Carrie Fisher Brought Character
Yes. I, like so many others of my generation, was first and, for years, exclusively exposed to Carrie Fisher through her performance as Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films. I'm probably not alone in feeling that, for years and years, there was not even a conception of Carrie Fisher.
There was Princess Leia, again and again on the set of three VHS tapes my brother got for Christmas one year, all but cussing out Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, falling for Han Solo despite her better judgment, strangling Jabba the Hutt, falling in with the Ewoks. When the story was over, it started again, and there was Leia again, bending down to R2-D2's level to smuggle information on to the surface of Tatooine.
All the while, there was never really a conception of Fisher apart from her most famous role. There was never an inkling that she was Hollywood royalty herself as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. There was nary a thought given to anything outside of the Star Wars universe.
And then one day I saw When Harry Met Sally ...
The news of Fisher's unexpected death at the age of 60 has me thinking about that performance in When Harry Met Sally ... as much as it has me reminiscing about "cinnamon bun" hairstyles or metal bikinis.
Sure, Fisher is Princess Leia to most people. But I think the remarkable thing about her is that the role somehow didn't end up eclipsing her, whether that was because of her subsequent cinematic successes, her works as an author or her mental health advocacy (Fisher was open about her bipolar disorder and her drug use as a way of coping).
In When Harry Met Sally ..., Fisher plays one of Meg Ryan's close friends in Manhattan. She ends up on a blind double date with Billy Crystal and hits it off with Crystal's close friend played by Bruno Kirby.
Fisher and Kirby, who died in 2006, are the no-nonsense foils to the will-they-won't-they schmaltz of the Harry and Sally story. They change the pace and tone of the film at just the right moments. They are, most importantly, side-splittingly funny, particularly when they bicker later on in the film over a hideous wagon wheel coffee table.
Fisher, for her part, is feisty as ever in the 1989 flick, and if there is one common thread to her work on screen and to her public persona, it is a no-nonsense feistiness. She was not to be trifled with, and it occurs to me only now that this must have been something she brought to these beloved roles rather than something that was brought out of her by them.
I'm especially pleased now that she was included in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as more than a token gesture. We're fortunate to see her one last time in its sequel. And whenever we're missing her brashness, well, we'll always have Star Wars, won't we?