Carrie Fisher is best known for her role in the Star Wars franchise as the iconic Princess Leia. Many of us who are now adults spent long hours of our childhood pretending to be characters in the Star Wars universe. Whether we were the snarky Princess escaping the clutches of the evil Lord Vader, the equally snarky and jaded smuggler Han Solo, or even the wise and stoic Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars left an indelible mark on our formative years. (Except for the prequels – those don’t actually exist)
What fewer people realize though is that in addition to being an accomplished actress, Fisher was also a prolific author. Given the impact of Star Wars on my own childhood, and the recent revelation of Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the original movie, I was excited to acquire a copy of Fisher’s The Princess Diarist. Soon after came the news of Fisher’s sudden death, making her most recent book her final book.
Fisher opens her memoir with a recap of highlights from 1976, the year she began filming A New Hope. A number of things happened in 1976, Fisher notes. Apple was founded, Interview with a Vampire was first published, and U2 was formed. It was also a year of significant world events including Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford in the Presidential election and Son of Sam killing his first victim. Finally, it was the prelude to the year in which Fisher feels her life radically changed forever.
Before auditioning for Star Wars, Fisher played a minor role in Shampoo. Having grown up in a Hollywood household as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher comments that at the time the last thing she thought she wanted to do was go into show business. Nevertheless, she auditioned for Shampoo on a lark, thinking at 17, that it would be exciting to be wanted by Warren Beatty “in any capacity at all.” She got the role and went back to living at home, hoping that perhaps she would be able to soon move out now that she was “hip”.
Two years later, having dropped out of high school and bored with college, Fisher auditioned for Star Wars while home on Christmas break.
George Lucas and Brian De Palma held joint auditions for Carrie and Star Wars. Fisher auditioned for both – originally hoping for Carrie over Star Wars because she thought “Carrie in Carrie would be a casting coup.”
DePalma primarily led the auditions as Lucas sat mostly mute, simply observing. After stumbling through the seemingly inane questions of “I see you were in Shampoo, how was it working with Warren Beatty?” and revealing that she would drop out of college if given either role, Fisher was convinced she had bombed the audition. Much to her amazement, however, her agent called her a couple of weeks later with the news that she had been cast.
At the start of filming, Fisher recalls trying to remain under the radar so that nobody would notice that she had not lost the 10 pounds that were part of her casting contract. She muses that the now famous Princess Leia hairdo may have been used in part to keep her face from looking too big.
Fisher then dives into what she dubs “Carrison”: i.e. her three month long affair with Harrison Ford. Fisher starts by stating that she had spent so long not talking about the affair that it was hard to know where to begin talking about it now and in fact her thoughts on it are somewhat reticent and disjointed.
The affair began, she reveals, in the back of a taxi on the same night Ford rescued her from some crew members who had purposefully set about to get her drunk as a prank. They had intense and frequent sex on the weekends while studiously ignoring each other during the week.
Although Fisher admits she entered into the movie with the idea of having an affair with a crew member or cast mate, she was surprised that it became Ford given that he was married at the time, and she had intense feelings of guilt over that issue.
Fisher writes with a style that is conversational but rambling. She begins passages on one thought, finds another thought in the middle, and finally, ends on yet a third thought. While her recollections are humorous, I found her style to be rather labyrinthine and as a result frequently re-read passages in an effort to keep track.
A vast portion of the middle of the book contains transcriptions of the diaries Fisher kept during her time filming the movie. In these, she reveals a deeply insecure young woman who was extremely conflicted about her relationship with Ford. In one entry, she laments her penchant for inaccessible men noting previous experimentation with gay men and then men whom she knew would treat her poorly. In another, she notes that she thinks Ford is boring which he tries to make look deliberate as if he is “the strong silent type.” Eventually, towards the end, she admits that she is falling for him hard and muses that things might have gone better for her if she had fallen for Mark Hamill instead.
At first reading, these entries seemed like the melodramatic over the top lamentations of a teenager. Then, thinking about it, I realized that is exactly what they were as Fisher was not quite 20 during filming. She may have been finally telling the story as a 60 year old, but the feelings and thoughts were still that of her 19 year old self. Given that, it was easier to understand her perspective and even smile a little bit at the heightened drama.
While the book starts off slowly, it improves as Fisher eventually figures out what she wants to say and actually says it.
Fans of Fisher’s previous works such as Postcards from the Edge or Wishful Drinking will likely enjoy The Princess Diarist. Fisher employs the same conversational tone in each and reveals much of her struggles with poor self-image and becoming permanently tied to the role of Princess Leia at such a young age.
Some readers may be put off by her snarky and sarcastic descriptions of fan interactions, while others may cringe good naturedly and recognize a bit of themselves at fan conventions or autograph signings.
Overall, The Princess Diarist is a quick and somewhat enjoyable read with several moments which will evoke feelings of poignancy in light of Fisher’s now posthumous telling.