The Force Will Be With You, Always: Love and Loss through STAR WARS

On December 24, 2016, news broke that Carrie Fisher had suffered cardiac arrest on a plane. She was in the hospital. She was stable. She had been through plenty of figurative heartbreak, literal heartbreak was the natural progression. As a fan, an admirer, I knew she would be fine.

About a year earlier, December 28, 2015, I got a text at work that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital. She had been out, buying a birthday gift for me, when she unknowingly suffered cardiac arrest in a restaurant. As a fan, an admirer, I knew she would be fine.

I was wrong on both.

On December 27, while I waited in the lobby at WXXI to discuss the cast of Rogue One and representation of women and minorities in pop culture, I read the news. I had the misfortune of sharing that with the other guests on the show, and with the host. Instead of hearing it on the radio and reacting, privately, I had to react live on air.

It wasn’t fun. I mentioned her approach to meeting the fans she loved, keeping her words during our exchange for myself, her role, not just as Princess Leia, but as a tireless advocate for mental health. What I didn’t mention, because, really, no one wanted to hear it, was that Carrie’s death was another jab in an already-open wound.

I had taken the last few days of 2015 off. I was going to do something. Instead, we planned a funeral, canceled credit cards, and she fed us for the last time from the leftovers of her last family – including friends of several decades – party. The following Monday I went back to work. I cried at my desk, with no prompt. If anyone noticed, they said nothing. I’m still not sure if that made it better or worse.

A year later, I, again, had the last days of the year off. I was doing something, and agreed to talk about Star Wars. Sharing the news with other fans was a burden, but was met with reactions mirroring my own.  Of the five people in the room, I was the only one who had met Carrie Fisher (in August 2013; after signing across her character’s chest she declared “Right on the boobs; that’s what they’re good for”), but anyone who had read her books or seen her in interviews (which were more frequent in the wake of The Force Awakens and her last memoir, The Princess Diarist) was familiar with a sometimes shockingly-candid Carrie.

A common criticism of funerals is that a priest or some other stranger tells a few dozen of the departed’s closest friends and family vague, surface-level facts about someone they likely never met. Reverse roles, though, and something special happens, as it did at Star Wars Celebration in April 2017. Four months after Carrie’s death, she was celebrated by her fellow cast members, her daughter, and even John Williams conducting the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Later, her on-screen brother and friend of four decades Mark Hamill led an intimate look at her life with thousands of her biggest fans.

It may seem strange, but I often find myself wondering what Sue Gregory and Carrie Fisher would think about what I’m doing at that moment. By random chance, they have become linked in my memory. It’s good company to keep.


Star Wars Celebration Orlando: 40 Years of Star Wars

If you asked me how Star Wars Celebration started this morning, you wouldn’t believe my answer.

Trust me.

With some fans waiting in line since yesterday afternoon, expectations were high. With Endor’s own Warwick Davis as host, this celebration of four decades in a galaxy far far away did not disappoint. Joined by Star Wars creator George Lucas, who sold his company and the series that made it to Disney in 2012, Davis guided thousands of fans through the history of the franchise and the many characters that have played a part. Heroes and villains of the series shared their experiences as part of the saga dat he impact it had on their lives, their careers, and the lives of the fans around the world.

Cast members including Hayden Christiansen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), along with fan favorites Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) paid tribute to Lucas, while Dave Filoni, executive producer of Star Wars Rebels, referenced their own master-apprentice relationship.

Surprise video messages from Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson paled in comparison to an unexpected guest, as Harrison Ford, Han Solo himself, crashed the panel and recounted his chance encounter with Lucas that propelled him to stardom.

A touching tribute to the late Carrie Fisher was capped with remarks from her daughter, Billie Lourde, who, like her mother, recited Princess Leia’s plea for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi. The princess’s theme, along with other selections from the series soundtrack, were performed by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by composer John Williams.

As unbelievable as it sounds, this was only the first two hours of Star Wars Celebration in Orlando. There is plenty more to come.

Star Wars Celebration runs through Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.