The Force is strong with this one: Princess Leia lives on even after Carrie Fisher’s death

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Carrie Fisher appears as Gen. Leia Organa in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Lucasfilm photo

Carrie Fisher appears as Gen. Leia Organa in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Lucasfilm photo

I still have vivid memories of my sister, Desty, and me leaping together on our trampoline, fighting unseen enemies with tree branches in lieu of lightsabers.

Before we could battle our invisible foes, however, there was always another fight to settle.

Who would get to be Princess Leia this time?

We were Star Wars diehards, we were determined to follow the good side and not the dark, but if we were going to play that pretend, there was only one problem: There was only one heroine in the whole entire galaxy far, far away.

So, when it came time to play Stars Wars – and when we were kids in the 1980s, it was ALWAYS a good time to play Star Wars – tough decisions had to be made. Would one of us play one of the boys, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker? That was no good: We were tomboys, not boys. To my memory, sometimes we were both Princess Leia, and sometimes we created our own female Star Wars characters.

That’s because in Star Wars when I was growing up, there was only woman who got to be a hero. And while that may have been severely limiting, at least Star Wars had one.

Like many women our age, Star Wars made an indelible impression on us. My sister, who has always worn her brown locks long and straight, even sported a Princess Leia hairstyle to her prom. It wasn’t the cinnamon roll coiffure of the original Star Wars: A New Hope, but the intertwined braids of The Empires Strikes Back. Most of her classmates still recognized the look.

We aren’t the only ones who were influenced by the late Carrie Fisher’s signature character. According to The Independent, the rebel royal was one of the most prominent symbols lofted during Saturday’s historic worldwide Women’s March. Her image was seen with slogans like “A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance,” “Rebel Scum” and “We Are the Resistance.” I was especially partial to the mash-up of Leia with Rosie the Riveter as well as the Star Wars logo-inspired “The Women Strike Back” sign.

The mark Princess Leia made on popular culture and women worldwide makes Fisher’s death on Dec. 27 at the age of 60 even more tragic and complicated for the Star Wars universe.

Although many of Saturday’s signs featured the young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia circa 1977 and A New Hope, my favorite cinematic image of the beloved actor and writer nowadays is of her as the older version of Leia, the wise and tough Gen. Organa of 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

That’s because it’s less rare to see a young heroine in a big-screen action-adventure that it was when I was growing up, but it’s still sadly uncommon to see a “woman of a certain age” – apparently, that’s anything over 30 – playing much of anything outside a straight-up wife, mother or grandmother role.

In a new interview with Yahoo! Movies, Fisher’s Star Wars co-star Mark Hamill talked about what it meant to her to return to Star Wars with The Force Awakens and show that her Leia could be vital even as she aged.

“We both had trepidations about coming back — like, is this the right thing to do? I mean, it should be about the young generation. We had our fears. But she was really candid about the fact that, you think it’s hard for men to age in this business, it’s 10 times worse for women. Where they feel like they’re not useful after 50, which is crazy! I don’t know. It was wonderful to see her be able to reemerge the way she did,” Hamill told Yahoo! Movies.

“We had the pro and con columns as to whether to come back or not, and I thought, one of the things in the pro column is the fact that young people will be able to see us as we are, and the natural aging process. Because you have these 6-year-olds being goaded on by their parents who are much more excited than the kids are, pushing them towards me going, ‘Look who it is! It’s Luke Skywalker!’ And you’d look at this 6-year-old and he’d be aghast, because he saw Star Wars and thought it was made two weeks ago, and he’s looking at me and thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this guy really let himself go.’ So it’s healthy. I think it’s nice for people to see us as we are.”

According to Collider, Fisher had completed filming on Rian Johnson’s sequel Star Wars: Episode VIII before she died after suffering a cardiac arrest. The next chapter in the saga, due in theaters Dec. 15, will reportedly see Gen. Organa taking on a larger role than the one she had in The Force Awakens.

But Leia was reportedly supposed to have an even bigger role in Star Wars: Episode IX, scheduled for release in 2019. That film is still being scripted, and how to handle the iconic performer’s death is undoubtedly quite a dilemma for Lucasfilm, the writers and director Colin Trevorrow.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Lucasfilm has already gone on record that there are no plans to digitally recreate Fisher to appear in future episodes of the movie saga.

“There is a rumor circulating that we would like to address,” a recent company statement said. “We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa.”

The filmmakers used movie magic to insert Fisher’s 1977 Princess Leia into a brief scene of the new spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, leading to speculation that similar digital wizardry might help them keep Leia and the Episode IX storyline prominently featuring the stalwart general.

“Carrie Fisher was, is, and always will be a part of the Lucasfilm family,” the company’s statement said. “She was our princess, our general, and more importantly, our friend. We are still hurting from her loss. We cherish her memory and legacy as Princess Leia, and will always strive to honor everything she gave to Star Wars.

That leaves two obvious options for the future of Leia Organa: Alter the planned storyline to kill her, probably offscreen and hopefully heroically, or cast another actress to play the resistance leader.

Obviously, neither is an ideal scenario, but to me, recasting is the only real option that honors the fiercely feminist and refreshingly unsentimental Fisher.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Carrie Fisher playing Leia Organa. But I hope the Lucasfilm folks saw the signs Saturday and realize just what Leia means to so many women.

Growing up, I had never seen anyone like her on a movie screen: A woman who was smart and brave, outspoken and confident. She stood up to the bad guys, held her own with the good guys and basically ran the rebellion – and she was only a teenager. She was pretty, but refused to let that be her defining characteristic, even in a metal bikini.

Without Princess Leia, I truly believe there wouldn’t have been a Katniss Everdeen. Ellen Ripley or Sarah Conner might not have been reborn as formidable warriors. Disney might still be making the same ol’ boring passive princess flicks instead of introducing us to bold young heroines like Moana from Moana or Merida from Brave. We certainly wouldn’t have courageous Star Wars newcomers like Rey from The Force Awakens or Jyn from Rogue One.

Although the makers of Star Wars have clearly become more open to putting women in lead roles in the past couple years, the influential saga still has work to do.

As previously reported, Amber Jones, a “Professional Question Asker” and aspiring data scientist, conducted an in-depth analysis into amount of dialogue female characters actually got in the top 10 movies of 2016 after seeing Rogue One and realizing that lead character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is practically the only women with any dialogue. She made her research available at freeCodeCamp, and found that even though some had female characters in the lead or strong supporting roles, women only said 27 percent of the words in 2016’s biggest movies.

As far as Rogue One is concerned, Amber Jones found that just 9 percent of its speaking characters were female. Of those 10 characters, one was a computer voice, one appeared on screen for no more than five seconds, and one was a CGI cameo that said one word. That last one was Princess Leia.

And since the list of female action-movie heroes is still alarmingly short, we simply can’t afford to lose Leia, especially if she was destined to play a big part in Episode IX. Carrie Fisher’s death at a relatively young age is a tragedy magnified by the passing of her mother, movie-musical icon Debbie Reynolds, the following day.

Losing her signature character would only add to the tragedy. You just can’t have Star Wars without her. To paraphrase the signs, she is the Resistance.

Although no one could ever truly replace Fisher, there are plenty of actresses around her age could make a formidable Gen. Organa: Kate Mulgrew, Geena Davis, Dana Delaney, Margo Martindale, Stockard Channing, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Ellen Barkin, Kathleen Turner, and Linda Hamilton all come to mind. Even casting Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd or Leia’s Star Wars mother Natalie Portman and using makeup to age them would be preferable to just killing off Leia and moving on without her.

It may be strange to see someone else in the role, but recasting has worked in film before, most recently with the Albus Dumbledore character in the Harry Potter series, in which Michael Gambon stepped into the wizard’s boots after Richard Harris died. And Broadway brings new performers into roles all the time.

The Force is strong with Leia, and hopefully, we will see her story continue.

-BAM

 

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