Carrie Fisher—writer, actress, and all-around Strong Female Protagonist (onscreen and in real life)—has a new memoir out, the latest in a series of unflinching chronicles of a life that saw her born into Hollywood royalty, and step into her own as an icon by age 19. Her books tend to be about the reality that surrounds the legend, and the offscreen moments that make up a life.
The journey of a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but her fearlessness in discussing her flaws, her turns with substance abuse, and her struggles with mental illness make her as much of a hero in life as her iconic onscreen character. The Princess Diarist talks about Star Wars more explicitly than some of her other books, from her casting in the mid-1970s, to her thoughts about conventions and fandom in 2016. There’s quite a bit of detail about a long-rumored affair, but the book is as much about a young woman’s tricky journey to adulthood as it is about sci-fi (for Gary fans, there are some choice bits about the actress’ beloved french bulldog and his genuinely absurd tongue).
Here are some of the surprising things we learned about George Lucas’ masterpiece,
Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher herself.
Carrie Fisher Kept a Diary
OK, this should not come as a shock (the book is called The Princess Diarist, after all). The first line of jacket copy explains Ms. Fisher’s recent rediscovery of her 1976-era journals, but I think we’re still entitled to be a bit surprised. The Star Wars films, particularly the first three, had seemingly been mined for every tiny shred of information, down to the most impossibly insignificant detail, so it rather boggles the mind that one of the three primary cast members kept a heretofore unrevealed diary. Had it been kept by Harrison Ford, or even the slightly less private Mark Hamill, it might have made a bit more sense. But Carrie Fisher is the author of several fearless memoirs (Shockaholic), semi-autobiographical novels (Postcards from the Edge), and even a tell-all-turned-one-woman-show about her life as the product of a notorious Hollywood coupling (Wishful Drinking). I’ll have to take her at her word that she’d sorta forgotten about them, because it’s otherwise hard to believe that we’re just now hearing about them.
Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia, Also is Not Princess Leia
Carrie talks candidly about her uncertain relationship with Princess Leia Organa (I’m going to call her “Carrie” from here on, hoping she won’t mind—having read several of her most intimate memoirs, it feels weird to call her something so formal as “Ms. Fisher”), and how she’s been inspired by the character, while also finding it something of an albatross. Reading these diary entries, what’s most striking are the ways in which the then 19-year-old actress was, in fact, an actual teenager: searching, unsure, questing, overconfident in some ways and hopelessly insecure in others. It makes sense, but in contrast to what makes Princess Leia so iconic—from her first onscreen moments, she’s a young woman who’s impossibly poised and confident. I suppose that’s what acting is all about, but the senator/princess/rebel of the screen was, in real life, an actual human being. It’s easy to imagine the fictional princess hiding her worries and doubts behind a similar bravado.
Woman in the Movies
Carrie recalls a total of about four women who worked on the original Star Wars, including herself—which makes her kinda-funny/also-very-scary story about being kidnapped by the drunken crew at George Lucas’ birthday party that much more disturbing. Luckily, a young actor named Harrison Ford was on hand to rescue her. It’d be nice to think that things have changed a bit for women in the film industry in the decades since. One thing that hasn’t? A premium on skinniness. Carrie’s talked elsewhere about being asked to lose something like 35 pounds for The Force Awakens. Here, she mentions that she actually went to a clinician in order to lose a required 10 pounds prior to filming the original movie. She didn’t quite take it all off, and worried that she’d be found out at various points during filming, but it hardly seemed necessary given her starting weight: a whopping 110 pounds. Can you imagine?
Following a significant appearance in Warren Beatty’s Shampoo, the future Princess Leia narrowly missed out on a turn in Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven. She had great on-camera chemistry with John Travolta, initially cast in the lead. When Travolta had to pull out of the film, she didn’t match up nearly as well with Richard Here, and was replaced. A lead turn in a critically acclaimed prestige picture might have sent her career in wildly different directions, but the timing would probably have precluded doing Star Wars. While auditioning for Malick’s film, she read for George Lucas and Brian De Palma simultaneously; De Palma was looking to cast Carrie in his adaption of the Stephen King novel, a role that ultimately made Sissy Spacek a household name. Another might-have-been, although I think things worked out OK for both women.
That George Lucas birthday party? That’s where it all began for Carrie and Harrison Ford, and it’s the story that forms the spine of this memoir. It’s been largely reported in the press already, but, of course, Carrie’s account goes into a great deal more detail. Nothing explicit, mind you, but there’s a lot about the build-up, and about what it all meant to the 19-year-old star. Large sections of her journals detail the emotional impact of the weeks-long romance on her developing ego. One thing that’s not terribly surprising? Dating (euphemistically) Harrison Ford is a bit like you’d imagine: he is (or was) quiet, taciturn, and emotionally distant. He’s also intelligent and mysterious, with that essential Harrison Ford-iness that we’ve all recognized for decades. It’s hard to imagine not wanting to sleep with Han Solo, circa 1976.