Farewell, Leia.

Warning: This post contains spoilers. Don’t read if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi.

Image attributed to Nic Robertson, I can’t find an original first image.

Yesterday I found myself crying in a cinema. And it’s never really fun to cry in a cinema because it’s kind of embarrassing to be shedding tears over a film, especially one that isn’t supposed to be a “tear-jerker”. But nonetheless, there I was, holding down sobs and a wave of grief that hit me like a, well, a battering ram cannon.

Yesterday I saw The Last Jedi and the tears came the moment Luke Skywalker reunited on screen with Princess Leia and John Williams’ Luke and Leia Theme began to play. It’s always been my favourite piece of music from Star Wars, even though I have never known it had a separate name until I searched for it just now. The theme first appeared in Return of the Jedi when Luke reveals that Leia is his sister, one of my favourite scenes from the old films.

Images from my Return of the Jedi Annual from 1983


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It was that moment, and that music, that cracked open a ridiculous but genuine grief over the death of Carrie Fisher and, because of it, the inevitable loss of Princess Leia.

I’ve written about my love of Leia elsewhere on this blog. Since I was 4 years old, Princess Leia was the ultimate female hero to me, an imaginary friend whose beauty and strength and sass I could only dream of possessing. She was my feminist icon and something of a tween crush. I was 10 when Return of the Jedi came out and I still have the scrapbook clippings about Carrie Fisher, the Star Wars annuals, the posters that adorned my bedroom walls. For me, the original Star Wars trilogy was always about Leia, not Luke. Indeed, if Obi-Wan and Yoda had decided to train her instead of her whiny, won’t-listen brother, things would probably have turned out much better all round.

My fascination with Carrie Fisher waned as I grew up and I remember feeling disappointed when I read the stories of drug abuse, mental illness and Hollywood excess. I wasn’t sure she was someone I should look up to anymore, yet part of me kept a torch burning for her. Perhaps tellingly, my Princess Leia posters remained on my bedroom wall until I left home at 17. Looking back now, I realize I had every reason to admire her – an accomplished writer, a great actress, and a survivor.

When I heard that Carrie Fisher had suffered a heart attack just before Christmas 2016, I spent the next few days hoping that she’d make it through, just like every other Star Wars fan on the planet. When the news came through of her death on December 27, I choked down the urge to cry because it felt unseemly to shed tears over a celebrity who I’d never met. Instead, I made a few weak jokes about how my two tween idols had died within days of one another – George Michael had joined Leia on my bedroom walls in 1984 and he died on Christmas Day. I felt quietly devastated that they were both gone.

The next day I went to see Rogue One and the final shot of a digital, young Princess Leia instantly reduced me to tears in the cinema. The lights went up and I dashed for the toilets where I could cry for Carrie Fisher in relative peace. It felt so silly, giving in to that sadness. It made no sense and it felt stupidly embarrassing but the emotion was very real. This person and this character had been a part of my life for so long, I’d never imagined that she’d be gone. Certainly not at age 60.

It was a small consolation that we would all see Carrie and Leia one more time in Episode 8. I’d have to wait a year, but at least I would get more Leia come December 2017.

Official Leia promo image, via The Independent

And now I’ve seen The Last Jedi and I’ve watched the last performance Carrie Fisher ever gave. In the film General Leia Organa is every bit as amazing as I’d always known she was. Intelligent, composed, take-no-prisoners, beautiful, strong, sassy. She brings gravitas – and some humour – to every scene she’s in. The sequence where she is left floating in space was unexpected and I thought that’s it, they’ve killed her off here. I was holding my breath and quietly cursing the director, thinking it’s too early! too early! I must have more Leia! Then she uses the Force to save herself, the first and only time we get to see Leia’s true gifts as a Skywalker. The sequence was unexpected and perhaps a little weird but I welcomed it because here, finally, was the Princess doing what she always should have done. And it’s a terrible shame we didn’t get more of it and we never will.

The producers had reportedly planned a major role for Leia in Episode 9. I am keen to find out what that might have been, though we’ll have to wait two years to hear it, once the secrets of the final film are revealed. One of the things I was keen for with these new films was seeing Leia in full flight and I’m so sad that it’s never going to eventuate.

And then there were all those moments that unknowingly foreshadowed Carrie’s death: the shots of her lying still in the infirmary, the last goodbye to Admiral Holdo, the farewell to Luke where he says that nobody is ever really gone. They hit home. But then we all knew the film was a long cinematic farewell, capped off by tribute in the credits, dedicating the film to “our Princess, Carrie Fisher.”

So like Rogue One last year I cried in the cinema and in the toilet, and then also in the restaurant when talking about the film and – finally – in bed when I turned out the light. And again, it felt crazy that I would be so weepy about it. Yet what really hit me is that I’ve said goodbye to an imaginary friend that I’ve had for 40 years. And I wasn’t ready to do that. 

No wonder I feel distraught.

In 2015 I felt similar sadness when they killed off Han Solo. A part of the holy Star Wars trio, I’d always loved him and I thought Harrison Ford was incredibly sexy. I honestly didn’t expect him to die in that film and it made for seriously distressing viewing. At the time I wasn’t happy that a much loved hero had been killed off, especially as Ford lit up every scene he was in.

Now I’m walking around in a pop-culture-created depression. The Last Jedi killed off Luke which means the original three characters are now gone from the Star Wars universe. The 2012 announcement of the new Disney trilogy thrilled me because I would be seeing more of these old friends, especially Leia. But now we’re two movies down and they’re all gone. We’ve witnessed Han and Luke’s deaths, we know how their stories end and there will be no new adventures.

If I can borrow Emily Asher-Perrin’s words: “It was emotionally devastating and I’m not OK.”

Leia didn’t die in The Last Jedi, of course. Carrie Fisher has the final line in the film, saying “We have everything we need.” It’s assumed that they’ll write her out by giving her an off screen death but I’m actually hoping they’ll find a way to keep her alive. Perhaps sent off as an envoy to much-needed allies at the edge of the galaxy and then a natural retirement? I can only hope. That way I won’t have to say a very last goodbye when Episode 9 is finally released in 2019.

This article says “The Last Jedi leaves us grappling with our mortality… [It] asks us challenging questions about faith and dogma, and about the choices we make in deciding what we take forward, and what we leave behind.”

Perhaps this is part of the sadness of saying goodbye to Leia. We’re all getting old and the knowledge grows that this is a one-way trip. The inevitability of ageing and death has made its presence felt in our childhood nostalgia and it’s not particularly enjoyable. Yet, as George Harrison reminded us, all things must pass, even our childhood heroes.

In any case, I’m sad. I’m very, very sad.

Goodbye, sweet, sweet Leia.


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