Carrie Fisher cemented her place in cinema history with her portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. It was a performance that won the actor legions of fans and sparked a costume party craze that lasts to this day. Yet as well as being a sci-fi legend, Fisher had a lucrative second career – a revelation that will come as a surprise to many fans of the screen icon.
Despite being born for stardom – Fisher’s parents were silver screen legend Debbie Reynolds and much-loved singer Eddie Fisher – this was a woman who forged her own path. And in doing so, Fisher became synonymous with arguably one of the most famous female movie characters of all time. The white gown and famous Leia hair “buns” is one of the most instantly recognizable costumes in movie history.
That’s not to forget the famous gold bikini that Leia donned while being held captive by the odious Jabba the Hutt, of course. The outfit made Fisher a fantasy figure for teenage boys around the world. Scrap that – it set pulses racing across the board and cemented Leia as one of the most desirable movie characters of all time.
But let us not just zoom in on Leia’s desirability, because that would be a disservice to the character’s depth and Fisher’s portrayal. For Leia Organa Skywalker – to give her full name – is a character who in many ways broke the mold. No stereotypical submissive female, Leia almost single-handedly at one stage led the fightback against the evil Empire. Leia – and Fisher – were so much more than just sex symbols. It is another reason why the character is held in such high regard and Fisher’s performance was so valued.
With parents as famous as Fisher’s, stardom was always on the cards. Mostly raised by Reynolds, the youngster soon found herself following in her mother’s footsteps by venturing onto Broadway. The pair starred opposite each other in Irene, a revival of the hit musical. It won Fisher attention that soon translated into movie roles.
Just two years after her initiation into the world of acting, Fisher secured her first movie role in 1975’s Shampoo. Yet the comedy was a million miles away from what was to become her seminal role in 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. No one involved in the movie – not even the film’s creator George Lucas – could have envisaged the impact the sci-fi saga would have. It also catapulted those lesser-known members of the cast – Fisher included – to superstardom.
Appearing in Star Wars changed Fisher’s life. “I don’t remember much about things like the order we shot scenes in, or who I got to know well first. Nor did anyone mention that one day I would be called upon to remember any of this long-ago experience,” the star wrote years later in her memoir/autobiography The Princess Diarist.
Casting her mind back, it seems that the reality of the success of Star Wars would have been difficult to comprehend all those years ago. “[Nobody said] that one day soon, and then for all the days after that, information about Star Wars would be considered desirable in the extreme. That there would be an insatiable appetite for it, as if it were food in a worldwide famine,” Fisher added.
It’s hard to believe that Fisher was only 19 years old when she played the part of Leia in the very first Star Wars movie to be made. What’s more, it’s also hard to imagine the impact the subsequent and immediate fame would have had on a girl still in her teens. After all, the success of the movie took even the cast’s more seasoned actors by surprise.
Carrie Fisher had more than a single character role in her illustrious career, although you’d be forgiven for sometimes forgetting that to be the case. Such is the magnitude of the Star Wars legacy, it has been hard for any performer to break free of its orbit. Harrison Ford, who played the swashbuckling Han Solo, is perhaps the only other example from the original trilogy of movies who went on to enjoy significant success in other roles without getting pigeonholed.
And yet one look at Fisher’s filmography would tell you this actor made a splash in some other seminal films. Among her highlights were parts in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally. These are all extremely well-known movies, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say Fisher failed to secure the type of roles that could ever rival that of Leia.
The actor had her fair share of problems too. These no doubt contributed to the stalling of her acting career, but fortunately for Fisher this was one professional with more than a single string to her bow. For something that had perhaps begun as an outlet soon became her main focus. It wasn’t long before others began to realize that Fisher was also an extremely capable writer too.
Most of her fans didn’t know it, but Fisher had been writing as far back as her teens. Indeed, during the filming of the movie that was to become known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope Fisher had been penning a journal. Entries from that seminal time in her career were later included in her 2016 book The Princess Diarist.
Fisher’s legacy as a writer of memoirs alone is strong. The 1987 work Postcards from the Edge was ostensibly a novel, but it was based firmly on the author’s own experiences. Fisher pulled from her own life, detailing the journey of a woman who is the daughter of a famous actress. It was also the story of an individual who suffers from substance addictions.
Fisher also drew on episodes from her own life with follow-up novels/memoirs Surrender the Pink and 1994’s wonderfully titled Delusions of Grandma. All of these efforts revealed Fisher to be a writer in possession of a honest and humorous voice, winning the admiration of critics and a new legion of fans for the legendary Star Wars actor.
Fisher also wrote a one-woman play, titled Wishful Drinking, that was once again based on her life. The drama first appeared in L.A. and then became the name of her 2008 autobiography. In 2009 the stage version went to Broadway, and that same year the star was nominated for a Grammy for her reading of the Wishful Drinking audiobook. It seems her talents knew no bounds.
Fisher’s personal life was every bit as eventful as her professional one proved to be. At one time she was engaged to be married to fellow actor Dan Ackroyd, with whom Fisher co-starred in the hit comedy The Blues Brothers, although the relationship didn’t last. She was also at one time going steady with U.S. Congressman Chris Dodd.
Then there was movie agent Bryan Lourd. Fisher and Lourd were involved for four years and welcomed a daughter together during that time. Yet Fisher and Lourd’s relationship ended when he left his movie star partner for another man – an event which proved the inspiration for the opening part of another of Fisher’s novels, The Best Awful.
Fisher only ever got hitched once: to iconic musician Paul Simon. The pair’s marriage lasted but a year, yet remarkably they continued to date for eight more afterwards. And then, in her autobiography The Princess Diarist, Fisher revealed the news that every Star Wars fan had been waiting to hear: Fisher and Harrison Ford had embarked on a three-month affair during filming of the original movie way back in 1976.
As you may well know, Fisher’s life ended all too soon. In 2016 – not long after filming had ended on Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi – the actor was on a plane traveling from London to L.A. Fisher suffered a heart attack on that flight and passed away just a matter of days later. She was only 60 years old.
Fisher’s death came as a shock to the movie industry. It also devastated legions of Star Wars fans, not to mention those who had fallen in love with Fisher due to any one of her on-screen performances. It came as a particular blow to Fisher’s mother, Reynolds. Tragically, the screen icon passed away the very next day from a suspected stroke.
The doctors said “stroke”, but it might as well have been from a broken heart. On the day of her daughter’s death, Reynolds had connected with her many fans online by posting a eulogy on Facebook. “Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” Reynolds wrote. Her son Todd Fisher also revealed his mother’s words shortly before her passing. “I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie,” was what Reynolds said, as reported by her son to TMZ.
For a family to lose two such beloved members in the space of just two days was indeed a huge tragedy. Yet in a way Reynolds and Fisher live on through the many iconic movies in which the pair starred. And in the case of Fisher, there was a much lesser-known career that resulted in an equally impressive legacy. For the woman most of the world knows as Princess Leia was also a highly successful, although in many ways much more low-key, author and script doctor.
Fisher’s first novel, Postcards from the Edge garnered much praise from the critics, but it was also adapted into a movie. Fisher wrote the screenplay herself and the eponymous film featured Meryl Streep. It was from here that Fisher forged her path as a script doctor as well as successful novelist and memoirist.
But don’t just take our word for it. In a 1992 article, magazine Entertainment Weekly called Fisher “one of the most sought-after [script] doctors in town [Hollywood]”. It did so in a piece reporting how Fisher had helped rescue a script for Sister Act at a time when it had become a bone of contention between star Whoopi Goldberg and studio Touchstone Pictures.
It is testament to Fisher’s ability that in just two short years she had gone from her first screenplay to becoming one of best-respected script doctors in the business. This was an actor who also had an uncanny ability to tune the finer points of a storyline or character. Being a script doctor is an artform: and clearly one that Fisher had down.
But what is a script doctor, exactly? Well, the first thing to note is that there is only ever a need for one if there is some kind of issue with an existing screenplay. Or perhaps the director, producer of scriptwriters feel that a character or plot line needs polishing? A script doctor essentially steps in at the last minute to add some much-needed targeted amendments to individual elements of already extant works. And for this reason, they very rarely get any writing credits on a film – just a big lump-sum payment in advance.
And how exactly did Carrie Fisher become a script doctor? According to the star herself, it all began by accident, as these things usually do. “I was asked to write a book based on an interview I did for Esquire [magazine]”, Fisher stated in an interview with the Phoenix New Times newspaper. “I was asked to write a non-fiction book and I didn’t. I was asked to adapt that book and then I started doing rewrites,” she added.
And it grew from there. And before long, Fisher was among the best in the business. “ I was for a long, long time [the best script doctor in the industry],” she once again told the Phoenix New Times. “I adapted my last book for HBO into four, one-hour episodes that Meg Ryan is supposed to play. I’ve still done rewrites but not as much. It’s a good job, but that is a job I did not look to get,” Fisher told the same publication.
In that same interview, Fisher spoke more about how her accidental side hustle developed. “I wrote Postcards from the Edge, and based on that I was asked to rewrite Hook. They told me they wanted me to rewrite Tinkerbell’s part, but if Tinkerbell interacts, you’re writing scenes,” she explained.
In working on Hook, Fisher got to collaborate with legendary director Steven Spielberg. “Working with [Steven] Spielberg [on Hook] was my first job in that area. It’s just nice being treated with a different kind of respect than certainly you would be as an actor,” Fisher told website The A.V. Club. But it proved a difficult gig and Fisher admitted she had sought a way out. “To get off of that I took another rewrite job,” she admitted to the Phoenix New Times.
What next? “To get off of that [Hook] I took another rewrite job. So it just went from Hook to whatever. Sister Act. Lethal Weapon 3. The River Wild. Some really bad ones too,” Fisher admitted in the same interview with the Phoenix-based publication. But then there was another revelation. At first it seems small, until the truth of it starts to sink in.
“I would rewrite my parts if I did little parts too. I rewrite the dialogue. That’s sort of how I got to do it,” Fisher remembered. And then the bombshell for Star Wars fans. “Harrison Ford was rewriting his stuff in all the Star Wars movies and it became annoying because it impacted my stuff,” Fisher revealed. She wasn’t done either.
“It is easier as an actor to go into rewriting because you know what would fit into your mouth dialogue-wise,” Fisher said in the same interview. “We would tell George Lucas, “You can type this… But you can’t say it,’” she added. So wait right there. You mean to say that Fisher was script doctoring as far back as the original Star Wars trilogy?
It appears so. “By the third film [Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi, I was rewriting a little bit of my dialogue,” Fisher admitted. “George [Lucas] asked me to punch up one of the prequels. I wrote a script with George for one of the Young Indy series,” Fisher also added, matter-of-factly.
Stunning stuff! Among those revelations is the fact Fisher actually contributed to the Star Wars prequels, long before she appeared again in the seventh installment of the film franchise, known as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. But in an interview with website The Daily Beast, Fisher was asked about her specific contributions to the script. “Oh no! I can’t play,” the star replied.
Yet in that same interview, Fisher did speak about some of her other contributions to the original movie. Specifically, she helped Sir Alec Guinness get in character. “George [Lucas] had me come and talk to him. I would help George doing certain things,” Fisher remembered. “He had me write a short story thing for Sir Alec [Guinness], so I helped him write that, but I wasn’t really writing until I was in my early 30s. George would come and say, ‘Look at this,’ so I would come and help,” Fisher admitted.
Fisher also pooh-poohed rumors that playing Leia had wrecked her day-to-day existence. It was a joke she had made in her memoir Wishful Drinking. “People want me to say that I’m sick of playing Leia and that it ruined my life,” Fisher said to the Daily Beast. “If my life was that easy to ruin, it deserved to be ruined,” she scoffed.
Before her untimely death in 2016 Fisher once again reprised her role of Leia in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and appeared posthumously in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Ironically, the star’s daughter Billie Lourd also featured in those movies, ensuring that mother and child would appear on-screen together for posterity. Lourd had actually kept her audition secret from her famous mother.
To complete the set, Leia appeared in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker with the use of archival footage. In doing so, Fisher had further, yet unknowingly, cemented her legend, if that ever really needed doing. Although she is now gone, she will remain the actor who played one of the most iconic characters in movie history. But what most people don’t know about Carrie Fisher is that she was pretty handy at writing and rewriting scripts too. It’s quite the legacy.