I didn’t start out to be Carrie Fisher. I started out to be General Leia Organa. It ended up being so much more.
My husband and I have been to the San Diego Comic-Con a number of times and always admired the costumes, Cosplay, to those in the know. We loved the originality of the crafting of the costumes, props, hair, make-up, and the mix-up of genres and characters. Where else could you see a Steampunk Sheriff, a pink Wookie, or a male Moana (Hysterical. Disturbing, but hysterical.) We thought many times of who we wanted to be if we ever dressed up: Jeanie and the Major from “I Dream of Jeanie,” Slave Leia and Han (no,) or two Mercury astronauts. We thought about the Martian Spy Girl from “Mars Attacks.” Too daunting. I really wanted to be Silk Spectre ll from “Watchman”…maybe 20 years ago. The years went by and my ability, or interest, to show up in spandex in public went downhill as quickly as my kids’ birthdays. I slowly developed rules. I will not show my ever widening hips without something hiding them. I will not sear peoples’ eyes with the picture of me in spandex or a fur bikini. I will wear comfortable shoes. Nothing peaked our interest but then came “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“The Force Awakens” showed us a mature Leia and Han — ones with grey hairs and wrinkles. They were survivors from a battle for the Galaxy. Slave Leia had grown up to be General Organa and Han…well, he was still the scruffy nerfherder we all loved. It was perfect. I wouldn’t have to squeeze myself into a slave Leia costume to compete with the teenagers. I wouldn’t even have to change my hair color…much. They were old Han and Leia. They have jobs. They have relationship issues. They have at least *one* adult child, so they would be exhausted Han and Leia. Just like us. This match would be perfect.
We set about getting the materials for the costumes. Tim painted and distressed an orange and white toy to look like Han’s blaster. I experimented with hair pieces. We found the right fabric for Leia’s costume. Tim made detonators to fit in his leather jacket. We were getting exited. Then, December 27th, 2016 came and Carrie Fisher passed away. The world mourned for this Alderaan Princess and I did too. Leia Organa was a great role model for little girls: she was feisty, she was brave, and she could handle military-grade weapons. Carrie, however, was different. She came from Hollywood royalty: Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and she grew up before our eyes in the Star Wars movies and the tabloids. She was Hollywood royalty, yet, but she was also just like her fans. She had troubles just like them. She had battles with addiction. She had parent troubles. She went in for rehab and came out to try again. She was bi-polar. So many people could appreciate her struggles. I cried when she died and I cried the next day when her grief-stricken mother died too.
It was a month before Comic-Con I finally thought about my costume again. It must be in bad taste, I thought, to wear a costume of someone who has died recently. I remember the prior year when a woman walked around with a headstone carved with the name of Hodor from the television series “Game of Thrones.” Hodor was a beloved character and many people booed when she walked by. I was in a costume where the actress herself had died. Would the fans boo me? I told my husband that I decided not to wear the costume, however, he disagreed. He thought people would want to see a General Leia. She was a mature woman with history and power. I reluctantly agreed.
We attended Preview Night Wednesday in street clothes. Walking around we saw a moderate number of people in costume. Historically, it is the weekend when most of the Cosplayers come out to play. The costume contest is on Saturday night and the hardcore cosplayers would be there on Saturday, if no other day. I’d have a couple of days to walk around in jeans and geeky t-shirts before I shocked the world – and maybe got beat up – by the adoring General Leia lovers. Then, back at the hotel, my husband dropped the bomb: he wanted to dress up as many days as he could, starting with tomorrow. Gulp.
Maybe I was reading too much into it but I was nervous. Also, I was about to enter a world for which I was neither comfortable nor prepared. Cosplay was geekdom heaven. I loved watching other people. Yeah, I enjoyed the movies but I knew little about minutiae of Star Wars. I was sure all these cosplayers could quote pages and pages of dialogue. I would be outted for the neophyte I was. When I was dressed — a full half an hour on Leia’s signature hair — I followed old Han with my head down and my sunglasses firmly on. I felt as if I was going to the guillotine. My husband peered at me, glassesless, frowning.
“Leia doesn’t wear sunglasses.”
“San Diego Leia does.”
We were catcalled from the construction workers on the way to the trolley. Or, Han was.
“Hey, Han! Han Solo! Woot woot!”
Tim waved jauntily. I ground my teeth and flipped up my collar. This was going to be the worst Comic-Con in our five year history. People were already whispering and pointing. Oh, God in heaven, just let a speeder run me down or a space slug snap me down his gullet. Why on earth did I ever think I could do this?
As we dismounted from the trolley, people stared. Oh, well, I thought. Go big or go home. They can only kill me once. I lifted my head and strode to the door next to the nerfherder. People not only stared. Women put their hands over their mouths. Pointed fingers were thrust at me. A young woman came up and stood right in front of me. I prepared for the worst.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice quavering. “Thank you so much.” And then she hugged me. “Can I take a picture, please?”
All of a sudden, a chorus started.
“Can I take a picture with you?”
“Can my kids take a picture with the General?”
And that’s how it started and that’s how it remained for the rest of the con. Tim laughed because the majority of the conference-goes didn’t want to take pictures of him. They wanted me. Or rather, they wanted Carrie. Not General Leia. Carrie.
I became the avatar for a lost love. So many people were hurt by her passing, and so many wanted closure, and by my being there in her last costume, I provided that. It wasn’t about me at all. It was all about her. I became her by default. I was hugged by so many people. I stood in front of statues of R2-D2 and Chewbacca and people snapped pics. When we met other cosplayers that were dressed like young Leia and Han, or like the stormtroopers, or like Kylo Ren, we were surrounded by clacking cameras. We were interviewed. We were in videos. And I finally came to realize what I should have realized all along: that by coming in the mature Carrie Fisher’s costume I was honoring her because of what she meant to me, and to all the others. I was giving them a change to say goodbye. To remember. To love Carrie Fisher.
We stayed in costume until Saturday and then my husband had had enough. We had gotten a taste of what true superstars went through — that we couldn’t go anywhere without someone wanting to take pictures or talk to us. Even in the ladies restroom I was asked for a picture. It was fun. It was great. We couldn’t do all the things we wanted to do with all that attention. Perhaps we were foolish for thinking that we could. I feel more acutely for Brangelina or Taylor Swift or any of the stars today. Carrie Fisher experienced it from an early age. I only did it for a couple of days but it never stopped for her.
So we stopped on Saturday and spent Sunday strolling around the Con. Most of the Cosplayers were gone but there were still the diehards or the attendees who could only get Sunday tickets. I felt a pang knowing that maybe some of these people would have liked to have seen my version of General Organa…Carrie. Maybe they will next year.
I still mourn for Carrie. I still mourn for her mother. Both were such forces of nature in Hollywood and like many other girls, I wished I could be Leia, the badass princess. Maybe I can’t be a princess, and my kids would hoot and holler if I told them I wanted to be a badass, but maybe, just maybe, I can be a little bit like Carrie. Carrie said her mind, would not be faced down or disrespected, and fought her personal battles bravely. Carrie, you and I have never met but I enjoyed being you for a couple of days. Thank you for showing me that a girl could fight her own battles and live her own life. I feel privileged having seen your movies and learned your views on life and love. We all have problems and you showed me how you can fight them with humor and dignity. I’ll miss you but maybe, if you agree, I can be you every once in a while. It will be my honor.
With Sheri Fink and Derek Taylor Kent
With Vanta Black