I guess the goodwill couldn’t last too long. Just as Star Wars: The Force Awakens is being greeted by critical acclaim, record box-office earnings and praise for its compelling lead character, the dark side of fandom has arisen – very much like the movie’s First Order from the ashes of the Empire – and is blasting Carrie Fisher for her appearance, so much so that the actress/writer herself felt the need to respond through social media. As you’ll see in the linked article, the troglodytes in question have then doubled down, suggesting a variation of “you were asking for it” by her agreeing to appear in the movie in the first place.
It is a morbidly fascinating phenomenon to witness the claiming of ownership of an entertainment franchise by certain segments of fans who blow collective gaskets when the newest installment does not meet every single one of their impossible expectations, or worse, dares to shake up the status quo. Author Chuck Wendig received a taste of this when he met a backlash over including gay characters in his Star Wars novel Aftermath. But even with that, Wendig wasn’t attacked for his looks, or, you know, succumbing to that virulent, merciless and entirely natural human process known as aging.
When it comes to women, all bets are apparently off.
Carrie Fisher is incredibly smart, razor-edge funny, breathtakingly courageous with her openness about her battles with depression, and has probably written more of the lines you quote to your buddies at the pub in her largely unheralded career as a script doctor than any other scribe alive today. But Hollywood is notorious and has always been notorious for giving its women a limited shelf life depending on – and you’ll forgive the lewd expression – how fuckable they are perceived to be. I think of a lot of actresses of her generation who inspired heavy panting back in the 80’s and 90’s – Daryl Hannah, Geena Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sharon Stone to name but a few – and wonder where they are now. They’ve lost none of their talent, but the parts aren’t coming, despite male contemporaries continuing to land interesting and challenging roles. Michael Douglas in his 70’s still appears in blockbusters in 2015 while his younger, but apparently not young enough wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is nowhere to be seen. One of the most egregious examples I can think of is when Kathleen Turner, the voice of Jessica Rabbit, the famous femme fatale of Body Heat, was hired to play “Chandler’s father in drag” in an episode of Friends. When you don’t sell posters or copies of Playboy anymore, this is what you are left with. On the rare occasion you do get a chance for a plum part – usually as someone’s mother or a cackling villain – the response is, as we are seeing with Carrie Fisher here, clucked tongues questioning how you could let yourself go like that.
What is it about seeing an older Leia that struck such a disgruntled nerve? We all know the infamous gold bikini from Return of the Jedi – for many young men of that era it was a sexually formative experience, but frankly there were plenty of other scantily-clad princesses in sci-fi and fantasy at the time, and you don’t often hear lingering reminisces of longing for Princess Ardala from Buck Rogers or Princess Karina from The Ice Pirates. With Leia, perhaps it was the notion of a powerful female character being enslaved, literally chained up, that was the most appealing to those fertile young imaginations (he wrote, choking down his vomit). Regardless, I’m not entirely sure, and Carrie Fisher has mused about this in her one-woman shows, why “Slave Leia” had to then create an implicit contract between her performer and millions of fanboys, that the person in the outfit was somehow obligated to look like that for the rest of her life, that her sexuality became the property of legions of strange men. How she looks is really her business and no one else’s. It may very well be the failing of male-driven Hollywood as it creates these images of lust-inducing goddesses without acknowledging the human reality beneath the makeup and the barely-there costumes and the pixels. But these hopped-up keyboard warriors who have the gall to act as if they have been wronged, and then go and insult an accomplished woman from a safe perch behind proxy servers, are spectacularly nauseating. Because, to put it bluntly:
CARRIE FISHER DOES NOT OWE YOU AN ERECTION.
Neither she, nor any other person who puts themselves in the public eye bears any responsibility to fulfill the sexual fantasies of every single person who happens to look at them. When you buy a ticket to The Force Awakens, all Carrie Fisher owes you is a good performance, and in that, she delivers, bringing a quiet note of tragedy to what had once been an irrepressible character. Perhaps that itself factors into disappointment with TFA Leia, that she is more subdued and less the forceful “your worshipfulness” than she is in the original trilogy. Well, in character terms, 30 years of a life spent fighting a war you had hoped was over will do that. More to the point though, Carrie Fisher was not under any compulsion to return to the front of the camera, and that she did it (and subjected herself to a rigorous diet and exercise regime first) speaks to her ultimate love of the character and the franchise and a level of caring for the fans that perhaps doesn’t always come across in her occasionally blunt interviews (remarks that, were she male, would pass unnoticed, like, I don’t know, EVERY SINGLE QUOTE Harrison Ford ever gave about Han Solo being boring). And forget the comeback about whatever she was paid for her participation – do you have any idea what script doctors make? She does not need the money that badly. She could easily have sat this one out.
To soil yourself and fire demeaning remarks off into the Internet because the 2015 movie didn’t feature the 1983 actress is to betray a terrible sense of male privilege, as though the entire purpose of Princess Leia and by extension Carrie Fisher’s existence is to satisfy your desperate need for arousal by any means necessary. It isn’t. But apparently it’s okay to reduce her to that. (I write this without expectation that my readers fall into this category, so kindly forgive the use of the figurative “you.”) The success of The Force Awakens should have been celebrated as an unreserved triumph for Carrie Fisher and yet, the movie not yet three weeks in theaters, it is instead dragging out old issues that she’s struggled with her entire life. She didn’t need this crap. Where we should be talking about the movie’s story, style, message and impact, instead the discussion is being driven to its most trite level by the most juvenile of entitled voices, to the extent that Fisher herself felt the need to say something about it. That’s disgraceful, and Star Wars fans everywhere owe her a collective apology – and a thank you for reminding us that even our imaginary heroes grow up.
It’s past time that we did too.