Our Forever Princess

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2016 has been a remarkably cruel year.  A lot of people have suffered in one way or another, and many of them in ways they could never have imagined.  In my day job I’m a Counsellor, and from my experiences of interacting with hundreds of people this year while they’re at their most fragile, and from simply being someone on social media seeing what people post, I’ve seen what I’d call a remarkable upswing in personal sadness and tragedy.

On top of all the personal trials and tribulations so many of us have endured, 2016 has taken from us some incredibly bright lights.  Most recently, Carrie Fisher.

2016 saw the passing of 46 celebrities to date, names that have defined the entertainment world and many of our lives.  Among them, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Jon English, Garry Shandling, Ronnie Corbett, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Leonard Cohen, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael and too many more.

For those of us who literally grew up with Star Wars, playing with the action figures as children in the late 70s and early 80s, reading the comics, collecting the books and cutting out newspaper and magazine articles for our scrapbooks, Carrie Fisher’s death is a devastating and surreal blow.

Only yesterday I was posting on this blog that Carrie was doing better, and now today I’m sitting at my computer with my dog at my feet, writing about the death of my all time favourite actor – and wondering how her beloved companion, Gary, will cope.  For those of you who aren’t dog people, our furry friends don’t do well with change and they definitely don’t cope well with losing people.

When I first saw a Star Wars film, it was Empire Strikes Back.  I was nine.  I saw a new hope after Episode V, so my introduction to Star Wars was a little skew whiff.  Because I was raised by a single mother (an incredibly strong woman who had to fight every day for us just to eat) it was the character of Princess Leia Organa that spoke to me.  Not Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker, not Boba Fett (which was a thing back then).  I was swept away by Leia.  Princess Leia was it for me.  She was a character whose strength helped get me through some very rough times.

It might sound strange for a man to say that the character he most identified with in Star Wars was a female character, but to me she was stronger than the men, more resilient and more gutsy.  Han was cocky and actually reminded me of a few of the bullies I had to contend with, and Luke never became a favourite of mine until much later in my life.  Leia was headstrong, confident, hilariously mouthy and unapologetically bold.  As a child I used to think that if I could be half as plucky as her, I’d be okay in life.

As I matured, Leia remained my favourite, but my attention turned to the actor behind the character.

Carrie Fisher was many things.  Most importantly to me, she was someone who endeavoured to live life.  She made a multitude of mistakes and some of them were quite public, but she faced up to them and in doing so changed the world for a lot of people.

Yes, she had a drug addiction, but rather than be victimised or defined by that, she used her fame and her formidable sense of humour to combat her addiction and help others find the courage to do so too.  We eventually learned that her addiction was a form of self-medication, because she had BiPolar Mood Disorder.  Rather than sink into self pity at her mental health condition, she used her celebrity to advocate for mental health reform and to bring awareness to mental health issues in general.  She joked about it, spoke frankly of her struggles, and tried her hardest to live her life.

She turned her experiences into a number of best selling books and gleefully “took the piss” out of herself on multiple occasions.  She faced life by facing her fears, and in doing so actually become fearless.

As a writer, an actor, a Counsellor, and someone with a mental health condition, she was an amazing gift to me – like I know she was to so many people.

Right now I’m just numb.  I opened up the news at a little after 6am here in Melbourne Australia, to see as the top headline the announcement Carrie was gone and burst into tears.  Her death affected me as badly as if it had been a member of my family, and I’m fighting a deep depression as I type this.  I’d had my Princess Leia action figures lined up on my bedside table since Carrie’s heart attack, using them as a focus for good thoughts, and I’d been so happy to hear she was improving yesterday.  The news she has passed is just too much.

The thing about having been a Counsellor since my early twenties is that whether I want to or not, I’m pretty much programmed to “process”.  It’s now 8:30am and I just want to get drunk, but the rational part of my mind is telling me it’s way too early to give into that demon and I need to work through it.

Hopefully my process might help you if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, like I am right now.

Carrie Fisher has passed, but Princess Leia Organa has not, and if the powers that be at Lucasfilm and Disney have a heart, they won’t kill her in Episode VIII or IX because Carrie isn’t able to reprise that role.  While that move worked for Spock in Star Trek Beyond as a way if acknowledging Leonard Nimoy’s passing, it won’t work in Star Wars.

Leia is still out there, kicking fascist ass and that’s empowering to me.  And Carrie?  Her bravery lives on even if she is no longer with us physically.  Her example is a good example, and her life was a life lived well.  Carrie Fisher accepted herself for who she was, warts and all, and though she battled with severe depression for most of her life she used humour and self reflection to stay afloat and to help others in similar situations stay afloat.  She didn’t have to bear her life warts and all for our entertainment.  She did it to de-stigmatise addiction and mental health, and as her own way of processing what she was experiencing.  Yes, she smoked like a chimney, at one time drank like a fish, struggled with her weight, and in her younger years snorted anything she could get her hands on, but those actions didn’t and don’t define her.  What does define her is the person she became and remained after her youthful missteps and her attempts at self-medication.

Carrie was courageous, beautiful, frighteningly intelligent, obnoxious, hilarious, dangerous, relentless, insightful, an unabashed and honest mess, ridiculous, inspirational, obscene, loving, compassionate, effervescent, confronting and powerful.

If each of us could live our lives half as audaciously, we’d probably be a lot happier.

I’ll take Carrie’s example with me, each day, as I confront my own demons and help other people confront theirs.

Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for changing my life and making my world a much brighter place because of your presence in it.

I send my deepest, heart felt condolences to Debbie Reynolds, Carrie’s mum.  To Todd Fisher, her brother, and most especially to Billie Lourd, her daughter, and Gary, her companion.  While my heart is breaking, I know each of yours is shattered.  I hope the love we’re all pouring out for your daughter can in some way help you guys get through this.

This might seem inappropriate, but I’m fairly certain Carrie would appreciate it.  Years ago Carrie gave an interview where she reflected on what she’d like people to say when she eventually passed.  It went like this:

“Remember the white dress I wore all through that film (Episode IV)?  George came up to me the first day of filming, took one look at the dress and said: ‘You can’t wear a bra under that dress.’

“‘Okay, I’ll bite,’ I said.  ‘Why?’  And he said: ‘Because… there’s no underwear in space.’

“He said it with such conviction.  Like he had been to space and looked around and he didn’t see any bras or panties anywhere.

“He explained.  ‘You go into space and you become weightless.  Then your body expands but your bra doesn’t, so you get strangled by your own underwear.’

“I think that this would make for a fantastic obituary.  I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”

Rest in peace, Carrie.  You were a gift and I love you.

Carrie Fisher.  She died in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

Though this powerful woman is no longer with us, her legacy lives on.  Long live Princess Leia.

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The Future of the Star Wars Saga

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Have you wondered what will happen to the story of the Skywalker family when Star Wars: Episode IX premieres in 2019?

A number of media outlets are reporting today (thanks to Variety ) that Disney CEO Bob Iger, has spoken with investors about the future of the Star Wars saga (among other things).

According to Variety, Iger has had conversations with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, and mapped out the future of Star Wars well past 2020.

We have confirmation that the anthology movies will be continuing, focusing on moments in time in the saga’s history, and some media commentators are suggesting the saga films could also continue.

It’s reasonable to expect that Episodes VIII and IX will continue to focus on the Skywalker family.  Luke, Leia and Kylo Ren are holding the banner at the moment, but what will happen to this famous, history shaping family after Episode IX?

Will that be the end of their story?

It’s doubtful Kylo Ren will survive.  He’s about as bad as a villain gets in Star Wars, especially with his horrific act on Starkiller Base in Episode VII.

It’s still possible that Rey is a Skywalker.  It’s also possible that Luke did have a child before exiling himself, or that Leia and Han had a second child who was secreted away after Kylo’s fall.  Another possibility is that Kylo has a child who will continue the history of the family – hopefully as a Jedi and not as a Knight of Ren or a Sith.

It would be wonderful to see another generation of Skywalkers work to uphold peace and justice in the galaxy.

Part of me wants the saga films to continue.  I’ve been in love with the Skywalker story for a very long time, and seeing it end would be like saying good bye to an important part of my childhood, but part of me would also feel a sense of closure if the story does end in a way that isn’t just horrifically tragic.

Time will tell.  I’m sure the anthology series will gain a huge audience, and it might only be us GenXers who will feel the absence of the Skywalker family – having grown up with it.  Either way, it is nice to know that Star Wars will continue, probably indefinitely, to inspire new generations to spend some time in that beautiful and compelling galaxy, far, far away.

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John Boyega on Episode VIII

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The beautiful and frustrating thing about a Star Wars film is that we rarely know what to expect, but we all like to guess – and we all like to be titillated by the stars and other creative people involved in the films.

The incredibly charming and insightful John Boyega whose character, Fin (FN-2187), was one of the breakout fan favourites in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, recently spoke about the next instalment in the saga to Variety and Vulture while at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

A question a lot of the media and a good many fans often ask is “will Episode VIII be darker?”  Some of us who love pop culture seem to have a worrying preoccupation with how dark, nasty, and downright depressing a movie or television series needs to be.

Which is confusing, because we constantly move the goal posts and shoot off mixed messages.  Media pundits often wonder if “The Walking Dead has gone too far?” and “become too dark?” while at the same time deriding Fear the Walking Dead for not being dark enough.  Man of Steel was criticised for being too dark but so many people seemed to want it to follow in the footsteps of The Dark Knight, which was, funnily enough, pretty dark.  At the same time, people can’t get enough of the sadistic dysfunction of a bunch of people fighting over a steel seat in Game of Thrones.  Damien, the series that follows in the footsteps of The Omen apparently isn’t gory enough, but American Horror Story apparently went too far.

Either media critics have a serious personality disorder, and the public really doesn’t know what it wants, or writers, actors, directors and producers everywhere just need to give us all the middle finger and make what they want to make because it’s obvious we don’t have a clue what we want.

Personally, I hope Rian Johnson doesn’t give a crap and isn’t listening to the contradictory and often fickle arguments.  I hope he just gives us a mind-blowing movie that’s true to him as an artist, and true to the saga of a family caught up in the events of a galaxy far, far away.

Historically, Star Wars has become a film about family.  An extraordinary family, but a family never the less.  To date, the films have always taken us on a journey with each trilogy, one that focuses on the Skywalkers, and that journey has always been a mix of tragedy and joy, light and dark.

In the original trilogy, each movie had it’s dark aspects – Episode IV had the merciless destruction of an entire planet, the torture of a Princess, the slaughter of one of our heroes’ only known family, and the death of a revered Jedi Knight.  Episode V had the betrayal by a supposed friend, the capture and entombment in carbonite of one of our heroes, and another of our heroes lost his hand after being told he was the son of one of the most evil men in the galaxy.  Episode VI saw our only heroine enslaved by a giant slug, the suggestion one of our heroes might have to kill his father to banish the dark side from the galaxy, the slaughter of hundreds of cuddly little bear creatures, and the sort of suicide of the saga’s main villain.

Episode I saw a young Queen lose her throne to a greedy corporate collective, explored the issue of slavery, saw a mother lose her son to the Jedi, and the death of one of the film’s heroes.  Episode II saw the attempted assignation of a politician, the revelation someone somewhere had grown a clone army, the death of our young hero’s mother, the capture and attempted execution of all our heroes, and the secret wedding of a Jedi and a Senator.  Episode III was perhaps the darkest Star Wars film of them all, with our hero surrendering to his fears and sliding into the arms of the dark side which leads him to slaughter children and eventually kill the love of his life.

And people think Empire is dark.

I think a lot of fans, when they call Episode V dark, mean that it’s atmospheric.  When you look at V verses every other Star Wars film, it’s definitely not the darkest.  It does end on a cliffhanger, and tonally it is the most emotional – thanks to the spectacular performances of Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford during the scene where Han is frozen, and Mark Hamill’s brilliant and heart-breaking performance when Darth Vader delivers his saga defining news, but it’s not the bleakest of all the films by a long shot.

John, in answering the question about how dark VIII will be, pretty much says that any level of ‘darkness’ will come down to the individual perspectives of the viewer.  He does, however, say it will be darker than VII… which worries me!  Hello?  Han, anyone?

In both interviews, John talks about the joys of working with Rian Johnson, his new co-stars, the possibility of a romance with Rey, and how Episode VIII is BIG and will blow us all away.

To check out the interviews, visit my two favourite Star Wars fansites, Making Star Wars and Star Wars Underworld here and here.

Star Wars: Episode VIII is set to be released in cinemas around the world on the 15th of December next year.

The movie has been written, and is also being directed, by Rian Johnson, and stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran.

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