Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Wrong Heroes - Farewell to a Princess

2016 is, thank the gods, nearly over. A year that's not only taken David Bowie, Prince, and now Carrie Fisher from us while giving us an orange-skinned menace as President-Elect of the United States.

As I've said here before the Star Wars films hold a special place in my life, out of proportion with their actual actual artistic value. To me, then, Carrie Fisher, will always - in addition to everything else she was -  be Princess Leia. Thinking on both the character and the person in light of the current state of the world, there's much to see about how we think about women, how we think about
She drowned in the moonlight, strangled
by her own bra. 
men, and how we think about heroes.

The scene of Princess Leia's which resonated with me as a child was, of course, the rescue from the Death Star. Han and Luke had made their way to her cell and immediately found themselves attacked by imperial stormstroopers and on the verge of re-capture. Leia essentially took over her own rescue, grabbing a blaster from one of the men and leading them to the relative safety of the trash compactor.

Leia's place in the story was more than that, of course. She was a leader of the rebel alliance. An organizer. While Luke was living in the backwater of Tattoine and Han was eking out a living as a small time smuggler and con-man, she was doing the actual work. If one steps back and takes a long look one could ask - who is the actual hero? The one running a movement - and who goes back to running it in her older years when the men have run away - or the talented warrior/pilot with their flashier skills? Luke and Han won the day in battle, but it was arguable Leia who brought them TO that day so they could win it. She was the heart and mind, they the body.

As a mental exercise, try reimagining the story from her point of view; in place of the simple farmboy destined for greatness you have someone raised to closer to the emperor's shadow by a family who not only knew what they were doing but who consciously chose to defy the empire by hiding her. Someone who lost not only her family but her entire world, someone who has the same parent/child dynamic with Darth Vader that Luke Skywalker had. Let me repeat: Luke lost his Aunt and Uncle [who he never seemed to much like]. Leia lost literally her entire world.

We've not changed much. Decades after the first Star Wars films, JK Rowling gave us an even more egregious example of the wrong hero in the Harry Potter novels; Hermione Granger was the smartest student at Hogwarts, perhaps one of the smartest the school had ever seen. She showed bravery, initiative, creativity. Time and again, Harry succeeded because Hermione figured out the answer for him. Her strongest skills were academic - the willingness to read and study, and the ability to both remember what she learned and put what she knew into context. Harry's best skill was flying a broomstick very well and being successful at a sport. He was the lightsaber-wielding Luke Skywalker to the sharp-witted and sharp-minded princess.

And, of course, it's the laser-sword fights, the aerial combat, the wizards duels which we remember.

So, Princess Leia was a hero. Or should have been.What of Fisher herself, the person behind the character? She was smart and funny. I learned yesterday that she not only had a quiet career as a "script doctor" in Hollywood, but also fixed some of what would have been the most cringeworthy dialog in the Star Wars films. She's looked on fondly by her peers and friends.

I'm not usually one to mourn celebrities; their lives and mine are separate enough that the illusion of personal connection falters as they leave us. There are, of course, exceptions. I cried for Sir Terry Pratchett. And I cried for Carrie Fisher.I didn't know her that well, nor really follow her career the way I had some others, yet still I cried.

I cried for the years we'll never get to see; for the years ahead of her.

I cried for the bit of my childhood which is now irretrievably in the past.

I mourn for the loss of her voice, for her willingness to speak honestly and openly about her struggles with mental illness. To this day, that issue is still a taboo.

And I mourn the too-soon and pointless death. For the stories which will be left untold.

2016 was not a good year; in a way it seems almost fitting for it to end with pain.

So, we mourn.