Carrie Fisher died today at the age of 60; so did Princess Leia, an indelible, iconic part of the Star Wars universe. Fisher reprised and reinvented the Leia’s role in last year’s The Force Awakens, bringing a new force and gravitas to the role. Fisher’s performances as Leia Organa were pivotal to both the original and new Star Wars films. Fisher had already wrapped shooting on Episode VIII, so her role in Disney’s new trilogy will not change. Shooting ended in July, and the film is now in post-production. That said, her death will fundamentally change the culture that exists around the franchise.
While Harrison Ford’s exit from the franchise was traumatic for many fans, if not the actor himself, Fisher’s loss is real and permanent. It is also more meaningful from a fan perspective because Fisher was sophisticated enough to embrace being an icon while expanding the conversation around the franchise that defined her career. Star Wars exposed a mass audience to Carrie Fisher and Carrie Fisher exposed that same audience to complicated and sometimes uncomfortable ideas about mental health and the relationships of fans to creators.
Fisher’s General Leia Organa will undoubtedly be a vital part of Episode VIII, but Fisher will be missing from the junket and that will fundamentally alter the way the movie is consumed. Just as Leia was the Rebellion’s backbone, Fisher was the backbone of a movement to make Star Wars deeply human and deeply felt. Her frankness in reality grounded her character on the screen. She played General Organa well, but she probably didn’t even need to because she played Carrie Fisher so compellingly in the public spotlight.
Fisher’s legacy is hard to sum up or put a finger on. Discussing the direction of the Star Wars franchise on the day of her death feels fraught because she was both defined by the movies and bigger than all of them combined. She was born to Hollywood royalty, became a galactic princess, and remained shockingly down to Earth. Whether or not her absence forces a change of plans for those shooting the next Star Wars installments or not, it will absolutely change how those movies are made and cast. Leia was loved because she seemed like a science fiction character while also seeming like the coolest person on Earth. The makers of Star Wars won’t be able to bottle that lightning again. No one gets that lucky twice.