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Best known as Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher’s feistiness inspired a generation

Carrie Fisher was a female action star for a generation, providing inspiration to many women to fight for themselves, become leaders and always be outspoken.

It’s probably not the easiest thing to be a little sister to a big brother. My younger sister and I have never talked about this, but she had to put aside a lot of things which she may have preferred to do as a little kid in order to get her big brother’s attention and get to play. That largely included playing with Star Wars toys.

Fortunately, Star Wars had a character my sister could relate to, which I’m sure applied to plenty of young girls throughout the 1980s. But Princess Leia wasn’t just “the girl” or a token female character among the boys’ club in a galaxy far, far away. Even if she didn’t see all the action that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo faced throughout the original three Star Wars films, Leia was an equal to Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. And she was always believable in that role because of Carrie Fisher.

As the story of Star Wars developed, the movie looked like it might be a traditional fantasy during which the princess has to be saved from the evil overlord. But Princess Leia quickly showed she was no damsel in distress. She was tapping her foot waiting for the rescue party. Upon being confronted by Luke wearing a Stormtrooper suit, she looked over this intruder that had arrived to take her somewhere and unleashed some emasculating criticism.

Even when Luke reveals himself and his mission to rescue her, Leia is skeptical. This guy is going to break me out of the Death Star? The Rebellion couldn’t do better than this? Who’s leading this operation while I’m imprisoned, anyway?

Soon thereafter, when Luke and Han are trapped in a corridor by an oncoming wave of Stormtroopers, it’s Leia who takes action to get them out of that situation. “Some rescue!” she says to Han. “You didn’t have a plan for getting out?”

“Wonderful girl!” Han yells to Luke, after Leia dives into the garbage chute she blasted a hole into as a means of escape. A generation of boys, young and old alike, surely agreed. The apparent damsel in distress was the one taking charge. And if she could fire off a couple of shots at Stormtroopers in the process, even better.

But really, Leia had shown she was no meek girl from the very beginning of Star Wars. With her ship under attack, she calmly loaded a holographic message onto R2D2 to send to Obi-Wan Kenobi in asking for help. However, it’s when she faces Darth Vader — the baddest motorscooter in the galaxy — that Leia shows what she’s made of. He doesn’t scare her. And to attack a little shuttle with a princess on it doesn’t seem very tough. Plans? What Death Star plans? Get the eff outta here!

Even after she’s been taken prisoner, Leia resists Vader’s attempts at interrogation, much to his frustration. Vader then takes her to Grand Moff Tarkin, who she quickly insults. Calling her bluff when she refuses to reveal the location of the Rebel base, Tarkin — who’s already told her she will be executed — unleashes his weapon of mass destruction on Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.

An entire planet is wiped out because she won’t betray the Rebellion. Yet even that doesn’t break her spirit. She continues to fight for what she believes in.

Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, Leia may not have always been right in the middle of the action. But that’s because she had taken a leadership role.

In The Empire Strikes Back, she was commanding the Rebel forces from their base. She may have been royalty, but she wasn’t content to give orders from a throne room through some intermediaries. She was right there with her troops. In Return of the Jedi, she helps rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, putting herself in danger to infilrate the criminal’s operation. Ultimately, she’s the one who kills Jabba, exacting some furious vengeance for what was likely some inhumane treatment. Eventually, we learn that Leia was actually Luke’s sister, and if circumstances had been different, maybe she would have been the Jedi Knight to defeat Darth Vader and The Emperor, and lead the overthrow of the Empire.

I don’t know how much of this registered with my little sister, who only knew that Star Wars was a huge deal to her big brother. (It’s also extremely possible that big brother used her vague interest in Star Wars to get himself some toys. Hey dad, what if we get Niki a new Princess Leia figure too? Maybe I gave in to the Dark Side early on.)

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Now that I think about it, however, the Princess Leia action figures that she played with the most weren’t the ones in which she was dressed in some sort of gown or formal wear. She liked the ones where she was suited up for action. (Does her attire from the first Star Wars count? That was a bit gown-like, but she was running around the Death Star in that outfit.) Whether she realized it or not, my sister preferred the version of Leia that was fighting alongside Luke, Han and Chewbacca, and not taking any flack from the overly heroic or arrogant men surrounding her.

Unlike her older brother, my sister outgrew this stuff a long time ago. But given how successful she’s been during her life and career, I wonder if having to keep up with her brother during those hours and years of playing with Star Wars toys inspired her in any way. Much like Princess Leia — and Carrie Fisher herself — she’s tough and outspoken. (And her two daughters are following that path.) She’s a leader in her chosen field. She would surely scoff and laugh at any suggestion that a fictional character provided any sort of role model for her. And she’s probably right about that. But I bet she’d also think about it if I brought this up.

Luke Skywalker may have been the hero of Star Wars. And Han Solo was the guy we all secretly wanted to be. But Princess Leia was the one who tied the whole thing together. Even in last year’s The Force Awakens, the nostalgia turns on full blast and the reunion seems complete when we see Leia for the first time. She’s the one who brings home how much all of this meant to so many of us. And she’s still leading, even when she’s lost so much. (It’s also extremely meaningful that Leia is the bridge between Rogue One and Episode IV. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. You haven’t seen Rogue One already?)

Carrie Fisher would probably admit that she wasn’t the greatest actress. Maybe others could have played that role. But she made it her own. Perhaps Fisher tried to escape that during what turned out to be a rather tough life.

However, she didn’t just rest on her laurels either. She was one hell of a writer and an entertaining interview who refused to go along with a narrative or Hollywood’s unfair treatment of women over the past 40 years. It’s not a bad thing to be associated with a cultural icon (and iconic hairdo), and Fisher seemed to embrace that in recent years as it became glaringly clear how much Star Wars and Princess Leia meant to countless numbers of people. That will continue to live on, which is one hell of a legacy.

Ian Casselberry

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, also covering baseball at The Outside Corner and pop culture for The AP Party. He has written for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

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