On some level, I would like to believe Carrie Fisher was
Princess Leia of Star Wars. But of course she wasn’t. Like many others
of the first Star Wars generation, I find it hard to grasp that Carrie
Fisher is dead. Surely Princess Leia lives! It was challenging enough to see
the late-fiftysomething Fisher, along with the seventysomething Harrison Ford
(Han Solo) in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. But to learn Fisher died
of a heart attack? Disconcerting.
There’s a lesson here about mortality. But there’s also a
lesson about the illusion of the entertainment world.
Carrie Fisher was an actress with lots of serious personal
problems. Very human problems. That may be hard for some people to accept,
especially if they liked her so much because of Star Wars. When we like
an actress, we tend to overlook her shortcomings. But we shouldn’t allow our
affection to blind us to the star’s faults or to tempt us not to call evil by its
name. For example, I find it deplorable that during the original Star Wars filming
the 19-year-old Fisher had an affair with her 33-year-old co-star, Harrison
Ford, a married man with two children. That was wrong and Fisher, in her own
way, later acknowledged it. Of course more blame ought to land at the feet of
Ford, the “grown up” of the two at the time. And some blame rests with the
Hollywood culture that sometimes fosters an “anything goes” atmosphere, as
Fisher herself noted.
Yet what to make now of interviewers “gushing,” to use Patrick
Coffin’s word, over Fisher’s revelatory account of the affair in her recent
memoir? One interviewer declared, “I’m so glad it happened.”
Glad that the married, much-older man with a wife and two children
committed adultery with a 19-year-old? Probably not. Glad that Princess Leia
and Han Solo “got together”? More likely. But of course they didn’t. Two people
pretending to be those characters did. For a few months. That’s the
power of Hollywood illusion. The reality, however, is summed up by the word adultery.
The fact is, we don’t really know these screen idols.
We may think we do because we watch them in movies or on TV. We may read their
books and peruse articles about them or watch their interviews. But do such
things really mean we know the celebrities in question? Not likely.
People who get paid to convince us they’re other people on screen can make us
think they’re other than who they are in real life. Indeed, they can be so
effective they can persuade even themselves.
We should be able to appreciate actors for the entertainment
they provide, without confusing that entertainment with heroic virtue or even
ordinary human greatness. I can appreciate the plumber’s skill in fixing my
plumbing without canonizing him. It’s not fair to expect greatness from actors
just because they depict extraordinary people on screen. Nor is it reasonable
for us to despair when we learn our media idols are flawed people, struggling
like the rest of us to live well, or perhaps not struggling much at all.
We should pray for Carrie Fisher. She suffered a great deal
during her 60 years. She had great fameiconic famebut also great misfortune.
Her character inspired millions and will continue to do so. For that we should
be grateful. Princess Leia lives, in that sense; may Carrie Fisher rest in
We should pray for celebrities and we should pray for
ourselvesthat we don’t let our affection for them lead us to confuse fantasy
with fact. That shouldn’t mean we must enjoy the entertaining good celebrities
offer us any less, or that we don’t appreciate them for their talent. But it
should mean we recognize the profound difference between the actors and their
roles, between reality and illusion.