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The lingering shadow of Princess Leia

Carrie Fisher’s memoir, The Princess Diarist, sees her using her acerbic wit to discuss issues with darker undertones and feels even more poignant in the wake of her untimely demise

The lingering shadow of Princess Leia

Book review

She was born into Hollywood royalty, then soared to massive fame nearly two decades later after portraying an intergalactic princess in an epic space opera, only to remain inextricably linked to that iconic role for the rest of her life. For better or worse, Carrie Fisher could never escape the shadow of Princess Leia Organa, the bold and snarky heroine of the original Star Wars trilogy. Even at the time of her sudden death in December last year, the actress was in the middle of promoting a memoir primarily about the first Star Wars film, a book that, like most of her writing, sees her using her acerbic wit to discuss issues with darker undertones, and feels even more poignant in the wake of her untimely demise.

Published just a month before she passed away, The Princess Diarist finds the author reminiscing about events that happened four decades ago while she was working on the film that would propel her to international stardom as well as the impact this success ended up having on her life.

Fisher looks back at how she got her start in show business, despite not wanting to adopt this “fickle occupation” after watching her parents’ – screen legend Debbie Reynolds and crooner Eddie Fisher (who famously caused a scandal by leaving Reynolds to marry her close friend, Elizabeth Taylor) – fame diminish over the course of their lifetimes. She talks about getting cast in Star Wars, dropping out of drama college in order to star in this “little low-budget” space fantasy, and working on the movie in London in 1976 at the tender age of 19.

She discusses several experiences and topics directly and indirectly related to the franchise that would become one of the most successful film series in history, like her famous “cinnamon buns” hairstyle and what it meant to forever be Princess Leia, as well as later developments, like attending sci-fi conventions and signing autographs for money.

But the main focus of the book – and what seems like its raison d’être – is the revelation that the then-teenage actress had an affair with her “fourteen-years-older married co-star” Harrison Ford during the making of the first Star Wars film.

After attending a party celebrating director George Lucas’s 32nd birthday, Ford rescued an inebriated Fisher from the clutches of a group of boisterous crew members with dubious intentions, telling them that “the lady doesn’t seem to be very aware of what she wants” … and then proceeded to make out with her in the back of a car. It’s an account more disturbing than romantic (even though Fisher seemingly attempts to downplay the many troubling elements of the story with her jovial style), and it marked the beginning of a three month tryst between the two actors, one of whom was significantly more invested in the relationship than the other – she was emotionally involved; he was distant, quiet, stoic, unavailable.

For better or worse, Carrie Fisher, who passed away in December last year, could never escape the shadow of Princess Leia Organa, the bold and snarky heroine of the Star Wars trilogy.

For better or worse, Carrie Fisher, who passed away in December last year, could never escape the shadow of Princess Leia Organa, the bold and snarky heroine of the Star Wars trilogy.

Fisher also shares passages from the diaries she kept while filming the movie which she recently rediscovered while expanding her bedroom at her house, and which seem to have prompted the writing of this book. The entries, which are mostly about Ford, reveal a vulnerable, insecure young woman struggling with her “sense of isolation and worthlessness”. Her words are heartfelt, but almost uncomfortable to read, perhaps too personal to be shared with the world. “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond,” young Fisher writes at one point in her journal (one of several times she mentions death and dying in the book), “I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”

You can almost imagine her 19-year-old self chiding her older version for making these private thoughts public.

Then again, Fisher was always known for her candidness, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she doesn’t shy away from revealing the vulnerability she felt in her late teens. But while The Princess Diarist is intimate, the author still doesn’t share any explicit details from her affair. She also doesn’t really share any significant stories from the actual making of Star Wars, so if you’re looking for interesting anecdotes from the set or experiences from working with Lucas and co. then this isn’t the book for you.

The Princess Diarist primarily focuses on Fisher’s thoughts and feelings, a considerable chunk of which are about “Carrison”. Her voice is consistently charming, despite the occasional oddly phrased sentence and her general tendency to ramble. The book is, however, too short and light on content, and could have been significantly more interesting to a wider audience if it had included some of her experiences from the set of the “cool little off-the-radar movie directed by a bearded guy from Modesto”.

All in all, Fisher’s third and, as it turned out, final memoir gives us a glimpse at the actress’s views on the sci-fi adventure that took the world by storm in the late 1970s and has remained popular ever since. Its main revelation is her only fling with a married man, an affair that happened even though she had seen the impact of infidelity in her childhood and never wanted to do to “some lovely, unsuspecting lady” what her father had done to her mother. The book benefits from Fisher’s sharp wit, and while it may not offer many details about the making of the film (as Star Wars fans would have hoped), the writer’s humorous, self-deprecating, frank style is still likely to charm its readers, even when what she’s writing about is ultimately quite heartbreaking.

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