Stay on target
Carrie Fisher had 40 years to accept being Princess Leia, something that’s more complicated than it sounds. Even in the books final pages, she ponders what that means.
“What would I be if I weren’t Princess Leia?” she asks. A lot would be different. She wouldn’t be in the spotlight during her best and worst moments. She wouldn’t be appearing at comic and science fiction conventions giving, as she writes, “celebrity lap dances” to fans. She probably wouldn’t have had sex with Harrison Ford. We probably wouldn’t have had eight books, including four memoirs, including the recently released The Princess Diarist, which chronicles the actress’s experiences and relationship with the movie that made her famous.
She wouldn’t have made me open my own diaries and spend an evening cringing and drinking heavily as I tried to decipher my cursive and wonder aloud if all teenagers are this awful.
As I’ve found out, they mostly are, even if you get to star in Star Wars and not wear underwear in space.
Let’s get this out of the way: we knew going in that at least some of the book would focus on her three-month affair with co-star Harrison Ford, who was 31 at the time and was married with children. Surprisingly, the experience–which includes some diary entries from the period–takes up around half the book. Fisher understands that some aspects of filming would be more enticing than others, so it makes sense that this would, in some ways, overwhelm the rest of her experiences.
She justifies this by writing that “if I didn’t write about it someone else would… someone who would wait–cowardly–until after my passing to speculate on what happened and make me look bad” (there are a lot of references to her own mortality, which unintentionally became more bittersweet considering her recent passing. They’re also oddly prophetic and self-aware, making you wonder what her relationship with death was). It’s true that it would’ve revealed itself eventually, so why not hear it from her own mouth? Not only that, why not learn about it with all the intimate details?
The reader gets it all: when it first happened, what makes Harrison Ford laugh, where they did the deed, and most importantly, how 19-year-old Carrie felt being in a casual relationship with a married man that she knew wouldn’t matter.
That’s where we get some of the diaries alluded to in the title. Fisher found some old notebooks hidden under a floorboard and included some of the more cringeworthy but personal entries. Short poems on human mentality and connection are interlaced with treatises on love with a man who she didn’t care for and who didn’t care for her (her words). Whether this was a good idea or not is up to her, but based on interviews that only focused on this one thing, she seems to regret it at least a little.
After completing The Princess Diarist I did the regrettable and pulled out my own journal, which I’d been schlepping around from apartment to apartment since I was, coincidentally, also 19. I wasn’t about to star in a major blockbuster, but I was in love for the first time, had a lot of thoughts on video games, was at a job that felt like it was going to change me personally, and attempted to get back into bad poetry. My very first entry is a rant on–and I shudder–why life is boring and monotonous.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to share any. I’m not as brave as Fisher is for sharing her 19-year-old self, and also I want to spare you the embarrassing details of some of my first burning love questions (it’s bad though). Many of Fisher’s entries are super dramatic in the same way as mine, although they’re a lot funnier and a bit more varied.
For example, she wrote: “Maybe stop fooling around with all these human beings and fall in love with a chair. It would have everything that immediate situation has to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need.” That might be the most relatable thing I’ve ever heard.
Despite a small section of the book being an actual diary, the rest of The Princess Diarist reads like one. Fisher explores that time in her life mostly chronologically–starting with her first experiences with show business at a young age to losing weight for The Force Awakens–and albeit more coherently than a traditional journal would, but her style is more of a train of thought. She’ll touch upon a subject and delve deeply into her thoughts, both past and present.
Fisher doesn’t hold back, often going on too long about some things, but she’s always been one to ramble. Part of her charm has always been in her willingness to share all of the information with an abundance of self-awareness, self-deprecation, and humor. She seems to feel almost no shame. Her decision to include diary entries instead of just alluding to them is just icing on what we already knew. It would’ve been out of character to not include them.
So yes, Fisher goes into quite a lot of detail about her affair with Ford. More importantly, she exposes how her mind worked during that time, and how little it has changed over the decades. Even at 19, she was witty and introspective. She was maybe a little more emotional and dramatic in the way that all 19-year-olds are, but she’s still the same Carrie Fisher.
In the end, she wonders whether she would’ve been different, and the answer is probably not, but the experiences that shaped her are important nonetheless. There are some cringeworthy aspects (dear God woman, why did you have sex with a married man?), but none of that matters. This is Carrie Fisher’s life and her book. If she feels complicated about meeting fans, many of whom said she was their first crush, she’s going to. If she’s going to simultaneously love Princess Leia and also dislike her, especially that gold bikini, she’s going to.
Through that, we just got one of the most intimate looks into a celebrity and nerd icon’s mind. That’s the power of a diary and that’s the power of Carrie Fisher, who was never afraid to share anything. The Princess Diarist is just another example of that.