The big news from The Princess Diarist, understandably, has been author Carrie Fisher’s admission that she and Harrison Ford were hooking up while filming Star Wars (Episode IV as it’s now called, a rechristening she endlessly mocks).
We had to have known all along, a point she concedes in the book, but its confirmation from one of the involved parties is all but earth-shaking for Star Wars fans. The epic space fantasy, through which some of us have been living vicariously for decades, has finally been anointed with a tinge of the real—maybe too real, as it turns out. “I love you,” Princess Leia blurts to Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, just before he’s deep-sixed in a cryogenic sarcophagus. “I know,” Han responds, infuriating but handsome enough to ignore it.
This scene must have been something like slow torture for Fisher, whose eighth book details not just her affair but her infatuation, and the melodramatic impossibility of loving a married older man. Just 19 at the time their relationship commenced, Ford was 33 or 34, much more experienced and practical about these things and at first, Fisher posits, of the belief that she was too. Her sharp wit and unique method of self-deprecation is sophisticated and dripping with intellect even now; in 1977, it must have seemed light-years more advanced. But in Fisher’s retelling, Ford was too stoic (and betrothed) to make their affair very emotional, and self-deprecation in itself can be a deflection of intimacy, and it didn’t go much farther beyond the wrap party. By the plane back to L.A., it was done.
In actuality, The Princess Diarist is both entirely about Fisher’s affair, and not about it at all; it serves as a lens by which we, and she, can view retrospectively what it meant to be a somewhat lost but whip smart and profoundly famous 19-year-old, and how the vagaries of a patriarchy, to be forthright about it, do not pass by any of us, even Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. She applies tact and respect for privacy to the seamier parts of the affair; she forgoes sexual details in lieu of impressionistic, passionate recollection of her own feelings. Though she’s touched on those Star Wars years in her prior autobiographical books, and been open and frank about her struggles with addiction and mental illness, neither the brilliant Wishful Drinking nor Shockaholic have felt this intimate or, truly, painful to read.
It’s too universally relatable, probably. A sliver of the book is devoted to reprinting her diaries from that time (though unfortunately they’re not all reproduced in her flowery cursive); nearly every entry is devoted to Harrison, in some form or another, whether descriptions of their frustratingly unrequited emotional relationship or self-flagellation for her own emotions or poems uniting the two. The diaries’ existence is likely why, when reminiscing on the experience from the present day, Fisher is so wonderfully able to capture all the whirlwind exhilaration, the breathlessness, the urgency, the despair, that accompanies infatuation when we are young.
But I had to speed-read through a few of the actual diary entries; those 19-year-old feelings too close to home—the artifacts of searching for one’s own identity through the dense murk of insecurity and thinking it will materialize magically through love and sex. As she puts it now: “Time shifts and your pity enables you to turn what was once, decades ago, an ordinary sort of pain or hurt, complicated by embarrassing self-pity, into what is now only a humiliating tale that you can share with others because, after almost four decades, it’s all in the past and who gives a shit?”
The Princess Diarist operates on a continuum, during which Fisher has always bristled against convention. She was thrust into unimaginable fame, barely an adult, and ever since has endeavored to separate the real Carrie Fisher from the fictional Princess Leia in the mind of the public. In that, she’s struggled against an identity projected onto her to the point of being Jungian. Parallel to this real-life angst came the awakening—a feminist one, though she never explicitly names it as such—that so many women saw in Leia. “A woman’s place is in the home/Seated by the telephone,” Fisher wrote in one of her diary entries from that time. “Men sow their wild oats/and women are sown.” She describes the way certain Star Wars fans have sometimes interacted with her, as they realize their plucky heroine is a real-life woman, and that their Leia heroine fantasy may not coincide with the inevitable effects of aging on Carrie Fisher. It strikes you that perhaps the strongest injustice of this situation is not that Fisher and Ford never transmogrified into “Carrison,” as she cheekily names themselves, but that Ford, at 74, is still seen as one of the most handsome actors alive while Fisher, at 60, has to put up with fans’ disappointment that she’s no longer the punchy girl in the steel bikini. (Though she hilariously promises one dismayed four-year-old fan that she will get plastic surgery if the fan’s father reads her Wishful Drinking.)
But to clarify, she’s not complaining here, even in her lengthy and funny amalgamations of fan conversations—and even when describing that she never wanted to be famous as a kid, though Fisher’s charisma and many talents makes her fame seem all but inevitable. She has bills to pay, and overhead to clear, as she tells us from The Princess Diarist’s beginning. “It’s fair to conclude that my lap dancing”—the way she describes signing autographs for a fee—“was required penance for my fondness for shopping... for yet another amusing antique hand or eye or foot, some gnome, some video art, some British phone booth for my witty and colorful home,” she writes. “I have the mixed blessing of being able to find the often obscurely hidden charm in many arguable objets d’art, not to mention animals and humans.”
For all the tenderness with which Fisher describes Ford in The Princess Diarist, it comes nowhere near the tenderness we feel for Fisher upon reading this book, characteristically frank and unflinching, funny and true. She describes the way some fans feel so profoundly about Princess Leia that they not only relate but wholly identify with her—but it’s Fisher who embodied the fictional character, and this book embodies the qualities in Fisher that brought Leia to life. The Princess Diarist is about a woman’s relationship with desire—her own, and of others’ for her—writ large, as large as Star Wars. Her perspective is inimitable, but her emotional experience is common as day. “What would I be if I weren’t Princess Leia?” she muses near book’s end. “A great big nothing without one piece of fan mail to call my own? Someone who didn’t have to defend her right to not look good in a bikini over forty-five? With no bad hair to look back on wistfully?” And she concludes: “I’d be me.”