still fighting. Still brave and beautiful and bold.
She proved to be a brilliant, exquisite, hysterical writer, and the two paths I had also chosen as a profession made me appreciate this presence, this fierce light, all the more. I’ve never known how to talk about the magnitude of her, of all of her, until the event of her passing tore open a space in me I didn’t quite realize was so large but specifically of her and her work. My first few publications, little-known novellas, were space operas that owe many of their themes to Star Wars, Star Trek (the Next Generation in particular) and Doctor Who. She’s there, in those strong characters fighting for their people, against all odds.
For me, the Star Wars prequels were many painful, missed opportunities for something better and I walked away from the franchise feeling burned. The Force Awakens was a necessary reset, I didn’t realize how much I’d needed that until I was sitting in the theatre, in tears at the sight of any of my beloved old friends; those dear souls who I’d prayed would come rescue me from inner darkness. When I saw the Millenium Falcon again, I could hardly contain myself.
The moment I saw General Organa grace the screen in The Force Awakens I put my hand to my heart as if pledging allegiance. I was all tears, and I am again just thinking of it, of her, of that unmistakable presence that had been a lifelong balm, a safety and refuge. All the intervening years of her battles on and off-screen, my own battles, it was all there, with the metaphor of the resistance an unfurled banner; real and raw and all the more powerful for the time between.
The final, glorious moment of Rogue One, her “Hope”… Is so beautifully bittersweet now.
I wished many times that I’d written her a letter; this woman who was so much more than one iconic role. That I hadn’t stayed so quiet about how much she has meant to me. That all my many interviews about books and inspirations didn’t focus solely (and safely) on dead Victorians and arch 19th century witticisms, but I should have mentioned a living legend and paid her due deference.
It’s just that there was so much pain wrapped up in all this, from such an early age when I was first grappling with the foreign, baffling effects of depression, when I felt incapacitating loneliness, when the idea of Leia was one of my only friends. I frankly hadn’t wanted to admit that; the pain, and shame, and stigma in why she was so important. Just because Carrie Fisher fought stigma doesn’t mean it wasn’t still there and isn’t still there, an unfortunate force ghost.
But, dammit, here’s a too late letter I send out into the Force, because I am one with the force and the force is with me, and Carrie, and all who mourn her.
Dear Ms. Fisher,
You don’t know me, but you managed, through the magical means of storytelling and film, to be a friend and idol when this lost little girl really needed one, and an inspiration to be strong, brave, kind, aware, present and unwavering.
Thank you for fixing innumerable scripts to be better for Leia as a representative force, not to mention countless other roles, for remaining a force to be reckoned with within the dark sides of Hollywood. All women have benefited from your tireless work.
Thank you for being so open about your struggles, they helped me better understand mine, and many, many others.
Thank you for making us laugh about the tough stuff, you gave us enough material that we can sometimes laugh through our tears as we recall your words about how you’d wish to be remembered.
Thank you for showing us everything we can be, the breadth and depth of rich, vibrant humanity lived large and unapologetic.
We grew up with you and you’ve helped teach us how to survive, fight, and not give in; Princess to General, actor to icon, author to healer. Transcendent.
You spent a lifetime working with words so you know they sometimes fail. We all have a specifically Carrie Fisher sized hole in our hearts, but I’m hoping you know.
Ex Astris, to the stars…
Leanna Renee Hieber
Thank you to Stephanie and the wonderful folks at Rogues Portal for being open to posts like this and for being so lovely during the process.
May the Force be with you all.