Growing up with Princess Leia

I was five when “Star Wars” came out. It was just “Star Wars” back then- no “New Hope” or “Episode IV” or any other descriptor needed.

I remember going to see it well because we all got in the car to go to the movie theater, only upon getting there, the show had been sold out. We had to buy tickets for the next show, go home, wait it out, and then go back to see it. I can’t remember if my mom went with us – my dad was the sci-fi nerd who watched old “Star Trek” reruns on weekend afternoons and “Doctor Who” every Sunday night.

Back in 1978, I was the little sister of two older brothers. My goal in life was to be a princess and to keep up with my brothers. I was tiny for my age, but certain I could do anything the boys could do – and did my best to prove it while wearing a white eyelet dress with blue ribbons and a tiara. Yes, I had a tiara – my grandpa gave me one after my first dance recital.

You can see how Princess Leia, with her petite stature, white gown, braided up-do, and blaster skills, would appeal to my five year old self.

Still from "Star Wars: A New Hope"
Still from “Star Wars: A New Hope”

That Christmas, the boys got a ton of “Star Wars” stuff. Light sabers and action figures and a stuffed R2-D2. If we played “Star Wars”, I was obviously the first choice for Leia, because I was the girl. But being “the girl” wasn’t a demotion, not in “Star Wars” play. Leia may not have had a light saber, but she had a gun and great aim. Leia could keep up with the boys. Leia could also best the boys.

I don’t really remember watching “The Empire Strikes Back” – I think I found it boring. But I remember watching “Return of the Jedi” as it was still newly out but somehow one of the teachers got a copy of it on VHS and as a treat, we were going to watch it if we were all good. As a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds, we were amazingly good. Watching movies never happened in school. Watching a cool movie was nothing short of miraculous. But watching the scene where Han and Leia are fighting together and Han says “I love you” and Leia says “I know” and every girl in the room cheers for Leia’s smart-ass response – that’s something that sticks in your brain forever.

I won’t say I was totally obsessed with all things Star Wars or Princess Leia growing up, but there was a heavy influence that obviously left a mark. Because when the “new” Star Wars movies came out and light sabers were all the rage again and my little boys were all “What’s a light saber?” – it was me who told them to pick out one and then took them to the video store to rent the original Star Wars movie, introducing them to that particular universe. And when my tiny daughter chased her brothers around the house with a blaster and a tiara, I thought “That’s my girl.”

Eventually though, I did learn more about Carrie Fisher and her unapologetically frank ways, her writing, her speaking about mental illness. And then, “The Force Awakens” brought her back to her role as Leia – this time, a general. Leia had grown up, grown older, and that was okay, because I had aged as well. Princesses eventually grow up – this one just happened to have grown up to become a general.

As the news spread of Carrie Fisher’s death, I noticed that many people wrote that she was more than just Princess Leia. And that is true. Carrie Fisher was a daughter, a mother, a friend, an actress, a writer, an advocate for the mental health community.

But as I wrote back on Twitter – It’s okay to love Carrie Fisher just for “Star Wars”. Because she made Leia the kick ass princess/general she was, the one we girls needed.

We needed her, keeping up with the boys, taking control of things when they couldn’t. We needed Leia kicking ass in her spotless white gown and cinnamon bun hair-do. We needed to watch her choke her oppressor with the chains he put on her, to fall in love but not giving up who she was. We needed her to be the rebel princess, who never stopped fighting even when her home was destroyed. We needed her to age, and grow older, but still showing strength and wisdom and sass – because being kick ass and smart doesn’t end at age 30, nor does it stop if you are no longer a size 6.

So thank you, Carrie Fisher, for making Leia Organa the woman she was, from both my 5 year old self, and my 44 year old self.

still from "Star Wars: the Force Awakens"
still from “Star Wars: the Force Awakens”