In the wake of Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death at age 60, her new memoir, The Princess Diarist,is an unexpectedly emotional read. But the emotions aren’t grief and nostalgia so much as alarm and sympathy. Early in the book, she tells a thoroughly appalling story that she presents as a cheery little romp. In London for the filming of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Fisher attends George Lucas’ birthday party, where she’s “essentially the only girl” in a room full of hard-drinking crew who are loudly whinging that they’d rather shoot in “a nice remote location… where there’s no bloody shortage of strange but friendly quim.”
At the time, Fisher is 19, and by her own admission, naïve and agonizingly insecure. So when the crew members briefly stop teasing her (“here’s our little princess without her buns”) and decide to get her drunk, she quickly caves, even though she hates the taste and effects of alcohol. “It makes me stupid, sick, and unconscious really fast,” she admits. “I’ve never actually been drunk—just senseless and inert.” But she wants to fit in. A couple of drinks later, she’s reeling and incoherent, at which point several men surround her and try to hustle her out of the party, “to wherever movie crews take young actresses when they want to establish that the actress belongs to them.”
Then Harrison Ford steps in, in what sounds like a real-life version of a movie scene: “Pardon me,” he tells a crew member who claims Fisher wants to get a little air, “but the lady doesn’t seem to be very aware of what she wants.” An argument breaks out, and Ford yanks Fisher away from the party and into a car — and starts making out with her. He is married and has two kids. He is 14 years older than her. She is drunk, and he just finished saying she isn’t aware enough to make rational decisions. And that’s how their affair starts: the affair everyone wrote about with a frisson of pop culture glee when The Princess Diarist came out a few weeks ago. The real-life Princess Leia and Han Solo, at the height of their youthful hotness and iconic movie star familiarity, got it on while shooting Star Wars, then kept it secret for nearly 40 years! What a story!
But there’s nothing cute about the party anecdote, which on every level feels like a bunch of older men taking advantage of a younger girl. And there’s nothing sexy, sweet, or even appealing about Fisher’s three months with Ford in her recounting here. It’s deeply weird and dysfunctional how the media has presented their brief relationship as the giddy confirmation of a collective fandom fantasy, rather than the way Fisher actually portrays it, as exhausting and gutting. More than a third of Princess Diarist is devoted to her talking in mournful circles around their hook-ups. While carefully avoiding any intimate details, she portrays Ford as monosyllabic, withholding, forbidding, and intimidating. In public, she says, he largely ignored her. In private, they had sex, but barely spoke to each other. And the only real hint of tenderness or even affection between them comes in an anecdote where she does an impression of him to make him laugh — a cute story weighed down by her desperate, miserable inner dialogue:
“If I’d never succeeded in coaxing this coveted laughter of his out into the waiting world, I would never have known what I was missing — just that I was missing something, besides his not being single or accessible or, for the most part, warm. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine his laughing wholeheartedly, or known how amazing it felt to actually be with the person you were with and feel that he liked you!”
And yet throughout all of this, the younger version of Fisher is painfully, miserably obsessed with Ford. She repeatedly spins elaborate fantasies about him leaving his wife to be with her. She blames herself for his remoteness and tries to figure out what about herself she can change to make him more engaged. She pours out her heart with a rawness that eclipses any humor, late-life analysis, or nostalgia she brings to the story.
At the beginning, Fisher teases the fact that she’s writing this latest memoir because she found the diaries she kept during the production of Star Wars. But those diaries have nothing to do with the shoot. There are no stories from the set, no insights into working with George Lucas, no reminiscing about the rest of the cast. The diaries are exclusively 19-year-old Fisher writing about Ford’s remoteness and her angst over him. She frequently drops into poetry where the naked hurt drips off the page:
The compromise I made was not an easy thing to do
It was either you or me and I chose you
Although far from a joker you spoke in wry, wry riddles
I could have given you so much but you wanted so little
I thought you might supply some tenderness I lacked
But out of all the things I offered you took my breath away
And now I want it back
Fisher’s previous memoirs, Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic, are also about heavy, hurtful experiences. In those books, she explores clinical depression, substance abuse, an overdose, the extremely public separation of her superstar parents, her father’s death, her melancholy friendship with Michael Jackson, her weight gain and obsession with her looks, her therapy and treatment, and her lifelong low self-esteem. And she does all of it with a silly, surreal sense of humor that occasionally veers into Borscht-belt hamminess. She avoids self-pity, even when she’s talking about self-loathing. Those books are a strange, sweet peek behind the endless merchandising, the iconic film images, the familiar face on the Star Wars posters. It’s hard to believe that someone held up as an icon of beauty and provocative sexuality hated her face and body so much, and that someone so frank, outspoken, and bold about the problems women face in Hollywood had so many problems with courage. If anything, her first two memoirs are inspirational, because they reveal what a strong, confident figure she was able to be while she was feeling so weak and lost.
But The Princess Diarist is another story. Fisher is cavalier and playful about the birthday party story, and she seems to completely miss the darker implications of the crew members’ behavior. She says she has no idea what they planned to do with her — “I have to believe not much,” she says, “but they were going to make a great deal of noise while they didn’t do it.” But at the same time, she keeps emphasizing uncomfortable details, like the intimidating size of the men fighting over her, or the feeling that her “fat face with a chunky body” made her tractable, even though she knew drinking was “the most idiotic choice I could make.” Her ugly details suggest that the upbeat tone is a ruse, but it’s never clear whether she’s trying to keep readers’ revulsion at bay, or whether she’s just not fully processing her own. And she approaches her relationship with Ford the same way, with vague, symbol-heavy reveries and jokes covering over some deeply uncomfortable details. In Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic, she turns discomfort into humor, but here, she turns humor into discomfort. She treats this period of her life as if it’s a sort of hilarious extended gag, with herself deservingly cast as the butt of the joke.
Princess Diarist is particularly sad in the wake of Fisher’s death, because it leaves a final impression not as the adult she became, but as the teenager she was, at her most vulnerable, uncertain, and needy. The book doesn’t have any warm and thoughtful conclusions where Fisher realizes the affair was emotionally traumatic for her, or that she wasn’t entirely to blame for it going badly. Instead, Fisher worries that she’s still awkward around Ford, and that she makes him uncomfortable. In effect, she becomes a lovelorn, awkward 19-year-old version of herself again when she talks about him. And for a capper, she suggests she’s still carrying that miserable, unfulfilling, depressing torch: “While there’s still time for Carrison to grow old together, that gateway is steadily closing. If we’re going to get back together we’re going to have to do it soon.”
In the wake of Fisher’s death earlier this week, feminist culture writer Anne Thériault posted a tweetstorm that immediately went viral, a series of thoughts about how people celebrate Fisher as Princess Leia, but the real hero is General Organa — the older, tougher, franker version of the character seen in The Force Awakens. And that’s the version of Fisher that fandom came to know — the grown woman who fought for a career that had nothing to do with wearing a space bikini, and everything to do with her outspokenness and her air of devil-may-care, life-loving ferocity. As an adult, Fisher championed open conversation about mental illness, had a lively and successful career as a novelist and script doctor, and maintained a weird, emoji-laden, but clearheaded public conversation with her fans about age, beauty, and her beloved dog Gary. She became iconic for her personality instead of what she looked like back when Lucas was ordering her not to wear a bra on-camera “because there’s no underwear in space.”
And that’s the real reason The Princess Diarist is so demoralizing — because the final word from Carrie Fisher feels like a throwback to the era of her life she seemed to process and escape throughout Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic. In those books, she seemed to have found new insight into her own identity, and a new comfort with herself. With this final memoir, though, she seems trapped in a long, painful moment of distress and confusion — one that’s been turned into a titillating piece of celebrity gossip by people who seemingly haven’t read the book.
It’s certainly possible that as an adult, Fisher became more comfortable with the Ford affair than she seems on the page. In her final interviews, she jokes about it in an irreverent, relaxed way. The things she was saying on her book tour suggest there’s another side to Princess Diarist — the part of the story where she grows past hopeless infatuation, and enjoys life on the other side. But the book leaves that story untold, and her death leaves it incomplete. There was no good time to lose Carrie Fisher. But losing her with this story half-complete feels particularly tragic. It feels like the past is having the final word, when the present makes a much more satisfying story.
Leia Organa, the politician and revolutionary who led the defeat of the Galactic Empire, died after a short illness. She was 60 years old. Hers was a life laced with controversy concerning everything from her tactics to her very ancestry, but her intelligence, commitment to the Republican cause, and place at the heart of the Rebellion, and later the Resistance against Neo-Imperialism, remains the indisputable core of her legacy.
Early Life in the Rebellion
Organa was born Leia Amidala Skywalker, and the name presaged the uncertainty with which she would be viewed, even before her parentage became a matter of public record. Her mother, Padme Amidala, organized the Delegation of 2000 which resisted the foundation of the Palpatinian New Order, yet her father, Anakin Skywalker, would become better known as the Imperial war criminal, Darth Vader. Leia’s twin brother Luke Skywalker would be separated from her and taught the Jedi legacy by members of its hidden diaspora, but Leia was adopted by Delegation of 2000’s Senator of Alderaan, Bail Organa, who never told her about her true ancestry.
Yet he freely shared other secrets, including the networks, irregular forces and war materiel he and other anti-Imperial leaders organized to resist the New Order. By her early teens, Leia Organa demonstrated talents ranging from logistics to sapient asset intelligence analysis. Even as she helped him build the nascent Alliance to Restore the Republic, she found herself drawn to a different aspect of the broad front’s efforts. Her critical materialist analysis of the Rebellion drew from Gererrist radical pragmatism and (not knowing the author was her biological mother) Amidala’s Interspecies Discourse on Naboo, a text banned throughout the Empire due to COMPNOR’s human supremacist policies.
While Leia Organa’s letters, doctrines and later, command directives formed the ideological-strategic core of the Alliance, she avoided the leadership roles assumed by her father and Mon Mothma. Indeed, she used the courtesy title Princess (afforded by her adopted parents, as elected officials in Alderaan’s post-monarchic democracy) sparingly, and purely for political effect. She became a field operative instead, managing diverse intelligence assets under the cover of diplomatic and sapient-relief travel. Before the Battle of Scarif, her missions shared intelligence with numerous Alliance cells. Her uncanny ability to predict the actions of enemies and allies alike made her essential, but the Alliance treated her warily, concerned she might manipulate its forces for her own ends.
These worries may have been justified when Organa prevented Yavin IV Flight Command from properly securing arms and spacecraft related to the extraction of Jyn Erso. She correctly predicted Erso and the Andor faction would act on their own, and made a shuttle, droid and weapons conveniently available. Operation Rogue One remains controversial; critics note that Organa sacrificed the entire volunteer cadre, hundreds of troops and much of the Alliance fleet to acquire Designation Stardust intelligence, and that its ultimate success owed itself to her activation of a Jedi asset, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as she was captured by Imperial forces. Indeed, the coincidences behind her subsequent escape and organization of the defense of Yavin IV have been ascribed to the Force, singular tactical genius or pure luck – all ideologically fraught options.
The Organa Doctrine
Most historians now see the Stardust/DS-class superweapons as relatively minor parts of the Empire’s war machine (The Imperial-class Star Destroyer remained the primary engine of its force-projection capabilities), but Organa demonstrated the importance of stymieing these and similar efforts through her landmark analysis of the Empire’s ideology and political economy. Later published as The Head of Clay: Elitism, Warlordism and Weakness in the Galactic Empire, her papers proved that as competition for political prestige motivated the Empire’s factions, they would necessarily centralize power, organizing capital in progressively less efficient “superprojects:” initiatives a clique could explain to the Emperor and his inner circle in simple, direct terms, and control through a centralized command structure. Superprojects caught the eye of the inner circle, while more complex proposals (such as Holonet infrastructure improvements) and those requiring cross-clique cooperation (such as maintaining Clone Wars era advanced military technologies) fell by the wayside.
The superprojects trend began during the Palpatinian Republic (and possibly earlier, if GAOR clone forces could be considered one of them), reaching an early peak in Stardust/DS-1 itself, a massive undertaking that consumed 1% of GaDP over nearly two decades. Alliance attacks on superprojects inflicted devastating economic damage and often led to the death and capture of key Imperial influencers, who preferred to personally supervise their work in case a competitor attempted to sabotage or seize control of it. Each attack made the Empire more reliant on successor superprojects to recoup losses and keep systems dependent on its common economy, but each failure prompted peripheral worlds to secede and escape the fallout. Although it would later become famous as a verse in Interstellar People’s War, Organa first explained her doctrine’s essence to Wilhuf Tarkin himself: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Yet the Empire remained locked into the cycle, to the point where the Emperor personally commanded a successor to Stardust/DS-1 in the hope that this economic necessity would at least create a viable terror weapon.
The Organa Doctrine is widely believed to have won the Galactic Civil War. According to Admiral Gial Ackbar (Ret.):
“It was impossible to defeat the massed Imperial Starfleet, so the question was always one of choosing the most effective targets. The Sienar and Kuat combines possessed redundant facilities to the extent that we could barely put a dent in ship production. The Organa Doctrine identified the Empire’s critical weakness and through rigorous materialist analysis, showed us where to hit the hardest, and hurt them the most. And as one faction fell with its project, another took its place, eager to please the Emperor with some new, grand mission. It was their trap – inescapable, embedded within their political praxis.”
Covert Operations, Victory and Controversy
The Organa Doctrine identified the path to victory, but the woman herself remained on the front line, rarely pausing for conferences with Alliance intelligence droids. This may have contributed to the ambiguous reception she received in the post-Imperial era, as she didn’t emerge with the political influence accorded leaders like Mon Mothma . While they directed large scale operations (often per Organa’s theories and recommendations) she led covert operations on numerous worlds. She worked under deep cover as the bounty hunter Boussh, and during Galactic Concordance negotiations at the end of the war, admitted that during this period, she personally assassinated Hutt leader Jabba Desilijic Tiure.
She was also revealed to be Darth Vader’s daughter, contributing to further marginalization not because of her ancestry per se, but in the context of an operation where she authorized Luke Skywalker (her collaborator in the killing of Jabba) to infiltrate DS-2, turn Vader into an Alliance asset, and kill the Emperor. Representatives raised questions about her objectivity, her use of political killing as a tool of warfare, the possibility that she might have granted Vader immunity from war crimes prosecution, and her indifference to risk, given that she was willing to sacrifice the last known Jedi in multiple operations. Organa was unrepentant.
Resistance Against Neo-Imperialism
Yet the Galactic Concordance relied on her analysis, though she argued that it had been misinterpreted. By shifting the New Republic capital periodically, leaders hoped to prevent clique formation, and through demilitarization, they planned to prevent future superproject fiascoes. Organa maintained that without a strong de-Imperialization program, these measures would fail. In her address to the first session of the restored New Republic Senate, she said:
“After the transition from Sith Empire feudalism to the Reformation and Republican capitalism, Sith ideology transformed from a system of promises in kind to an absolutism eager to step in during crises: a Rule of Two for inner leadership, and an array of industrial, military and social cliques with ambiguous positions, hoping to enter the realm of the Two. That was the Empire. Sithism and the Dark Side have always been politically and economically engaged ideologies – and necessarily so, because the Force gives ideological mastery direct, material consequences. We can’t live in a galaxy with Republic and Imperial ideologies, since the latter exists to subvert the former. Neo-Sithism and Neo-Imperialism are the same ideology, and must be destroyed through the ongoing liberation of worlds into a Republic hardened against crisis through social programs. As for disarmament: The last blaster bolt can only be eliminated by shooting it at the last Stormtrooper.”
It was an unpopular position; the Old Republic aristocrats who controlled the Alliance’s resources were tired of war, and concerned that the New Republic would spring into being utterly impoverished. Some Imperial remnant forces seemed ready to fight to the last. The Galactic Concordance denied Leia Organa the opportunity to finish off the Empire, but it furnished her with the New Republic’s militarized deep state. Alliance factions maintained independent militias and arms they weren’t willing to contribute to the New Republic, but could be found through the intelligence channels she’d developed over decades. These were primarily Gererrist columns situated in the Outer Rim, who had never been well served by the Old Republic, and whose worlds the Empire exploited for labor and natural resources. Organa was popular among them not for political theories, but as the hardened guerrilla who’d broken the Hutt slave labor cartel, and as a quasi-religious figure attuned to the Force. She took overall command of this combined irregular force: The Resistance.
The Problem of a Personal Life
Leia Organa was hardly one to maintain a strict separation between her political and personal life. She was willing to discuss her upbringing and family background when it was relevant, but did not bring up her lovers and contemporary family for public consumption. Rumored lover Lando Calrissian only came up as an Alliance officer and elected official; Han Solo was a pilot, a fellow operative and a fleet commander. Although personal motives likely drove certain operations late in the war – Solo was a Jabba’s captive – she responded to critics by noting that she was willing to bring her closest associates into the thick of the most dangerous missions. Nevertheless, son Ben Solo must be considered as a possible inspiration for her hard line against Neo-Imperialism due to his membership in the First Order.
If Organa must bear some responsibility for her son’s defection, it might ultimately stem from the operation that sent Luke Skywalker to DS-2, where he allegedly attempted to recruit Darth Vader. By suggesting Vader might be redeemed not through formal justice but by reawakening a familial bond, she might have recast him as a romantic, tragic figure, and not the mass murderer attested to by countless sources. Indeed, she allowed Skywalker to give Vader an ad hoc Jedi funeral. Of course, this was Skywalker’s choice, and he subsequently trained Ben Solo, so the “last Jedi” may bear greater blame than either his mother or oft-absent father.
Ultimately, the best way to judge Leia Organa might be through the same materialist critical analysis that drove her to revolutionary action. Before Leia Organa, the Empire destroyed civilizations to power a war machine for the glory of its elites. Because of her, galactic civilization doesn’t consist of thousands of starving worlds, whose inhabitants gaze into skies swarming with Death Stars built from their stolen productivity. The ideology of the Dark Side never rests, and it might return to reap capital from oppressed planets, but for now, many worlds enjoy a certain amount of peace and freedom.
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