Finally finished reading The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. This was published in the Fall of 2016, shortly before her untimely death. It is the last thing she wrote, and an interesting bookend to her writing career, which was heavily colored by insane celebrity status she achieved when she starred in a low budget sci-fi 1970s film entitled "Star Wars".
The book unlike her previous works is essentially about how Star Wars affected her life and changed it. And how she dealt with it. It's also about an ill-timed affair with a married co-star that she'd been infatuated with at the time. And how that threw her for a loop, considering her father had left her mother, along with his two young children via an affair with Elizabeth Taylor.
On a much larger scale, it's also about how the toxicity of our celebrity obsessed culture. And how starring in a little low-budget sci-fi film at the age of 19 can turn one's life upside down for good or ill.
I'm not sure if you are under the age of say, 46 or 47, you can completely understand the cultural phenomenon "Star Wars" is and was? And while Fisher attempts to explain this in her book, I'm wondering if you kinda had to be there? Not necessarily in Fisher, Hamil, and Ford's shoes, but around at the time, and cognizant of what was happening around you. Knowing that movies well weren't like that and this was a game-changer, a watershed moment in human history. A demonstration of just how certain advances in technology can change cinema forever. And a preview of what was to come.
Before Star Wars, the only film that had people lining up for it was possibly Gone With the Wind. And it wasn't around blocks. Star Wars created the term - "blockbuster", which Fisher describes as meaning a line that is broken up by blocks. It busts the blocks. The lines for Star Wars from the time it opened until roughly six or seven months later were around blocks. I remember my father driving us to two hours away to see it. We'd never done that before. It was different than anything we'd seen -- nothing was quite like it. George Lucas redefined the cinema experience with Star Wars, he'd created surround sound, special effects that no one had seen before, and incorporated robots, puppetry, and creatures in his film that weren't obviously humans in cheap makeup. You had space-cruisers rocketing through space shooting each other. Lucas had combined the popular action/adventure cinema tropes of the 1940s and 50s into one movie - he'd combined the Western with the WWII drama with the Swashbuckler. Watching Star Wars was like seeing an Errol Flynn flick, a John Wayne flick and a WWII James Garner flick all at once. And it was fun. Not scary, like most sci-fi films and television series had been, but fun. And not campy either.
Today, years later, the first film seems rather quaint, I suspect, and the special effects mediocre.
People have been perplexed by what they saw as wooden acting. Or the cheesy hair styles. But this was 1977. Back then, we had cheesy hair styles, and bell bottom pants. And well, special effects...were not as good as Star Wars.
Before Star Wars, sci-fi didn't do well at the movies. Mostly B movies. Before Star Wars, there weren't any blockbusters or event films, outside of maybe Gone with the Wind. (Wizard of OZ flopped.)
For years, Star Wars was the highest grossing film. And people could not wait for the second one.
It had a fandom to rival any fandom out there...and it had done something Doctor Who and Star Trek had yet to accomplish, it took sci-fi mainstream.
Fisher's book can broken up into three segments.
The first -- explains how she ended up in Star Wars.
She briefly details her audition, which she has just a vague recollection of. Apparently Brian De Palma and Lucas were doubling up their auditions. De Palma was auditioning for Carrie and Lucas for Star Wars. Lucas was the least talkative of the two. Fisher notes how this was not her first role in a film. At the age of 16, she was in Shampoo, as Lee Grant's promisicous daughter, who sleeps with Grant's lover, Warren Beatty. And prior to that she did her mother's shows. A high school drop out, due to going on tour or doing Broadway with Mom, Carrie ended up going to the Center for Performing Arts in England. And from there, auditioned for the role of Princess Leia. She notes how she practiced for her second audition with her friend Miguel Ferrar, the cousin of George Clooney, and son of Rosemary Clooney, who'd tried out for the Han Solo role. Then, Fisher goes on to explain how she ended up infatuated with Harrison Ford, and how they fell into bed together...resulting in an awkward, secretive, three month affair -- that up until now, no one knew about but Fisher and Ford.
This is prelude to the actual diaries...which make up the center section of the book, and are a bittersweet May-December romance between two actors, far from home, and in their first leading roles in what they believed at the time to be cult low budget sci-fi film that few people would see. (Because that's what sci-fi films were like in the 1970s, they were cult efforts that few people saw. No one expected this film to do well. How could they have known? The cast, with the exception of Alec Guiness, was unknowns, and even Guiness was hardly star power. And it was science fiction. Not to mention low-budget. Fisher and the cast were paid to scale, $500 a week. Flown economy class. And told to take care of their own accomodations.) When Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford had their affair they honestly didn't think it was a big deal. Fisher was infatuated with Ford. She never expected him to be interested in her, let alone kiss her, so when they end up in bed together, she finds herself starring at him and wondering, WTF? How in the heck did this happen? And where do we go from here?
She describes it in the book and in interviews afterwards as a three-month one-night stand, and a product of a location shoot. And insists that as far as she knows, Harrison hadn't done that with anyone else before or since. He, also, most likely regretted it later. He'd thought her more experienced than she actually was.
The diaries are well written, and touching. At various points, nineteen year old Fisher wonders why she tries to connect with others, if it's even possible to do so? She's introspective, flailing, and not sure of her own feelings. Is this love? How can it be? She barely knows him. Does he feel the same way about her? She asks, and gets nowhere. The most she gets is the conversation the two have on-screen in Empire Strikes Back, where she says "I love you" and he states, "I know". After reading the diaries...which unlike the rest of the book, are poetic and hopeful, I understood some of the odd interactions I've seen between Fisher and Ford in interviews and tribute specials. At the AFI - Fisher tells Ford during her tribute speech, "Harrison gets nervous every time I open my mouth and talk. He should be made aware as should you all, that my memory is foggy and sucks." Then later, "Harrison hates doing love scenes, okay maybe he just doesn't like doing them with me." And Ford's expression is exasperation and grumbling. I find that odd, since to my knowledge they hadn't really done any...but turns out they had, just behind the scenes.
If you read the diaries without the prelude, not sure they would make sense. They are bittersweet mainly due to what comes after. And touching in that the woman writing them fails to see her own brilliance and beauty, not to mention her compassion and insight into the human condition. What it is like to fall in love with someone who doesn't love you back or not as much as you love them. What it is like to be infatuated ...and awkward with a guy, tongue-tied. You can see why so many people fell in love with her. Yet in the book, she seems to think it was with Leia not her. And is rather confused.
Up until the final section, I'd thought this book was just about Fisher's affair with Ford, but no, it's about much more than that. The final section discusses fame and being the source or object of adoration...what it was like to have people come up to you on the street or at a convention, regale you with personnel stories about how you or rather the role you played in a film some 40 years ago, changed their lives. At first, she ate it up, wow, she thought, I'm in a movie people are flocking to see and is the biggest thing ever! Then, it overwhelmed her. They had promote the film. They thought it was a low-budget sci-fi film. I remember their promotional campaign. Ford, Hamil, and Fisher wandering about the country and the globe, from talk show to interview, touting a film that as Fisher puts it didn't require touting. Ford at first did most of the talking. None of them had ever done it before. At first, they thought they had to answer all their fan mail personally -- because they'd never received any before. And they all did it. Then realized no, you don't have to, that's what managers and public relations people do. As the years passed, Fisher was continuously thrown by her fame as Leia. And had a love-hate relationship with it.
( spoilers and rather long, meta on fandom, Star Wars and Fisher )