I did not know Carrie Fisher, but for most of my life I have known Leia Organa; she was one of my heroes.
Over the past few days as word of Carrie Fisher's heart attack circulated on social media, culminating in her death yesterday, I saw many people articulating what she meant to them. Mention was made of her personal struggles, her family, her wider career and accomplishments. But, to quote Max von Sydow in The Force Awakens: "She'll always be royalty to me."
Once again, I find myself feeling well-disposed towards Star Wars; I liked The Force Awakens and Rogue One. That being the case, I'm better able to connect emotionally with my long-held affection towards the cast of characters. The protagonists of the original three Star Wars films loomed large in my childhood and Princess Leia Organa was both pivotal and unique - not only the most significant female character in the films but the only one with an arc or more than one scene of dialogue.
I was surprised to find out in the 1990s that many Star Wars fans of my age considered Leia a sex symbol and salivated over the slave outfit she wore in Return of the Jedi. To me, she was one of the guys. Similarly, my favourite character wasn't Han Solo (unlike many), who was, to me, the hero's best friend. I liked Luke Skywalker more than any of the characters and Leia being Luke's sister was a development I wholeheartedly approved of - everyone got to be happy! Rather than a body to be glared at, I took Leia as one of the heroes - feisty, sharp-tongued, heroic. She could fight, plot, snark and in every other means match wits with any of the other characters. She even seemed to spark the 1980s fascination with male-centered action heroes taking on one member who would be "the female one." With few exceptions (G.I. Joe's Scarlett) such heroines were not the equals of their male comrades, unlike Leia.
Part of my affection for Leia stems from the relationship I have with my own sister; to some extent I thought of the Princess Leia action figures as "girl's toys" and was happy to let my sister collect them. Still, eventually I obtained a figure of Leia in her Hoth outfit and it received a lot of play from me. Frankly, the adventures I had with my Star Wars toys were incomplete 'til I began adding Leia to them.
I felt a little uncertain of Carrie Fisher's return to the role in The Force Awakens - not because of her appearance (she sure looked like Leia to me) but because her voice seemed to have aged so much, sounding older than her actual age. Regardless, it was emotional to see her again; it will no doubt be all the more emotional when I see her again next winter - for the final time.