I had seen Harrison Ford in American Graffiti and, of course, everyone knew Alec Guinness. But Marc Hamill was new to me, as was Carrie Fisher who portrayed someone named Princess Leia. It was 1977 when the preamble to Star Wars scrolled across the screen and began a four-decades-long odyssey, one that continues as we enter 2017.
By that movie’s final panoramic scene thirty-nine years ago—the pomp-filled and dazzling award ceremony—we had already developed an affection for these characters—the wide-eyed youth dreaming of and then achieving noble feats, the mystical sage aware of forces beyond the visible, the self-absorbed bad boy interested only in profit, and then, inexplicably, Princess Leia.
I say inexplicably because she was different—she had what today we might call a world view, though even that term would be limiting given the scope of her world. Leia’s great accomplishment was her ability to focus the strengths of the others and make them work in concert to achieve something greater than themselves…and greater than she. Leia was far from the first female movie hero, but she was the first to gather so many disparate souls into harmony to save them all and the world they inhabited.
The other night I finally watched The Force Awakens on TV. I’d seen it in the movies of course but hadn’t any desire to to see it again until the death of Carrie Fisher last Tuesday. I wanted to watch her again—to note her forty years of change. The innocence was gone, of course, but instead of being supplanted by cynicism, it had transmuted into wisdom. In a sense she had become the sage mystic, the wry observer of the human condition—accepting of its foibles yet convinced of its worth. The actress had become herself and taken the character along for the ride.
Among the staggering number of celebrity losses this past year (over and above our personal ones) there is something sadly symbolic about Carrie Fisher’s death. It may be the most compelling clue that 2016 has marked a turning point. Brexit, the European lean to the right, Australia’s persecution of asylum seekers, the election of Donald Trump—if as some critics maintain, we have seen the end of Pax Americana, then Leia and all those who fought for something larger than themselves—real and fictional—would find the world of 2017 difficult to fathom, hard to stomach, impossible to welcome.
But we do so tomorrow, remembering (maybe?) that first Star Wars movie was subtitled “A New Hope.” We need one of those now.