Many years ago when I first heard of the death of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, I was sad.
Not crushed, but of course sad that he had died so unexpectedly and at a relatively young age.
I watched excerpts from his memorial service. Big Bird, from Sesame Street, sang the song “It’s Not Easy Being Green” as a tribute.
It didn’t sit right with me for some reason. I tried to figure it out. Big Bird shouldn’t be singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” I thought.
That’s Kermit’s song.
At first, I didn’t realize I was crying. Then I began bawling. Because it suddenly hit me why Big Bird was chosen to sing it.
It wasn’t just Jim Henson who was gone. So was Kermit. He couldn’t sing the tribute to Jim Henson, because Henson was Kermit and Kermit was Henson.
I mean, he’s not GONE—Kermit has been around ever since, voiced by Steve Whitmire, who does a fine job in the movies, TV shows and other appearances Kermit makes every year.
At that moment, though, it felt as if he was no more.
This may seem like an odd segue, but that’s exactly how I felt when I heard Carrie Fisher had passed away. I was bereft to think we had lost this talented, funny, acerbic woman who spoke so honestly about being bi-polar and a recovering addict. It was much more than that, though. There are some instances where actor/character seem so wrapped up together, and this is one of them. It was realizing that Leia was gone, too, that was another painful stab through the heart. Especially since it had been almost exactly a year since Leia—now a General—was featured in the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.
Hopeful Fisher would still recover, we watched the original trilogy on Christmas Day. We watched The Force Awakens the day after she passed away. (And got the horrific news that Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds had also passed away when it was over. It was as if 2016 had to give us another viscous kick in the teeth before it was done.)
These viewings reinforced what a seminal character Leia is in film; a princess who contradicts most of the princess tropes. Whether intentional or not, in the four films together Leia comes across as an eloquent argument against the “Chosen One” trope—both her father and brother were designated as “chosen,” and in the end failed to “bring balance back to the force.”
Leia never allows herself to be “chosen”—she has the talent to become a Jedi, but instead does the hard, day-to-day work of fighting oppression, unlike her brother and lover/husband, who get the glory and medals. When captured by Jabba the Hutt, she uses the chains of her oppression to free herself—an iconic image that seems even more important in these uncertain times. No matter how many failures and losses she faces—including abandonment by or deaths of most of her loved ones—she never quits, she never runs away (coughJediscough). She keeps getting up to fight another day.
Seeing Leia as a young, brave woman in the early films contrasted with the more hardened and disappointed middle-aged woman, estranged from both her husband and son, missing her brother, basically abandoned by all who meant anything to her, is sad and yet feels true to all the characters. When we witness young Leia and Han and their sparkling, slightly snarky banter, we imagine a bright future for these two. We find out in The Force Awakens that they are separated and mourning the loss of a son who is anything but what we would have imagined they would have produced together. It’s awful. (But not unbelievable. Look up the story of the Emperor Caligula. His parents were known for being brave and noble, yet they also produced a son who became a monster.)
Yet she still fights. She still hopes.
That light, that determination—I find it hard to believe it would have burned as bright with a different actress in the role. Reading Fisher’s own words about her time as Leia, it’s jolting to realize that she was not only very young at the time, but also very insecure, both as an actress and in her personal life. Yet she brought something to the role that made Leia truly Leia.
Fisher had just completed filming Episode VIII when she passed away, leaving what will be done with her character in Episode IX up in the air. There have been many rumors, including plans to cut her filmed scenes out of Episode VIII completely, or recast the character, or, as was done briefly in Rogue One, insert her digitally into Episode IX. Since I started writing this, Lucasfilm released a statement assuring fans that Leia would NOT be digitally recreated for Episode IX. Which is very, very good—but still begs the question, what will they do with the character, who most likely plays a key role in both her son’s character arc and the story overall?
Leia of course will live on in existing Star Wars movies, as well as existing and future TV series, games, books, graphic novels, and fan fiction. And we now have a character who could be Leia and Han’s spiritual child (though I highly doubt she is their actual child, or even a Skywalker)—Rey, who in my mind is a worthy successor to Leia.
How the final chapter of Leia’s story will play out on screen, how it SHOULD play out, is a conundrum. I don’t envy those who have to make this decision.