When I was seven, my mom sent me with the neighborhood summer camp to see a movie in the theater without her for the first time. It was the first movie I remember seeing, and it was Star Wars.
I know Carrie Fisher was much more than Princess Leia, but from the moment Leia strode onscreen, shorter than everyone around her, and defying her captors, I knew who I wanted to emulate. It didn’t take long for me to shove all the Barbie dolls to the corner of the basement and build a series of Star Wars sets out of cardboard boxes. I begged my parents for the action figures. When our dog ate the head off Greedo, rather than throw him out I bargained for a second figure and used the pair in “before” and “after” capacities. As the sole night owl in my family, I entertained myself for hours writing Star Wars fanfiction in my head as my younger sister succumbed to sleep in the next bed.
Not until adulthood did I realize how much I’d internalized the attitude and tenacity of Leia Organa—but I believe I would not have survived without that kernel of Leia inside me. When I was just barely a teenager, my parents struggling with the loss of three of their own parents and several aunts and uncles in less than one year, I found myself on my own in ways I’d never expected and for which I was entirely unprepared. Though I was drowning in grief and adolescent turmoil, my parents were too lost, themselves, to help. In fact, they relied on me to care for my younger siblings more than ever. I didn’t even know I was doing it—but like Leia, I grabbed the nearest blaster and took control of my situation. Already a voracious reader, I turned to books, music, and writing. I dug through the stacks at my local library for the answers to my questions. I adjusted my headphones, cranked the volume on my Walkman, and filled spiral notebook after spiral notebook with my thoughts and emotions until I came out the other end.
But Carrie Fisher taught me to do more than just rescue myself. She was an amazing writer, and her honesty about her mental health issues gave me the courage to talk about my own experience with severe postpartum depression. Through all she did, she taught me that girls can be strong, opinionated, and in charge. What we say and do can shape the world around us. It’s our duty to call out hypocrisy and tyranny—and fight against it for the world we want. We can endure fear and pain, loss and sorrow—and still keep going. It’s not shameful to admit our weaknesses or ask for help—and to find our own way if calls for aid go unanswered. These are lessons I’m raising my own daughters to carry inside them, their own little kernels of Leia. They are braver than they think. We all are.
Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for being a role model for so many of us. You were my first hero. May the Force be with you…always.