Because I’m a masochist, I decided the best way to read Carrie Fisher’s memoir, The Princess Diarist, was not to read it at all, but to listen to it. I knew going in that it was Fisher herself who narrated her story, detailing her life before, during, and after Star Wars: A New Hope. Like many of the people Fisher writes about in her memoir, I was introduced to Star Wars at a young age. I think I was seven; my brother would have been two. We rented A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on VHS and our lives were never the same. I wrote ardent fan mail to my heroes — addressed to Leia, Han, and Luke. My brother wept openly when Darth Vader died. We kept A New Hope, never returning it to the video store down the block. It was, and is, part of our lives.
One of the things Fisher said she loved hearing about most was which characters the littlest Star Wars fans loved. But The Princess Diarist isn’t just the ultimate cache of knowledge for the nerdiest of us all. Instead, Fisher’s memoir works through some of the most fundamental questions that a woman is faced with as she grows up, in each stage of growing up. The memoir can be split thematically into three sections—before, during, and after—though they weave together throughout the entirety of the book, which gives the listener a sense that Fisher is speaking directly to them. Storytelling, the way you might talk to a friend as you recount the most important things in your life.
She details anecdotes of her early life, overhearing other girls whisper about her behind her back in the high school hallways, with such ease that they feel ubiquitous—because they are. Fisher describes her life with a sense of awe and accessibility that would be hard, I think, for anyone else with her notoriety to balance. In Alan Cumming’s memoir, Not My Father’s Son, he seems to apologize throughout for the success he’s garnered, which feels at best contrived and at worst insincere. Fisher, on the other hand, is bewildered by her own success. It is something she is humbly grateful for, if sometimes frustrated by. Despite her insistence that her fame placed her in an ‘empathy free zone’, her earnestness makes you empathize.
The most titillating part of the book is her relationship, dalliance, with Han Solo. Sorry—Harrison Ford. No I mean, Indiana Jones. You get the drift… And though it is perhaps the most controversial, the most click worthy, of her stories, it is not the most important of the memoir. Her time with Ford is symbolic of how Fisher lived her life, the men she chose reflecting back on her a sense of her own self-worth, or lack thereof. But you don’t have to take my word for it, or even her memory-tinged one. The middle section, which I call ‘during,’ is a selection of direct excerpts from the diaries she kept during the filming of A New Hope, read by her daughter Billie Lourd.
I’m not sure if I listened so intently to the stories in this section because I knew from whom they’d come, or if they were actually interesting. I’m inclined to say both – Fisher’s writing, even as a teenager, is in parts deeply poetic and moving, and in parts clichéd and self deprecating. But that’s exactly what it should be. What else might you expect from the diaries of a 19-year-old?
The third section, ‘after,’ is set not directly after A New Hope, but instead just before The Force Awakens. In a morbidly moving way, she describes that her autographs, the photos she’s signed for a fee, might be worth even more after her death. In fact, she mentions her own death several times, never once seeming to confront her mortality. She simply throws in the fact that she might, at some point, die, without any sort of introspection. Her death is explored, briefly, in the context of her role as Leia, what it means for the character. For merchandise.
She does confront what it means to be a woman who ages in the spotlight. She describes her face as having melted. As being far too old to be on a billboard that big. Her cadence trickles up and down, she shouts into the microphone. She laughs and mumbles. It was a very surreal thing, to listen to her talk about herself in past tense. About her life as if it is something in a museum.
She describes going to see herself – rather, Leia – as a wax statue in Mme. Tussaud’s, and how absurd it was that, while her co-star-characters are all in their regular clothes, there Leia is in that damn metal bikini! She also says: “Women know that Leia meant more than just a metal bikini.”
Though I am a self-confessed nerd, the bits of the book that I found the most meaningful were the ones where Fisher confronts her own identity. How entwined it is with Leia. Early on, Fisher admits that she will be Leia forever. It’s hard to imagine her as anyone else, which is one of the things she struggles with throughout this work. Who would she have been without Leia? “Just Carrie,” she says, her final two words closing out five hours and ten minutes of listening to the voice of a heroine, to the voice of a force of nature, who has given people all over the world a sense of strength. Just Carrie.