I’ll be honest, I never really got into Star Wars as a kid. This is partly because my dad made the regrettable mistake of first showing my brother and me Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which is kind of like introducing someone to Italian food with Chef Boyardee.
Instead, my first real moment with Carrie Fisher came when I watched When Harry Met Sally… and witnessed her skill and comedic deftness as Marie, the dry, wagon-wheel coffee table-hating best friend to Meg Ryan’s titular Sally.
Not every role results in a role model. While Leia is a badass princess-turned-fighter-turned-general, we meet Marie as a woman dating a married man who treats her like crap. Side characters in romcoms tend to be written off as one-note jokes, especially if they’re women (They’re man crazy! They want a baby! They love wine!). And Marie is a character that could have turned off audiences if it was played more broadly, but Fisher nails it. From “Someone is staring at you in ‘Personal Growth’” to “Really? Married…” Fisher quietly elevates the supporting role. As a young adult, I could relate to Marie’s misguided matchmaking attempts and weird little stories—“Remember what happened with David Warsaw? His wife left him and everybody said, Give him some time, don’t move in too fast. Six months later, he was dead.” Fisher’s honesty in that role stuck with me all these years: Marie didn’t play games or deny feelings; she quickly realized that there’s something special about her relationship with Jess, and we got to see a comfortable loving relationship unfold, the kind most of us crave. Fisher’s sense of comedic timing and her gentle-yet-mildly abrasive nature made me wish for a version of the movie where I could just watch her relationship with Jess flourish. Ryan’s performance is wonderful, but Fisher steals every scene she’s in.
And it’s that role that stands out for me as a real treasure, because–unlike her fantastic (both literal and figurative) turn as Leia in Star Wars–Fisher plays Marie with a lot of the cognizance she possessed in her real life. Marie was a smart, slightly weird, open woman who was complicated and brilliantly funny—and so was Fisher. Throughout her life, Fisher spoke honestly and openly about her substance abuse, addiction and mental health issues with a clarity and self-awareness that was deeply surprising to a young person like me reading her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, for the first time (especially when addiction has, for the most part, been relegated to Very Special and Sad Because This Minor Character Will Die episodes). Fisher owned her deeds and misdeeds, rather than allowing them to own her. She used them as fuel for her art and gave us multiple books that were fun, smart and deeply authentic. She’s a great example of someone who took her past and turned it into gold.
There’s a traditional Japanese art form called kintsugi that involves repairing broken pottery with special lacquers mixed with gold. It highlights the flaws and elevates them into something beautiful. In a way, Fisher was the human embodiment of this. Her cracks are there and they are visible, but she puts them forward for all to see rather than hiding them away shamefully. Whether she’s assuming the role of autobiographer (or tweeting wild modern-day hieroglyphs) to share with us her delightful escapades peppered by real pain, or acting in parts like Marie, swinging herself into the taxi with Jess without even looking back, or General Leia Organa, voice roughened over the years, Carrie Fisher showed us her scars but still stood tall. She said she wanted her life to be art, and it was.