Star Wars A New Hope Princess Leia Star Wars

Copyright Lucasfilm

Princess Leia so transformed the direction of my life that I cried on hearing the news that Carrie Fisher died last year. She was a witty, smart actress and writer who will be forever known for that iconic role as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

“Why are you so fascinated by the monarchy?” is an oft-asked question.  I don’t have a simple explanation. My ancestors have been in Canada for generations, so I grew up knowing that the nation is a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada. Yet, while my parents and siblings were (and are) proud Canadians, they weren’t devout monarchists. There was no framed photo of Her Majesty in our house, like those of many of my friends.

What my mother and father did love, indeed obsess over, was education. As children, I and my siblings were expected to read newspapers and books, and listen to CBC Radio. Current events were as part of our home as Lego. And, most importantly, they encouraged us to explore the background of news stories: why did that province’s voters just defeat its government; how the Commonwealth was reacting to South Africa’s apartheid regime; why that song’s lyrics are so controversial. No topic was off limits.

WHEN PRINCESS LEIA CHANGED EVERYTHING

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” That question by Princess Leia was the moment my life changed. I didn’t realize it until years later, but the feisty heroine of Star Wars helped turn me into a monarchist.

It was the summer of 1977, a magical time before electronics and social media. I was a little girl with long brown hair, playing with friends after school and devouring books by the dozen.

That summer, my family undertook its one big foreign trip. Instead of enjoying our cottage, we spent 24 days exploring Britain. It was Silver Jubilee year, marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 25th year on the throne, and it seemed like we spent the vacation following her as she visited one city after another. We never caught up with her, just got swept up in her regal wake. Hotels were booked, tourist locales were packed and bunting was still draped on buildings. I was fascinated by the idea of the sovereign as the living embodiment of history and tradition.

Princess Leia holding a blaster in Star Wars A New Hope Carrie Fisher

Copyright Lucasfilm

I returned to Canada with a renewed interest with all things old. Then came Star Wars. Luke Skywalker may have been the hero, but Princess Leia (played by a very young Carrie Fisher) was a revelation. I’d never seen a young princess who was a beautiful royal, as well as a diplomat, a military commander and wise-cracking action hero. It was Princess Leia who saved Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Chewbacca after they’d embarked on a half-baked mission to rescue her on the Death Star without a viable exit plan. After the Empire destroyed her home world, Alderaan, she didn’t fall to pieces but became the beating heart of the Rebel Alliance. It didn’t hurt that she and I had the same long, brown hair (centre-parted, of course).

A QUEEN AND A PRINCESS

Those two royal women from that fateful summer—Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Leia—inspired in me a love of the monarchy (and science fiction) that has never left. I watched The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi a dozen times each, got heatstroke from standing in the blistering heat on Parliament Hill to see Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales during their 1983 visit to Ottawa, then did it again the next year (snagging a prime spot, not succumbing to heatstroke) when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip toured her northern realm.

As the years passed, my interest in royalty intensified and deepened. A few books became a reference library, an interesting pastime turned into an absorbing interest. For the last two decades, I’ve written about everything from Kate’s hair-and-hemline controversies to the identification and reburial of King Richard III in Leicester. No topic is too frivolous or too academic to escape my attention.

This week, I’ll sit in a dark theatre watching Carrie Fisher play Princess Leia for the last time in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Then I’ll raise a toast to the woman, and character, who changed my life. May the Force be with her.