2016 continues to deliver, in the sense of delivering pain and loss and the removal of hope. I am surprisingly devastated by the death of Carrie Fisher: I hadn't realised how much her role in Force Awakens had meant to me. Her feisty princess was, of course, integral to our investment in the original Star Wars trilogy, and her role as a female character was uncommonly powerful for the time - the antithesis of a passive damsel, she had both the personality and the political/tactical power to hold her own against the men. (Also, as I persist in thinking of Trump as Jabba the Hutt, there is considerable vindictive satisfaction in imagining her choking him with a chain, the action which was the archetypal denial of the chain-mail bikini and the female role it attempts to define).
But it was the mature Leia of Force Awakens who was most interesting, and whose loss I really mourn. The film created a powerful narrative place for her - a woman who has lost everything, home and family and political hope, and yet who continues to fight. We are given precious few female cinematic icons who are permitted to be experienced, mature, battered by life, wise, flawed, powerful, authoritative, instrumental - defined, in short, by something other than their sexuality. But the role worked because of who she was outside it - a gutsy, unabashed, irreverent older woman who had no truck with societal expectation, who called out misogyny and objectification, and who was frank and unashamed about her own struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. There's a lovely quote from her in The Princess Diarist in which she says about Star Wars that “Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.” In a lot of ways she could have been talking about herself.
I am sad that she has had her life prematurely ended, because she was making a marvellous and inspiring thing out of her own difficulties. I am heartsore that we have lost both her real-life presence and voice as an anodyne to Hollywood stupidities, and her character in future Star Wars films. If we ever needed an icon for continued resistance against fascist, misogynist systems in the teeth of the odds, it's now. Fuck 2016.
(My subject line is from one of Carrie's own autobiographical books, in which she describes George Lucas's insistence that she not wear a bra with the white dress because "there's no underwear in space" and with weightlessness your body will expand but your bra won't, so it'll strangle you. Which is terrible science and everything you need to know about justifying objectification by mansplaining right there, but the point is that Carrie wanted my subject line to be her obituary, so it is.)