Carrie Fisher: A Few Words on Princess Leia, Fame and Feminism

On opening night of the latest 'Star Wars' epic 'Return of the Jedi,' we caught up with Carrie Fisher on playing Princess Leia, the feminist from the fourth dimension

Carrie Fisher, Return of the Jedi, Star Wars
CBS Photo Archive/Hulton Archive
Carrie Fisher
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Princess Leia – heroine of George Lucas' continuing cosmic saga! And it is only fitting that Carrie Fisher stand in as the embodiment of high-tech royalty, bringing, as she does, the resonance of her earthly showbiz lineage. How does she feel about fame, feminism, dressing for space? Recently in New York to endure the opening of the most recent Lucas epic, Return of the Jedi, Carrie Fisher spoke with me in her Manhattan hotel room. She was, as might be expected, radiant; she was also remarkably forthright about her involvement with Bruno Bettelheim.

There are a lot of people who don't like my character in these movies; they think I'm some kind of space bitch.

Meet Princess Leia Organa, nee Skywalker: Space Bitch.
She has no friends, no family; her planet was blown up in seconds – along with her hairdresser – so all she has is a cause. From the first film [Star Wars], she was just a soldier, front line and center. The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry. In Return of the Jedi, she gets to be more feminine, more supportive, more affectionate. But let's not forget that these movies are basically boys' fantasies. So the other way they made her more female in this one was to have her take off her clothes.

What was it like growing up as a princess?
Leia's real father left her mother when she was pregnant, so her mother married this King Organa. I was adopted and grew up set apart from other people because I was a princess. In terms of the character, I don't know my real father . . . until. . . .

It would have been a nice touch for Darth Vader to lift up that visor and reveal Eddie Fisher underneath, singing ''Oh, My Papa.''
A lot of parallels, me and Leia. Dad goes off to the dark side, and Mom marries a millionaire. My brother and I went in different directions on the Debbie and Eddie issue. He's gotten involved with Jesus, and I do active work on myself, trying to make myself better and better. It's funny.

Who's more famous than Debbie and Eddie? C-3PO and Darth Vader, and Jesus Christ and God. There's a whole lot of freight that goes with being movie stars' kids – on the cover of Life when you're two minutes old. I remember the press diving through trees to get pictures of me, my brother and my mother. Poor Debbie; that bastard Eddie; and Liz. We've been public domain all our lives. I was trained in celebrity, so I did the only thing I knew. I went into the family business.

So, being second-generation celebrity, you should be used to all this media attention.
I don't like it. The only time I was ever hit in my life was by my nanny. Someone took a picture of me with a flashbulb, and I screamed. I had some cellular fear, some-where, which I don't wish to recall. I saw what the media did to my parents, particularly to my father, and how seriously they took it. They weren't really parents, you know, they were copy. After a point, it becomes your only validation. You begin to think if everyone accepts you – the public, the press – then you'll be acceptable to yourself.

Walker Percy says that people can't believe they're real unless they've seen themselves on TV or in the movies.
Everybody wants to be a celebrity. But you know what happens to old celebrities? They die or go to Vegas. Star life duration is getting shorter and shorter. It could be me at the Tropicana Lounge any minute.

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you. . . .
You're not allowed to grow up with parents who are famous and then get into one of the biggest movies of all time and run around with famous people – it's resented after a while. And I would always try to emphasize something really wrong with me, so that people wouldn't be put off. There are a lot of epiphanies before you get to the satori, you know. And once it was proposed to me that it was all right to be like I am, I finally quit apologizing for it.

For what?
For being something different. For being strong. Strength is a style. But this happens in acting a lot. If you pretend something over and over, sometimes it comes true.

Leia is a strong woman figure, but she's a myth. She doesn't operate in real life. And when they try to show real-life women in the movies. . . .
It doesn't work, even in the Forties movies where it works the best, for me anyway. In stories like Adam's Rib and His Girl Friday, you've got two people competing as equals, but they love each other. It's the classic Forties relationship, and the conflict is what makes it passionate. And no matter how much the woman might avoid the man in the beginning, she always softens up and marries him in the end. You don't ever see what happens after the thrill of the chase is gone. I'm interested in what happens in the day-today business of living relationships, and that isn't what movies are cut out to do.

I think films work best as either documentary or all-out fantasy.
Movies are dreams! And they work on you subliminally. You can play Leia as capable, independent, sensible, a soldier, a fighter, a woman in control – control being, of course, a lesser word than master. But you can portray a woman who's a master and get through all the female prejudice if you have her travel in time, if you add a magical quality, if you're dealing in fairy-tale terms. People need these bigger-than-life projections. Wait! Listen to this –

Uh, oh. She's getting out her Bruno Bettelheim now. She's turning the pages of The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales and finding a footnote – a quote from Mircea Eliade. Any minute now. . . .
Ah, here! ''This amounts to saying that initiatory scenarios – even camouflaged, as they are in fairy tales – are the expression of a psychodrama that answers a deep need in the human being. Every man wants to experience certain perilous situations, to confront exceptional ordeals, to make his way into the Other World – and he experiences all this, on the level of his imaginative life, by hearing or reading fairy tales.'' There you go. That's why Star Wars is appealing. You watch someone fight the perilous monster. All of us are looking for an outside ordeal that will internally change us.

A cause?
Yes, a cause. Or a person to play out the psychodrama with. We replace the fairy-tale monster with a human being. We find a human monster to live with.

Someone that suits your particular set of neuroses?
Yes. Rather than doing it alone, you engage with somebody else to resolve your need for psychodrama.

And you try to overcome them in the conflict rather than trying to overcome that thing in yourself?
That's right. You forget you picked these people to work out your own conflicts. Chance, as you know…

. . . is the fool's word for fate.
You picked these people, or this person, or that monster because you had something to resolve. And if you recognize that, it gets easier and easier. You get to choose what monsters you want to slay. I'm sorry to say this again, but let's face it – the Force is with you.

This story is from the July 21st, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 400: July 21, 1983
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