Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Was One of the Few Truly Iconic Characters–Yet Her Greatest Role Was Herself

Carrie Fisher, Star Wars, 1977
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There are so few true icons.

“Iconic” is a word that gets thrown around haphazardly, having become interchangeable with any word that connotes fame and losing its primary definition as something inspiring unflagging, uncritical devotion.

Yet Carrie Fisher‘s Princess Leia fits the bill.

When every other movie and TV show these days is a spin-off, a reboot, a remake, the mass-entertainment moments that resonate as singular are becoming increasingly rare. Even fewer and more far between are truly memorable characters, ones that transcend their respective medium and end up seared into the pop culture lexicon.

Fisher, who was 60 when she died Tuesday morning, several days after suffering a heart attack, became one of the most recognizable people in the world after starring in George LucasStar Wars trilogy. Starting with 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Fisher’s Princess Leia—a headstrong damsel who needed saving a few times, but whose wits and courage kept her from ever appearing too distressed—became a part of our collective history.

Thirty-nine years ago, there was no such thing as viral memes, as Twitter, as YouTube, as Reddit or Tumblr, where endless movie conspiracy theories are born and endlessly probed—yet the magic that was Star Wars, with Leia and, first, her twin-bun hairstyle, followed by her legendary metallic bikini moment, reached icon status all on its low-tech own.

Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, The Star Wars Episode V - Empire Strikes Back - 1980
Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox/REX/Shutterstock

Even for the late converts to the Force among us, those who spent the first few decades of life knowing Star Wars existed but not having crossed its path…still, we knew about the magic! And perhaps it was that very fierce fandom that deterred us in the first place. How could the actual product ever live up to that level of devotion?

There’s an infinite amount of analysis out there about just how good the Star Wars movies are or not, but we can say this: Carrie Fisher makes them worth watching, regardless.

The daughter of golden-age stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Fisher was considered Hollywood royalty in life. And after her turn as Princess Leia, she’d be cinematic royalty forever after.

Only 19 when she shot the original Star Wars, her second movie after having a brief turn in Shampoo, in addition to being absolutely gorgeous Fisher had a magnetic presence that outshone any plot holes and made capital-M Moments out of what could have been throwaway dialogue for any other actress.

Of course, she didn’t work alone. Leia’s chemistry with Han Solo—which as we now know was being acted out off-camera as well between Fisher and co-star Harrison Ford—still radiates off the screen four decades later. A split second of the two sharing a tender moment in the trailer for last year’s Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens was enough to thrill even those whose trilogy trivia skills were negligible.

Star Wars, The Force Awakens

“I used to sit in the bathtub the night before, go over my lines,” Fisher said in a January 1977 interview that was only released a few years ago by Lucasfilm. “Like the one in the hallway where I would say, ‘This is some rescue! When you came in here didn’t you have any plan for getting us out?'”

Only lines that would be emblazoned on fans’ brains for decades.

“George wouldn’t really say anything in the beginning,” she continued. “He was say, ‘faster,’ or ‘more intense.’ And I didn’t know what that meant. I thought that just meant that I was not very good, or whatever, and then I found out that was OK. I don’t remember how I found out, I think maybe Harrison told me that when he didn’t talk, when he didn’t say anything, that’s when he was getting what he wanted.”

“In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess—feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think,” Lucas said in remembering Fisher today.

And while some actors who are forever associated with one particular role grow to have a prickly relationship with that character, Fisher wasn’t among them.

Carrie Fisher, George Lucas
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“I haven’t gotten out,” she admitted to E!…